Friday, December 12, 2014

Discovering Shanghai via Its Vinyl Stores

Not only have I been figuring out how to buy vinyl on, I also decided that in a city as big as Shanghai, there had to be some interesting record shops I could discover.  Again, the mentality is that maybe I can find interesting releases here easier than I could in Europe or North America.  But actually going out and finding local record shops was also a good way to go exploring the city.  I'm a huge proponent of public transportation, so this was also a great excuse to just ride around the metro.  Shanghai is full of so many enormous malls and chain stores that seeking out some hole-in-the-wall, locally owned stores just really appealed to me.

Admittedly, I first started searching online, entering "Shanghai record shop" and "Shanghai vinyl store" into Google.  I got a few articles, but most of them were from about two years ago or so.  Realizing how quickly the city is changing, I didn't expect all of them to still be around since it seems like two years here is an eternity.  Taking this article as my main point of reference along with this blog entry and this discussion on, I mapped out six record shops I wanted to visit, all of which were on the Puxi side of the city.  (As an aside, one of the reasons why I'm writing this is to have updated information about these places out there.)

Based purely on location, I decided to first visit the so-called "lamp fixtures market store" because the nearest metro station is also on the 7 line, which is the closest line to where I live.  I found the market and the place where the shop supposedly was, but it looked closed.  Disappointed, I left and went to check out Uptown Records.  Similarly, I found the building where it was, but it too was not open.  I wasn't sure if it was right or not because the entrance is beneath a residence building and it looks like you'll get murdered (see third image below for reference). At that point, I wasn't about to trek out to the other stores only to end up feeling like I wasted a whole day in case they weren't open.  This was last Tuesday afternoon, and Uptown Records supposedly opened at 2.  I was there at around 2:30 in the afternoon, so I figured it must've just been a fluke.  Dejected, I went home and left the other shops for another day.

Determined to figure out if these two stores actually were still open, I searched the internet for contact information and wrote them in English and Google-translated Chinese.  The lamp fixtures market one wrote back saying he was still open.  I knew Uptown was still open because when I was there and trying to figure out if I was the right place, I asked an old lady outside the building if she knew the store.  All I could understand was that the day I visited, either the store wasn't open or was opening later.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Figuring Out Chinese E-Commerce Websites

Now that I've been here for about a month, I'm starting to get into the daily grind of living in China. Most of my time is spent job searching, discovering the city, or doing mundane tasks like grocery shopping. The latter two are always an adventure since there's something new I'm going to learn or discover. For most people, shopping online is nothing difficult, but living in a country where my literacy is very limited is a challenge.

In the last few years, I started buying vinyl records again because I like having the physical product. Quite often, new releases also come with an mp3 download code so I can listen on whatever digital device of my choosing. Additionally, I like a lot of music from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, so I just enjoy having the original records, which I have to buy secondhand. About two years ago or so, I went with a friend to Utrecht for the Mega Record & CD Fair where I looked for a lot of old Beatles records. I realized then that being an avid traveler, I could always go hunt for record shops while on vacation and perhaps find releases that would normally be harder to come by.

With that in mind, I thought that looking for records here in China would be interesting since western music isn't common here, and therefore, if there are releases that I could find, they're probably rare and/or fewer people are interested in them. Moreover, China is closer to Japan, which comparatively listens to a lot of western music, so finding Japanese releases here is easier than in either Germany or the United States. Having thought this out, I decided to try out, China's answer to eBay and Amazon. Essentially, it's an e-commerce site that connects small businesses to people and you can find everything under the sun there, including secondhand wares.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Job Search & Interviewing Adventures in China

I've now been in Shanghai for about four weeks keeping myself busy by looking for jobs -- sending out resumes, going to job fairs, doing interviews, and networking a lot. It's definitely been a learning experience and at times has been surprising, frustrating, and enlightening. There are some commonalities between the United States, Germany, and China, like having to send a CV and cover letter, dressing for success, and all those other things you'll find articles about on LinkedIn. I wound up getting my own business cards printed here because I had read that handing them out here is more common than in the U.S. or Germany. I have to agree that this does seem to be the norm here, but as the last time I was on the job hunt was when I had finished my master's, it's a bit different selling myself with my work experience. But there are three things that I've noticed are very unique to my experience looking for a job here in China.

