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I am not going to do a comparison between Shanghai and St. Louis here. I don’t think it’s fair to compare these two great cities. Here I’m going to put down a few observations I made in past few days.

I went to see doctor today for my sleep problem. I went to Shanghai No. 6 hospital. Get access to a doctor in China is easier than in the States, as long as you have the money or insurance. I believe many danwei in China offers some sort of insurance. On the other hand, seeing a doctor in the US is not that easy, if you are not in the emergency situation. Normally one would make appointment with the doctor’s office well in advance. Another difference is in China’s hospital the patient also pick up the medcine; while in the US he/she need to go to Walgreen or CVS to pick up the drugs. From my personal experience, I like the easy access to the doctor in China, but I also like the personal attention/time US doctor give to one patient. Because in US a doctor see fewer patients per day.

This one caught me off guard initially. I arrived at Shanghai on New Year’s eve. And I went to the bars at Heng Shan Rd at 11 PM. The firework is on. It’s the crackers. I remember in Shanghai the goverment used to forbid the firework inside the city limit (inside Zhong Shan Lu Circle). Not any more. Maybe they want to give people something to burn off the steam. It’s funny to see in St. Louis the police department forbid people shooting the gun at the sky during new year, while the firework is loosened in Shanghai. Being back for the Chinese New Year first time in 8 years, I felt very unease with the crackers. Although I have not seen anybody hurt at the scene, I still think its’a very dangerous thing. On the fourth day of New Year, it’s the tradition of welcome “God of Fortune” in Shanghai (I don’t remember it in Ningbo). Another round of firework. And crackers.

This is a very practical topic. I found it’s frustrating to find a public restroom in some old neighbourhood (Li Nong/Long, sorry for my Pin Yin). It’s like find a restroom in the old China town in Chicago. Another thing keep in mind is you need to carry some change for using the restroom.

The service industry is growing very rapidly and the service standard has been raisen in the same time. When I got up and walk through the motel hallway, motel people will greet me with “Happy New Year” or “Welcome”. Samething when I go to motel cafeteria. Samething when I go to Starbucks. I felt welcomed initially but after a while I felt unconfortable. Maybe I have been in the States for too long. There are also greetings, but it’s not being taught and standardrized, people will say “Good morning”, “How are you”, “What’s up”,…depend on the situation and their own preference. Personally I like the nonstandard and spontanous thing better. I remember a security check guy at STL Airport’s joke very clearly. There were two lines for security check. He refer to people in his line as “Pittsburgh Steelers” fan, while the other line as “Seattle Seahawks”. These are two football teams will fight for superbowl this Sunday Feb 5 in Detroit.

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A poor guy from St. Louis

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I happened to visit some of the high-end shopping malls in Shanghai yesterday. One is CITIC square (中信泰富广场), which host many world top brands such as Amanni, Bailey, Mont Blanc, etc. The price tag of some of the items amazed me quite a bit, e.g., I saw a ladies’ coat for RMB 9500, a sweat shirt for RMB 2500, same for a belt…Being a guy from St. Louis, which does not have all those specialty stores, I felt I am very ignorant and powerless. I feel pretty good about myself when I do shopping in St. Louis, as long as I don’t go to Plaza Frontenac for the real high end stuff such as Boss and Amanni, with my current salary. But in Shanghai CITIC, I felt much poorer. Interestingly enough, 10 years ago, when I was a engineer working for a state-owned factory in Shanghai, earning a 3 figure RMB salary, I had similar feeling when I visited the stores in Nanjing Rd.

But on the other hand, I believe money is not everything. We do want some money to spoil ourselves from time to time. A cup of Latte, a nice dinner, a concert, a new car…But do we really need those luxury items I mentioned above to make us happy? If happiness can be bought by money, I will work like crazy to make more $$$ so that I can buy happiness.

My other advice is to the guys not earning a six figure (USD) anual income: don’t take your significant other to the CITIC square. Just kidding.

I also checkd out the apartment prices in Shanghai. It went down a bit but it’s still very expensive considering the average wage in this city (I believe it’s about RMB 5000 to 10000 for white collar workers). It’s more expensive than St. Louis, a middle-size US city whose housing price is about the US national average. Although I understand Shanghai is a world class city these days and will have a status of New York or London in the future, I have a lot of sympathy for those young professionals who tried to buy an apartment here in Shanghai. Of course there are other options such as renting. But it seems like if a guy can not buy an apartment, very few girls will marry him. Not sure if it’s a culture thing or money thing.

Note: 1 USD = 8 RMB as of Jan 31, 2006. I hope the USD could hold its value because I am earning USD for now.

Note 2: I happened to see this special edition regarding luxury brands expanding in China from Yahoo.

