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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Bird Issues

At dinner last night it became obvious that throughout my life I have had an issue with birds.
First movie I remember watching? The Birds by Alfred Hitchcock. I was 5 I think. Made quite an impression.

Fast forward to Calgary Stampede as a 20 something: I become a bulls-eye for a gull who has apparently been at the beer garden hootin' it up. Memorable moment for a young woman trying to impress her date with her style and class. 

Fast forward again to Rue Mouffetard Paris recently: I am once again trying to look reasonably well arranged when a a pigeon miscalculates takeoff and crashes into my head. I am not sure which of us is the most surprised.

I was once chased by my uncle's guard goose. He had warned me about his guard dog. The guard goose was more of a surprise.

This all brings back the memory of two special bird encounters. I was once walking around a beautiful little pond in Kansas City when I was kind of attacked by a little white duck. He was being quite a nuisance actually, and while I tried to decide what to do with him I reached out with my admittedly muddy hiking boot to keep him away for just a moment. I literally rested my boot against him to hold him off from his determined attempt to attack me. In that moment, with my foot resting gently on the duck, a big Hummer pulled up behind me and out climbed a rather large man. His first words:
"What's going on here?" alerted me to a possible uncomfortable conversation I was about to be a part of.
His next words:
"That's my duck" increased my alarm.
My response, as I removed my gently placed very muddy boot from the duck:
"I didn't kick him. Honest"
And I didn't. And I understand that the little white duck was just protecting his wife and family. But I was kind of caught in the act. The duck was wearing a very big muddy footprint that matched the tread on my hiking boot. No denying it. I left with my head hanging low.

And then there was the time I was sea-dooing down the Connecticut River with my then-boyfriend. We were in a no-wake zone, so I was enjoying the calm, the flora and fauna. I commented on the swans, on how peaceful and beautiful they were. One swan in particular appeared to be posing for us, spreading his wings, turning toward us, and uh-oh coming toward us, feet still in the water but 8 foot span of wings now opening and closing to full effect. 
Fwuuump best describes the sound of a large territorial male swan heading toward our sea-doo at an ever accelerating speed.
Do you know how big a swan is?
Well double whatever you just answered because it looks as least twice as large when one is coming toward you, completely ignoring the no-wake zone and showing no apparent intention to even try to avoid a full on body slam. At the last minute we too had to ignore the no wake zone and get the hell out of the way. 
He missed us. 
Just barely. I guess he had managed to hit others on different days so our decision to flee while not our proudest moment was nonetheless prudent. 

What is the message? One who is found swanning may soon need to duck?

Monday, February 20, 2012

First and Momentous Paris encounters

Have you had a surprising encounter in your city? Or one that turned out to have a bigger than anticipated result? I will share a few of mine in Paris.

I was kissed by a gorgeous man on the RER. I never saw him before or since. Well only in my dreams since.

A man got up from his seat on the metro, stood in front of my sister and struck his sexiest pose. We weren't quite sure what an appropriate next move was so we kind of giggled. He returned to his seat rather defeated. Remember this Angie?

A man I had never seen before recited a poem to me while I was having dinner in my neighborhood restaurant. Before he started I asked him if it would be a long poem. He admitted it was rather long but promised it would be worth it. The jury is still out on that one.

While dining at a restaurant the server gave me her cell phone. There was a call for me. The restaurant we had visited the night before had the same owner. The server recognized us. I guess we made an impression on the owner as well. My co-conspirators Angie and Tina will remember this.

A man invited me to dinner and then told me I could undress him now if I wanted. I didn't want. I left. 

The gracious owner of a bar took the time to introduce me to a regular patron shortly after I arrived in Paris. He thought we would get along well. She is now a very good friend. Thanks Edouard for helping me to meet Alison! Who says you can't meet nice girls in a bar:)

The lovely butcher I talk to every day introduced me to his girlfriend and in so doing gave me 2 friends for life. Thanks Christophe and Janice.

I went to a social event and discovered the host is from Antigonish. We were practically neighbors growing up. Shelley you rock! 

A very large man kicked me on the metro. Right on the metro.I don't think we will be friends.

My tailor who is from Turkey invited me to spend Sunday with his family. Lovely day and delicious dinner. Incredible hospitality from strangers.

Eating alone one evening I met an Italian economist doing his PhD and then an MBA. His goal - to help companies develop an intrinsically rewarding workplace. I love this idea.

Drum roll for the finale: I met two men who are extra-terrestrials. Yes they are serious. They shared some of the world's mysteries with me.

What has surprised you?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Last Day in Shanghai

I thought I would provide a wrap to my Shanghai trip. On our last day we went to the fake market. Although neither of us was a particularly great negotiator, prices were so low from the start it was not possible to get a bad deal. My pullover sweater cost €10, and I could have had a leather computer bag for €20. Although everyone was fighting hard to make sales by any method, including pulling me into one shop by my arm, at no time did I feel at risk or even all that bothered. 