(As a quick side note, I don't have any fitting images to work with this entry, so I'm just adding ones I've taken around Shanghai because they won't end up with other blog entries anyway.)

Looking up at the Jinmao Tower in Lujiazui, the financial district of Shanghai.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Spotify vs. Taylor Swift vs. The Listener

I know that recently I've been posting a lot about moving to Shanghai, but with the news going on regarding Taylor Swift pulling her music from Spotify, I needed to throw my two cents into the conversation and go back to talking about pop culture.  So bear with me.

In case you're living under a rock (or in my case, living in China and a bit far removed from western pop culture news), Taylor Swift released her fifth album this week, 1989.  However, the album isn't on Spotify; in fact, she pulled her entire catalog from the streaming service except for one song.  She explained:

"In my opinion, the value of an album is, and will continue to be, based on the amount of heart and soul an artist has bled into a body of work, and the financial value that artists (and their labels) place on their music when it goes out into the marketplace. Piracy, file sharing and streaming have shrunk the numbers of paid album sales drastically, and every artist has handled this blow differently."

Even so, her album is setting records, her decision to keep her music off Spotify is being intensely debated, and basically, you can't escape Taylor Swift in the media.

As a free Spotify user, I'm torn.  I don't actually listen to Taylor Swift, and, wanting to know what the hype was about, I checked out the first single off 1989, "Shake It Off."  (I keep thinking it should be "Take It Off," but then I remember that was from The Donnas.)  Because I can't listen to it on Spotify, I decided to turn to Vevo and watch her music video, which I happily discovered was directed by Mark Romanek:

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

First Impressions of Shanghai

I've been in Shanghai for a little over a week now.  I haven't even scratched the surface of this enormous city, but I do have my first five impressions.  So here they are:

1.  Shanghai is like living in the future.  

Or Blade Runner.  Seriously.  This is what the city looks like on a beautiful sunny day fairly free of smog:

The skyscrapers are so high, and everything is just so futuristic and shiny.  The Oriental Pearl Tower (the TV tower thing on the left side of the photo) sort of reminds me of what Disneyworld thinks the future should be like in Tomorrowland.  If you don't know what I mean, take a look at this picture I took in 2009 from Hong Kong Disney's Tomorrowland.  The Oriental Pearl Tower totally belongs in that weird idea of the future.  Next time I get around to taking a picture of the city at night, I'll be sure to post it since I'm positive it will definitely look like Blade Runner.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Some thoughts about moving to a new country (and packing for it)

As I enjoy my last day in Düsseldorf, there are lots of thoughts going through my head.  I remember the first time I moved abroad back in 2005 as a college student -- I actually sobbed to my mother for three hours.  Maybe more.  I recall wailing to her, "But why am I even going abroad?!  I feel comfortable where I am and I like it here!!  What am I doing?!?"  Nine years later, eight of which have been spent outside the U.S., I can only laugh at my college self and think, "How cute."  Because honestly, I wouldn't change the last nine years at all.

I have the feeling that in Shanghai, I will constantly be comparing it to my German experience.  I realize though that this is unfair.  Düsseldorf consistently ranks in the top 10 most livable cities in Europe, if not the world, according to the Mercer Quality of Living Survey.  On the other hand, China ranks as the number one country for expats according to the BBC.  But does living as an expat actually mean a good quality of life?  I don't think it necessarily does, but this will probably be one of the bigger questions I answer in China.

One thing that worries me about living in China is being Chinese-American, but my Mandarin is only so-so.  Of course, I'm eager to improve it, but there is an expectation that if you look Asian, you speak the local language.  It's a common problem in Asia that I encountered in Beijing, Tokyo, and Kyoto.  The attitude is, "Why don't you speak the local language?  You're Asian!"  This video sums up my experience really well:

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

I'm going to be an expat squared. Or expat hoch zwei.

It's been awhile since I wrote about being an expat, but it turns out I'm moving to Shanghai on Thursday.  Yes, in 72 hours I will be sitting on a plane on my way to China.  It's kind of crazy to think that after eight years of living in Germany, I'm moving to a new country and not back to the U.S.  I never thought I'd actually have the chance to move to China even though I've been saying I would like to do it for a really long time.