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St. Louisian don’t cry

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Today is a sad day for St. Louis, especially the Hazelwood city in the north county. As expected Ford Motor Company announced the closing of Hazelwood assembly plant, see an article from stltoday here. This will eliminate 1900 mostly well paid blue collar jobs. I think the workers there should earn USD 60,000 a year – in other words, one worker can raise a family of 4 comfortably. In recent years St. Louis area has seen the leaving of SBC (now AT&T) headquarter, the decline of TWA and McDonald Dougless (MD) and their subsequent sales to American Airline and Boeing, repectively. Ironically, MD was also located in Hazelwood area. The policians are still trying to lobby the Ford and keep the plant. But in my humble opinion the chance is very slim. This is not the first time the Hazelwood plant facing closing. They dodged last bullet by lobbying Ford and offering tax incentives. But not this time. The soaring oil price and changing of consumer taste dramatically reduced the sales of Ford Explorer SUV, which is the main product of Hazelwood plant.

This reminded me a discussion I had with a friend couple weeks ago. He said the current American life style, such as living in suburban areas, everyone driving a car to work (some drive gas-thirsty SUVs), spend all the money they earn, the goverment borrowing money from Asian countries…can not sustain. I recalled another friend told me he knows a professor who spent USD 600 a month for the gas (heat) because she has a big house. If my math is right, I think that’s about 4 times a migrant worker’ monthly pay in China.

A little off the topic. I understand it’s a painful thing for the UAW (united auto workers) to let go their jobs. The question is will St. Louis continue the slide? Or is St. Louis in declining? This is not an easy question for an economist; me neither. I have been in St. Louis for more than 5 years. Although I have heard those bad news from time to time, I did see more Chinese immigrants and businesses. I also saw the growth of healthcare and biotech industry. The Panera Bread (St. Louis Bread Company). The new metro-link. The new ball park. The new downtown. I guess that’s the strength of US economy, diversified, resilient, market driven…I believe St. Louis will recover from this loss, just like Cardinals and Rams lost a few important games this year, let it be the past…we will recover and become even stronger tomorrow.

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US Figure Skating Championship

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I went to see the Ladies Free Skate program this evening, by myself. Yes, I understand this is not common for a guy go there alone. But due to unusual circumstances – my friends forgot to put me on the mailing list when they planned to buy the tickets; and I forgot to notify another friend about the event. To make me feel worse, the ticket inspector and my neighbour asked me the question “just yourself” with surprise. OK, I promise next time I will bring someone when I go there.

The event itself is pretty amazing. I understand Michelle Kuan’s withdrawl due to injury may be a disappointment for some people. But to be honest, I like Sasha Cohen better. She seemed grow up eventually. Although she still made some small mistakes, but she control herself much better. It’s very hard to do 6 or 7 triple jump without a glitch. Think about its mathematical probability (0.9*0.9*0.9…), if we assume Sasha could do it perfectly 90% of the time.

In the middle of the game, all the US figure skater Olympic Champions were honored. From 1948 Olympic Champion (I believe he is 80 years old) to 2002 Sara Hughes (college student in Yale), there are about a dozen people. With the big screen showing the videos of their performance in Olympics, all the audiences stood up and gave the applause. It’s a very emotional moment.

At that moment I also thought about the champions of former Soviet Union’s. I think they have won many Olympic championships too. I hope they can be recognized by their countries in some way.

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P. F. Chang

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I went to P. F. Chang this evening with my coworkers. Before today I heard from one (American) coworker that it has great food; I also heard from my Chinese friends that it’s all American Chinese food. I got chance to see the real thing today. It was not as expensive as I thought. The setting was good. I saw two terra cotta 兵马俑(not from Xi’an though). There are varities of food, some are spicy. I ordered “Sea from Sichuan”, basically it’s braised fried calamari (a bit spicy). My coworkers seemed like their food (scallop, chicken) too. The entree cost about USD 12 to 18. It’s more expensive than most Chinese restraunants here, but still acceptable. The servers are fairly young and energetic.

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A white Christmas

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I got up this morning at 9 AM and was surprised to found out we had snow last night. Other than that, not too much excitement here in St. Louis. There are a few places open, notably Star Bucks and WalGreen (drug store). I can not go to my favorite Borders or St. Louis (Panera) Bread Co. So I watched two NBA games instead. I had a fairly quite Christmas this time. I remember three years ago we had a big snow in St. Louis during Xmas. In that Xmas night I drove my car into the roadside ditch on the way from friend’s house to my house. Luckily I was not hurt and I got help from AAA to tow my car.

This evening I went to Airport and picked up a friend just back from China. Not surprisingly he also mentioned the difference between Beijing and St. Louis. The following is a post I saw on mitbbs. Please note I don’t necessarily agree with the author’s opinion. I wish next year I could spend my Christmas in Shanghai.

标 题: 上海街头的圣诞气氛
发信站: BBS 未名空间站

餐馆酒吧咖啡店百货公司全部是MERRY CHRISTMAS

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Got my car back

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Got my car back this morning. This time they called me at 8:20 AM and told me it’s ready. The noise problem was caused by an idle pulley used for A/C. Ironically when I was in Rolla I did research on the V-ribbed accessory belt drive. That pulley is a part of the accessory drive. I did have a feeling something was wrong with the drive but I did not have the courage to open it and see it myself. So much for my mechanical engineering backgound. When I picked up the car, I compained the miscommunication problem yesterday. The service rep agreed a $20 discount. And he even pulled my car over (like valet). It seems I got “BMW or Lexus” treatment this time. I have a friend who recently got a BMW 525i and I will check with him about his BMW service experience.

