Howdy folks! I bet you`re wondering why I gathered you here!?
Well, if it`s Sunday, and I`m abroad, it means it`s time for a fresh set of “bitching and moaning”.
Part 10. Chinese fruits (likes and dislikes).
As you know already I get to eat fruits every day at work between lunch and dinner so I got to try a few of them by now.
The day we got here, the strawberry picking season started. Anyone could just go on the outskirts of town, pick their own strawberries and pay for them right there one the farmer`s field. It`s way cheaper than buying from the supermarket and you can get the best ones. The taste is not as strong and full of vitamin C as what I have ate throughout the years at my grandparents but they are good and quench one`s thirst really fast.
They have only two types of oranges. The big ones with no seeds and thin skin and the small ones with thick skin, seeds and very sweet.
Bananas and plantains are exactly as you would imagine them.
You can buy a pineapple form the supermarket or from a street vendor. The latter will even carve it for you on the spot, for a few coins more. And that saves us a lot of trouble.
Mangos are smaller and tastier than what we were used to so the first day someone offered me one, I taught is was a pear and went for a big bite of It. The bitterness reminded my why we ALWAYS peel a mango. And the center is just a flat piece of woody material, it`s easy to eat around it so there`s not much to throw away.
After the mango experience every time we had a new fruit brought to the office, I waited to see how my colleagues will go about and approach the element in question.
Dragon`s eyes (Longnan) was something different because they have the exterior texture of a kiwi and have the size of cherries. Start by peeling them and inside there`s grey transparent pulp around a big black hard seed. They do look like eyes and they are not quite as sweet as I expected. They have the taste of a vegetable but they grow on trees. Hard to eat a bowl of those fast enough to actually feel full.
Then we tried a fruit with the texture and taste of a young pear but looked like a green plum. Everything went fine until I got to the hard shell of the seed. It was nothing impressive. So instead of eating that, just buy a pear.
And because I mentioned pears; there are two types most common on the market: the one that looks identical to an apple, and has the texture of a young pear; and the juicy over-ripen type that is very sweet and will leave your hands very sticky. They are both pretty good.
Dragon fruit (Pitaya) is very appealing but even when really ripe it still has a bland taste. It`s like a watered down kiwi.
We had three kinds of apple so far. The good, the bad and the ugly. The ones that have a red-pinkish hue are good, taste like regular apples. The yellow-pink combination are full of water and I would only eat them if I`m really thirsty. The green apples are plain crap. If you have ever chewed cardboard, you know how these apple taste.
Speaking of thirsty, I had my first piece of sugarcane. A big juicy stick of wood that you chew on, suck all the tasty juice and then spit whatever wood parts you don`t need. The good sugarcane is a joy to chew on, the bad one (not peeled enough, or just not ripe enough) will slash your gums.
Part 11. Distinctive habits that we have to cope with.
The Chinese think that bad stuff should come out of your body as soon as possible.
Now imagine that everyone barfs, farts and spit whenever they need to! Sometimes after lunch if I go to play some Ping-Pong, the room feels like a war-zone. Men and women are battling for who has the more gas-free body.
I thought I had a bad habit of picking my nose … until China! I saw people in the subway elbow-deep in their nostrils. I saw a gorgeous woman in the subway using gloss on her lips then she took a picture with the duck face ultimately scratching her inner ear like a hill-billy and tossing wax balls in every direction. I was one step away of dying of laughter and eventually getting stabbed with a huge nail but we stopped at my station and I had to go.
Talking about long fingernails, I think it`s the only thing long that men can brag about here. I saw a weird dude dressed like a Cuban guerrilla trooper but with a pony-tail waist-long carrying a suitcase that looked like a sniper rifle case, proudly posing so that everyone can see his accomplishment : a fingernail of about 25cm. I`m not joking! 25 cm!.
Part 12. Opening a bank account and exchanging money.
The first thing the company asked me to do was to open a bank account. One of the colleagues came with me just to make everything work smoothly.
After a “short” 20min walk, we get to the bank and the moment I step in, the guard asks us about our intentions. Good luck getting through the front door without a Chinese speaking translator! After a brief talk with the guy, he sends us to a clerk. The guy hands me a bunch of papers, all in Chinese, to fill out. I start writing and when I get to my name I start with VLAD. The clerk sees that, takes a good look at my passport and snags the papers from under my pen. He then gives me a speech about Last Name – First Name order is very important, and he shreds the documents right in front of me. He then hands me another set of papers. By this time I was afraid to do even the smallest mistake. They don`t like smudges or enforced letters / numbers on the document so I had to be very careful.
I had to fill out 4 sheets with all sort of information. I think the only thing missing was “blood type” and “favorite Sailor Moon character”.
And then with these documents all filled out and verified by the clerk, I went to a booth, but wait … I have to get a number! Well why didn`t you say that in the first place? I could have saved half an hour right there! So I stayed in the waiting area for another 30-40minutes because everything has to be triple checked and double stamped …
20 minutes later I had a bank account at the first bank. I had to do the same thing all over again at another bank … the reason for that is not important.
Fast forward 3 weeks and here I am again in front of the bank near our apartment, wanting to exchange money. Let`s just say I needed all my money changed that day to pay the rent.
I get in and go straight to the clerk and show her the cash. “You want change money?” … No, I just wanted to show you how dollars look like! Of course I want to exchange the money! “How much do you want to exchange?” … “Well, I need 1300$” “Ok, have seat.” She then hands me stack of papers the size of The Library of Congress. Well, I better get to it, I don`t have all day… Imagine making a mistake there …
By the time I get to my forth sheet the lady comes back with new information. “Sir, only 500$! You come back tomorrow. We change 500$ again! You come back Monday, we change rest of 300$”
“Are you serious? Is this a game show? Good job on hiding the cameras!”
“Just 500$, sir!”
Infuriated I overlooked the fact that 500$ would have solved the problem so I got up and left. (it was Saturday and I was losing precious time) I then moved my sorry ass to another bank. The clerk points to the waiting area and tells me “2 hours!”. And the next bank … the same story. By the time I get to the last bank on my list, 45 minutes of wait-time seemed like a breeze so I took a number and a seat. Those 45 minutes became 2.5h due to a customer who probably wanted to do every possible operation the bank allowed. And it was supposed to be fast because I was appointed to a English speaking booth, but there were other people in front of me appointed to the same booth … so I had to keep calm.
3.5h and I had all the money changed. I was happy. By the time I got to the office, there was only 1h of work to be done and then dinner (17:30). We got back from dinner at 18:40, it was pointless to work anymore so I headed home.
Banks in Shanghai … avoid them as much as possible, they are like time traps!
As I promised, I have updated the Picasa Album with captions (some of them quite silly) and I`m looking forward to the next week. We have 3 days off at the beginning of the week and if the weather is good I`ll probably take the Nikon for a spin.