You might've noticed I've renamed this blog from "Deutschland, na klar!" ("Germany, of course!" which was basically the title of my German grammar book in college) to "Expat Hoch Zwei," which is a mix of English and German.  It means "Expat Squared."  I actually wanted to rename it "Expat Squared," but doing a quick Google search brought me to another blog that someone else got to before me.  Oh well.

So, tschüß, Düsseldorf:

The question is...what have I been doing up to now?

Monday, September 22, 2014

How a steak & potatoes girl became a staunch supporter of Meat Free Monday

Yesterday was the UN Climate Summit in New York City, which basically discussed what the world can do to slow down climate change.  I've always been a green person that's taken interest in the environment, trying to conserve and not produce waste.  But I love steak and potatoes.  It's one of my favorite meals.  When I was in the U.S. this past August, this is what I ate and it was probably one of the best meals I've ever eaten:

I don't regret it one bit.  That was a really, really delicious steak.  I will admit it -- I like to eat meat.  Even so, one particular group that I've become a staunch supporter of is Meat Free Monday.  The idea behind the group is simple: the livestock sector (read: meat) is one of the biggest contributors to climate change, and by reducing the amount of meat we consume, we can make a difference.  By having one meat-free day per week, we can reduce greenhouse emissions significantly.  I've actually gotten so used to not including meat in what I cook that I actually do the reverse -- I eat meat maybe only once a week, if that.  So how did a steak & potatoes girl end up eating meat so rarely?

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Aging rock stars and how it can be a bit sexist

On Wednesday, I went to see Blondie in Cologne.  I'm not a huge Blondie fan, but big enough that I was really excited to hear hits like "Heart of Glass," "Atomic," and "One Way or Another."  To be clear, I don't actually follow Blondie at all; I actually just listen to the music and don't look out for them in the media.  And this is probably what my problem was because when Debbie Harry came out on stage, I thought to myself, "Whoa, Debbie Harry is old!"

Before you tell me I'm a raging idiot and of course Debbie Harry is old, let me clarify why this came to me as a surprise.  Debbie Harry's face is so tightly bound to Blondie's image that when the band was getting popular back in the day, everyone actually thought Debbie Harry's name was Blondie (it wasn't, and there was a campaign from the band with buttons that said, "Blondie is a group.") Everyone knows what Debbie Harry looked like in the 70s because she graces t-shirts and other items as modern vintage.  At the concert, they were also selling t-shirts with her face on it, but it was an image from the 70s, not from now.  Even if I google "Debbie Harry Rolling Stone," the search results show a German cover from July 2011.  And guess what?  It's not Debbie Harry as how she currently looks, but what she looked like 40 years ago:

Sure, the lead article is, "35 Years of Punk," along with "The Myth of Debbie Harry - Meeting with the Punk-Pop Goddess" and "Blondie - The New Album."  Although two out of the three articles deal with Debbie Harry now, Rolling Stone chose to feature her image from the 70s.  It's only when you look inside that you see what she currently looks like.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

A Visit to Abbey Road Studios - The Sound of Abbey Road

Back at the beginning of May, I had planned a trip to London.  While talking to a friend, they asked if I was going to do anything Beatles-related.  I asked myself if perhaps Abbey Road Studios had changed its policy of no tours, so I checked their website.  To my surprise and delight, there just happened to be a talk in Studio Two the weekend I would be there, "The Sound of Abbey Road."  I immediately ordered my ticket, wondering if I should really drop the hefty £90 (114€/$150 USD) price to get in.  Friends and family thought I was nuts.  Some understood why I spent the money, others didn't.

Why did I even have my doubts?