Modern buildings serve as the backdrop
to the more traditional Yuyuan Garden area
Back to Yuyuan Garden for some higher end items. Hard to get any discount here at all. A young man on the street convinced us to follow him down two flights of stairs into a workshop with adjoined retail area for everything silk. We watched them layer silk to make a quilt, much like our duvets of down. I managed to negotiate the price of a duvet, cover and sheets to half, but in the end was not convinced of the quality and cancelled the deal. 
Hand layered silk quilts
We were looking for a silk scarf we had seen earlier in the week, but did not come across it immediately. Instead we walked around the main shopping area, on a residential street. This was a very different perspective on Shanghai for both of us.

What was I most surprised by? The lack of foreign feel to the city. The modernity of it all. The food I suppose, in that some of it included body parts that just should never enter one's mouth! And the hospitality.In a city of 20 million, every local business has managed the warm welcome very well.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Shanghai First Impressions

What to say about Shanghai...
I could say it is a city of extremes. A city of very little that is original. A city surprising to me in its lack of foreign-ness. Yes the hotel offers some unusual breakfast foods but that is pretty minor. Yes the taxi drivers speak no English at all, but hotels and other local businesses are happy to write the address you are seeking in Chinese characters so you can direct your driver. Okay I guess that is a little unusual.

I do not feel inclined to live here. Today the newspaper reported that Shanghai is more expensive for ex-pats than New York, but less expensive than Zurich, Oslo and Geneva. And of course there are many living here who can barely pay their rent, or who will lose their homes to developers erecting the next skyscraper, expensive shopping mall, or condo building for the very wealthy.

Street food is plentiful in certain market streets with open kitchens, produce, live pigeons, live crabs, and anything else you could possibly imagine, alive and dead. Shanghai is also a wealth of gourmet restaurants,  and cocktail bars with beautiful expensive views. Even the expensive restaurants waste no body parts, as evidenced by the picture below from our Tuesday evening dining experience at South Beauty.

Lest I forget, and I hope I can one day put this out of my mind, the delicious pork belly dish also contained meatballs and testicles. Of course I did not know they were testicles. My colleague however put one in his mouth, looked for the closest place to spit it out, and declared "That is something no man should ever eat". I believe in this case I will vote for equality for both genders.

Fake market

In addition to the food markets, Shanghai has well known fake markets, where you can buy a copy of any brand name item you can think of.  Running shoes, jeans, iPad accessories, you name it and they either already have it for sale or will get it for you. Posted prices are typically reduced by 80 - 90% by savvy negotiators. Apparently I am not one.
Marriage market
And don't forget the marriage market, where classifieds of young men and women advertise their height, salary and best qualities to hasten their marriage prospects. The more enthusiastic parents are on site at the Marriage Market at Peoples Square to improve the odds. This is a good location, with an average of 3 million pedestrians passing by each day. After all it is the Year of the Dragon, a fortuitous time to give birth to a baby, providing the marriage, conception and birth can be arranged quickly enough.
Bathrooms, always of interest to travelers, are also represented at both ends of the spectrum. Coffee shops simply do not have a toilet, which seems at cross purposes to those of us who have to "go" when we drink coffee.  One restaurant on the other hand had such an elaborate toilet I was almost left behind as I tried all of the available options (close your eyes for this part if you blush easily: wash front, 2 versions of wash back, dry front, dry back, play sounds...) And at a client site the regular bathrooms are next door to the executive version. I guess executives do not want regular employees to hear them using the various options?

Kindness is evident. Everyone is gracious and warm, with staff at restaurants welcoming each guest and generally making you feel happy to be there. (Tipping is not standard practice by the way.) Do however come prepared to give up your personal space. In a city of 20 million people, metros and even elevators are always full. I stood single file in a queue for some time just to catch an elevator in an office building. And it is not always so orderly. If you are in the way you will be slammed into; boarding the metro, exiting the elevator, and passing on the sidewalk are all a contact sport at times!

Ex-pats are usually forbidden by their employers to drive in Shanghai. The driving rules are not so clear as you might wish, with the horn replacing any standard signals including left and right turns, and priority going always to the largest of the vehicles (yes the large truck or bus always has priority over cars and motorcycles). Near-misses are a common occurrence.

The many impressive buildings here include the TV tower complete with roller coaster and transparent floor, towers and hotels with cocktail bars on high terraces with a view of the city, and even restaurants above the clouds on the 97th floor of The Financial Center, soon to be reduced to only the second tallest tower in Shanghai.