The good thing is, I got my car and my freedom. I was a little upset just because “without a car for one night”. I know I am spoiled being in the States for more than 8 years. My Accounting class instructor once said “we take too many things for granted over here in the States”. I agree. My fellow American graduate student commented “people here can get upset waiting in McDonald for 5 minutes, they don’t know many people in Africa are starving”. I appreciate those comments very much. I know in China the customer service is definitely not at the US level yet (it’s catching up). I think that’s why “Chatea” and “Ctrip” alike are so popular because they make customer happy. I remember Dallas Maverick owner Mark Cuban once said “treat your customers like they owned you”. If I have a business one day, I will do exactly that.

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Car problem

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My car is making funny noise recently. So I made an appointment with a local Nissan dealership 9AM today, to take a look. The customer rep asked my phone numbers and the usual stuff. I gave them both my work number and mobile number (that turns out to be a mistake). He told me expect an hour and half before getting back to me. The dealership is about 20 minutes walk from my home. On the way back to home, I decided to work remotely using VPN so that I don’t need to ask somebody giving me a ride or rent a car. I started work using Remote Desktop and fixed the problem I mentioned in the previous post. There are a few glitches such as “Network disconnected” or slow response from Graphic intensive applications. But in general I am pleased with the performance of Microsoft Remote Desktop.

When I was happily working on computer, I forgot one thing — call the dealership more often. I did give them a call at 12:30 PM and they told me they still have not figured out the cause of noise. So I figured give them some breeze time. I had some sympathy for them because I am doing similar things such as they do: debugging computer problem vs. car problem. But they did not call my cell phone. When I walked to the dealership at 6PM, they told me they called my work number and left a message. Dahn! They did find the cause of the problem, but they did not fix it without my permission. Now I have to wait till tomorrow morning to pick up my car. I can take another 20 minutes walk. But I was disappointed by them not calling my cell phone number earlier.

This reminds me of something I experienced in Toyota dealership when I was shopping my first new car years ago. I was going to buy a Toyota at two dealerships but both of them have a “either buy it at my price; or just leave” attitude. So I ended up not buying it.

Japanese car companies, Toyota, Honda and Nissan are having a good time these days in the US market. Their quality and reliability are undisputed. But their customer service…I don’t want to talk about it.

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Make used books more useful

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A good friend of my brother recently visited St. Louis. He is an avid reader and used book collector. Although I like to read too but I have to admit I am not at his level in terms of reading breadth and expertise. Neverthless, we spent quite some time in two of the used book stores in St. Louis. The first one is The Book House at Manchester Road. It’s a family owned operation, a two story building full of all kinds of used books. We spent about an hour and half there and my friend picked up 6 books. I think the cashier was quite happy with his big spending. It seems to me not many people here will buy that many at one time. After that we went to the Left Bank Books at the Central West End. Left Bank is a larger (but independent) book store and it has both new and used books. I remember I saw the late Chinese American writer Iris Chang at the store a few years ago. We also picked a few books there.

Besides the brick-and-mortar stores. We can also look for books online. These are nothing new: one can search on ebay and Amazon for those used books. What interested me is I found some new ideas about the exchanging used books. Two web sites, bookins, paperbackswap, are helping people exchange used books online. It seems the former is more business oriented (creating profit), the latter is more service oriented. But I like the idea very much. Unlike my friend, I am not a book collector. And I want to read more books without owning them. Library is a good source. But this online exchange thing is also interesting. I may try this in this holiday.

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St. Louis 2006

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Although it won’t be as big as Beijing 2008, St. Louis 2006 US Figure Skating Championship will be a treat for the local skating fans. Last Thursday I got to know we will have this event from Jan 7 to 15. So I started looking for a ticket for the Ladies Free Skate. I watched Michelle Kuan and Sasha Cohen on the TV many times. I believe there will not be many oppertunities to see them compete at the same stage because of Michelle’s age. Although being a Chinese I should wish Michelle to win out but I liked Sasha’s technical skills too. Those two super stars do not get along very well. Also I heard from NPR yesterday Emily Hughes, who is Sara Hughes’ younger sister, will also participate. Sara beated Michelle and won the gold medal at last Olympic Game. A Seattle newspaper put title “American beat Michelle” for that event. Because Michelle is Chinese American, you know how the article angered the Chinese American community at that time. Later the newspaper apologized for its mistake.

I finally bought the ticket on ticketmaster (online) after done some research. I looked at Craigslist and eBay and there are not many. Maybe you can save a small handling fee buying at the Local Schnucks (ticketmaster) counter. I am not sure.

Update: just read from news that Michelle is hurt and may not be able to make the appearance at St. Louis. Let’s hope she will have a quick recovery. Otherwise I will still be happy to see Sasha Cohen — I think she is the best female skater technically.