Upon getting to the studios, I was out of breath from running through St. John's Wood to get there on time.  The guys up front assured me I was on time and that the talk hadn't begun.  As directed, I walked through a hall and down a staircase decorated with various black and white images of musical legends recording in Abbey Road -- from The Beatles to David Bowie to Oasis.  At the bottom, I made a right and entered the legendary Studio Two.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Record Store Day is my Black Friday

Yesterday was Record Store Day, which is when vinyl fans everywhere can go hunt for special releases that are mostly on vinyl.  I've been following RSD since 2010, and I remember going to a local store and asking if they had the special John Lennon release.  They only looked at me quizzically and told me that RSD wasn't a thing in Germany.  I walked away disappointed and called my sister in New York to try getting me the record, but of course it was near impossible by the time she got to the store.  Four years later and to my delight, the same store and two others here in Düsseldorf participate.  I'm not one to wake up and line up at the local record shop before they open at 8 a.m. like these guys:

Friday, April 18, 2014

The inevitable post about Game of Thrones

As much as I consider myself a pop culture fanatic, I also get into TV shows considerably later than everyone else.  Consider that I got into Lost, How I Met Your Mother, and Mad Men after their second seasons had already aired and finished on TV.  And I'll admit it -- I have never seen an episode of Breaking Bad or Downtown Abbey, watched only two episodes of The Walking Dead (which I liked), and only started watching 30 Rock in earnest this year, which is a shame because it is simply hilarious.

And then there's Game of Thrones.  

I only read the books because my husband had gone through all of them and had only praise.  It took me a really long time to get through the books that are out.  My first impression was not that enthusiastic and after reading the fifth book, I still haven't warmed to the series.

As for the show, I had watched a few episodes and again, was not super excited to watch it.  In fact, I kept having the tendency of falling asleep.  "But how?!" you scream.  It took me a really long to stop falling asleep while watching The Godfather and realize how brilliant of a film that is, so maybe this the same.

However, I'm forcing myself to watch this season because I've already read the books.  More importantly, it's for the water cooler talk.  God, I can't escape it.  Even though season four is only two episodes in, it's everywhere.  I can't be the annoying person that asks, "So, did that happen in the latest episode?  Oh, did I just spoil something?  Uh, sorry."  Because that's what will inevitably happen and has happened for the past two weeks.  True, I could just read the reviews for experts on The AV Club and that would save me the hour of watching the show, but then I feel like I'm raining on everyone's parade.

(Stop reading here if you don't want to read any spoilers.  I mean it.  I'm bringing in stuff from the books.)

Sunday, April 06, 2014

The series finale of HIMYM: It's not about the mother, it's about the how

If you know me, you'll know that I watch only two shows on a regular basis -- How I Met Your Mother and Mad Men.  Both of these shows are ending this year and the expectations for both are incredibly high.  The series finale of How I Met Your Mother aired last week on March 31.  I didn't have time to watch it until Friday, so I might be slightly behind on jumping on the commentary bandwagon.  I actively avoided Twitter (we know how much that can spoil stuff for me), but unfortunately following the show on Google+ made me want to tear my hair out with this (I mean, seriously, there's so little stuff on Google+, who would've thought it would spoil a bunch):

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Lady Gaga is totally rock & roll.

Lady Gaga just announced her European tour dates for the fall this year. I asked a lot of different people if they want to come with me, and the general reaction I get when I posed this question was raised eyebrows.  Apparently I don't come off as a Lady Gaga fan because I am definitely a rock fan, not pop.   Truth be told, I only really became a fan after studying her closely for my master's thesis on music videos.  (Have you seen the videos for "Paparazzi" and "Telephone" in succession?  No?  Do it.)  The more I thought about it, the more I realized that Lady Gaga actually could fall under the umbrella of "rock and roll," which is why I like her so much.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Happy 2014! Remember 1994?

Well, it's been quite awhile (again) since I've written, but I constantly think to myself, "Ooh, that'd make a good blog entry."  And then I just never get around to it.  For example, I've been wanting to write about Pharrell Williams' 24-hour music video, "Happy."  Yes, you read that correctly, a 24-hour music video, which is probably only possible thanks to the internet.  No, I haven't watched all 24 hours of it.  Considering that I'm all about music videos and the internet and I wrote my master's thesis about the topic, this is really up my alley.  However, I will have to put that aside for another day because I wanted to talk about the fact that it's 2014.

What's so special about 2014?  Well, it's not so much 2014 that's special, but pretty much one of my first thoughts in the new year was, "Holy crap, 1994 was 20 years ago."  For me, I think 1994 is the year that I became pop culturally aware.  Having two older sisters, I had always just sort of absorbed what they liked, but I began to branch out on my own.