All in all a modern beautiful commercial center with the headquarters of many multi-nationals, a warm welcome, and interesting food, to say the least!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Math Lesson #2 - Shanghai

In Shanghai the currency is Chinese Yen Renminbi, and the exchange is 1 Euro to 8.3047. I used to be good at math; how much cash do I need to withdraw? Well let's see, I need 1000 CNY to pay for new pants tailored  for my boss, taxi fare, and some money for whoever does not accept my credit card. During the attempted withdrawal I discover my French debit card does not work, so I use my US debit card.

My colleague's French debit card also does not work, and he has no backup. I offer to share, but he says he will get cash at the next machine. He is equally unsuccessful at the next machine. I lend him 1000.

We arrive at the hotel, and find that my colleague's same card that did not work at the ATM works fine at the hotel. On the other hand, my French credit card does not work but my US credit card works fine. They approve some amount of money in case I drink the mini-bar dry. A very real possibility.

We go to the fake market. genuine copies of everything you can imagine. You are expected to pay one-fifth of the posted price. A good negotiator will pay one tenth. I am apparently not a good negotiator. Come on these people are professionals!
Fake market

We go to a bar with an excellent view of the city. Because we are not staying at the hotel we are charged a cover of 100 CNY which includes a drink. Seems like a wash to this tired tourist. I pay.

I have become too sleepy to go out, so I order room service including a glass of wine. By mistake they bring a bottle instead of a glass. I check the bill and see that 75 was added for the wine, so I ask them to only bring me a glass, not the whole bottle. Turns out it was 75 local currency (a bargain), so they pour me a glass and take the rest of the bottle with no impact whatsoever on the bill. They wonder why I objected. So do I.

Shanghai and I might need a re-do.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

How good is your math?

I live in Paris. When I need to arrange meetings with my US colleagues in Connecticut, I subtract 6 hours from the time
15:00 - 6 = 9:00
Okay I should not call them before 3PM my local time.

When I was in Alberta last week and wanted to call the Paris office I added 8 hours
9:00 + 8 = 17:00
Got it; do not call after 10AM my local time.

Now I am in Shanghai for a week. Can someone please help me know when to call Connecticut? Paris? Alberta?
Oh and what time is it anyway?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Friendship: for life?

Maybe because my friends are scattered around the world I find myself thinking a lot about friendship; specifically what moves a person into or out of this category.

For me, someone moves into the friendship category if they
  • Can be trusted, even if the secret they are holding is really juicy. Even if we are both crushing on the same guy (ditto for boots, hand bag, or anything else girls covet)
  • Treat my friends and family like their friends and family
  • Are brave enough to challenge me if I do something that risks our friendship
  • Make me feel better for being around them
  • Are interesting and generally positive about life
  • Forgive me for my faults.
Moving from friend to non-friend? Almost never happens. It would require nothing short of a betrayal. Yes friends are for a reason but not just for a season. I believe in friends for life and am lucky enough to have several.

What do you think about friendship? How does someone move from acquaintance to friend? Have you ever moved someone out of your friendship circle? Why?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Have you ever?

Have you ever narrowly escaped a disaster?

Did you say out loud "Whew! I will know better next time!"

Think about it; you are driving down the road, sleepy as hell, and realize you have actually nodded off behind the wheel. You sit up very straight all bright and perky and say, okay now I am so wide awake I will never fall asleep at the wheel again. I may never sleep again!

Oh how about that time you had more than one drink at the bar, and realized you were about to be pulled over for a breathalyzer along with everyone else who was happening by that spot in the road. You got away with it for one reason or another, and you said, "Okay, that was close. I will never do that again!"

Or here's one: you are in a bar in Halifax and suddenly realize that the very nice naval captain has managed to surround you with his officers who are in the process of escorting you to the ship, probably never to see the light of day for the whole journey back to Norway - oh wait probably that was not quite so common.

How about locking yourself out of your car? Your home? Ever done it? Do you have a back up plan?

See, here's the thing. I live in Paris where there is no such thing as a locksmith with real lock picking tools like we see in the movies and also in the hands of every locksmith in North America. If you are in Canada for example and lock your self out, you either use the key you have hidden under the plant (yes we all know it's there) or you call your spouse. Third choice is the locksmith and it is a very good choice. Without a doubt you will be sitting pretty in your home within minutes as if nothing ever happened.

The only time that didn't work for me was the time I needed to let my dogs out of my van for a pee. It was cold, so first I changed my jacket, put the leashes on the dogs, locked the doors with my jackets and keys inside... and had absolutely no way to unlock the doors.

Yes I broke a window. Yes it would have made an interesting video, me luring the dogs away from the window I needed to break so I didn't hurt one of them in the process.

And yes I swore I would never do such a stupid thing again.

Fast forward to Paris, where I locked myself out of my apartment a few months ago, called a non-locksmith who used his radiograph to not unlock my door and then offered to replace the locking mechanism for 650 Euros.

Now I would really never do it again.

Until last night.

Yup. I loaned my set of keys to my colleague at work so he could get back in the office building. That was around noon. The day progressed in its usual way, work, drinks after work, dinner after drinks, until at 11PM I reached into my purse to reassure myself that the keys I would never again leave behind were in fact where they belonged. Oops - guess I didn't get them back. Yes I was royally screwed.

As luck would have it, my friend Janice has a key to my place.But she wasn't answering her phone. Lucky again that we live in such a fab neighborhood I was able to track her down in our friendly bar up the street. One celebratory drink later I was safe and sound in my home.

And Boy, I will never - oh never mind...

Monday, February 6, 2012

The hunt for technology leads to rewards of a different kind

All checked in at Edmonton Airport I decided to search for a few last minute items. 
First a cover for my Kindle. 

At this store the sales person repeated "Kindle?" several times with a puzzled look on her face until I left. I bet if she is still saying "Kindle?" even now. 
I was left with the understanding that even this technology whiz is not familiar with Kindle. Thus no Kindle cover was obtained.

At the next stop I was reminded that Indigo supports Kobo, not Kindle. 
No Kindle cover for me in Edmonton.

At the same time although  I was motivated to pick up my emails on the advertised free Wi-Fi my iPhone simply would not cooperate.  So I stopped by the iStore to see if some smart kid working there could give me some useful advice.

To my surprise the salesperson was not using an iPhone in the iStore, but a Samsung Galaxy. 
In the iStore. 
In fact the iStore sells other brands. 

Am I the only one who didn't know this?

Anyway she recommended I consult my local provider in Paris.  
I am sure Bouygues Telecom is familiar with Edmonton International's Wi-Fi access issues.

Based on my lack of success with shopping I chose a Plan B.
The bartender promised and delivered a very good Bloody Caesar. 
Then I flew to Calgary.

Upon arrival at Calgary Airport, I skipped the shopping 
and went directly for the Caesar.
Don't mind the blurriness. I am sure it had nothing to do with the photographer or the Caesar.

There was technology galore even at the bar.

Oh I also flew to London Heathrow and Charles de Gaulle. No pics though. Not that you can make out anyway.

All this to say - airport shopping looks good on the surface, all shiny and bright, but be prepared to lower your expectations on expertise.  (Does not apply to bartenders.)

Sunday, February 5, 2012

A to Z

Two Adults One Brown Baby  invited others to steal this. So I did.

Feel free to do the same.

A to Z

A. Age: Really really young. You would not believe me if I told you.

B. Bed size: King preferred. Double provided.

C. Chore that you hate: All of them. Come on who likes chores?

D. Dogs: Love them. Will have one again when I am home more than I am away.

E. Essential start to your day: Coffee. Don't even bother talking to me until I have had one. Oh and also a shower. But first things first.

F. Favorite color: Color in general. The more the merrier. Love red and fuchsia and purple and blue.

G. Gold or silver: Do I have to choose? Who's buying?

H. Height: Mine? 5'4". The height I can climb before I become pitifully fearful - about half that.

I. Instruments that you play: It is a short list. Very short.

J. Job title: Officially Director Account Management. Unofficially Second to the Chief Cook and Bottle Washer.

K. Kids: I once was one.

L. Live: Yes. I do. In Paris.

M. Mother's name: Leona Darlene Louise.

N. Nicknames: Nope. None that I know of anyway.

O. Overnight hospital stays: Yes. But who wants to reveal the details?

P. Pet peeves: Complainers. Oh and people who walk slower than me. Wait I think I am complaining.

Q. Quote from a movie: You can't stand the truth!

R: Right or left handed: Right

S: Siblings: Lots.

T. There was no T on the original list. I will add Travel. Lots for business and pleasure. Most recent was Alberta. Next is Shanghai. Most exotic so far Sri Lanka.

U. Underwear:  Always wear clean (sexy) underwear according to my mother in case you are in a car accident. (Okay I added the sexy.)

V. Vegetable(s) you hate: Onions. Do not try to convince me that you can hide them. You can't.

W. What makes you run late: Looking for my metro pass, my keys, my passport.

X. X-rays you've had: Goes with those hospital visits I am not writing about.

Y. Yummy food that you make: Coffee. Oh you mean meals? Nope.

Z. Zoo animal: I never want to see an animal in a zoo. Why would you?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Street Stories #3: Cowboy in Paris

I am having a very nice conversation with a local restaurant owner. Of the many people I have met in Paris he is one of the nicest, most interesting, well spoken, gentlemen. He tells me how much he likes Canada. I assume he has visited Montreal or maybe Vancouver, something I hear often from people I meet in Paris. 

I am wrong. 

He traveled across Canada from Ontario to Alberta looking for a ranch to purchase.

I am delighted to imagine him not in his beautiful French cafe greeting patrons, but instead riding his horse out to check the cattle. Maybe he would even learn a cowboy song.

People will surprise you if you let them.