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Sunday, June 7, 2015

State of the Post

We missed our turnoff this afternoon and ended up on the wrong side of the Huàngpŭ River 黄浦江. From left to right, the Shanghai World Financial Center 上海环球金融中心, Shanghai Tower 上海中心大厦 and Jīn Mào Tower 金茂大厦. 

The view from my wife's hotel room. Take away the apartment blocks and the Pŭdōng 浦东 skyline, and Shànghăi 上海 is actually an extremely flat city. Pamela has been suffering from a bad cold and graciously offered to sleep by herself so as not to pass anything on to either me or our daughter. I appreciate the sacrifice she made with having to sleep in that comfortable double bed all by herself.

We were kicked out of our housing compound this weekend. Actually, no one forced us to go, but a thorough repaving of the complex’s driveways was scheduled for yesterday and today, and the management offered to put the residents up at a hotel for Friday and Saturday nights until the work was done. Faced with a choice of staying indoors all weekend while the area outside our front door was transformed into the La Brea Tar Pits, or enjoying the comforts of a five-star hotel on someone else’s tab, we agonized over what to do for about a millisecond before opting for the latter choice. 

A multistory fabric market specializing in tailor-made clothing. Some real bargains on made-to-fit suits and dresses can be had here, but all that fabric confined in such a tight-fitting space seems like a fire disaster waiting to happen. However, nothing like that could ever happen in a country governed by laws, such as China.

My daughter suggested to her mother that she might like to buy this qípáo 旗袍. Pamela respectfully declined the suggestion.

This wasn’t the first time we’ve been treated to a hotel stay while work was being done in our compound. In fact, like the Winchester Mystery House when it was under construction, workmen have been going at it non-stop during daylight hours every day for the past eight months, with the exception of a break during the Lunar New Year. What began as a short-term project to replace sewer pipes turned into a textbook case of mission creep, as the compound’s owner decided to make additional “improvements” while he had all that cheap migrant labor on hand. The lawns have been torn up and re-sodded, doorways and curbs have been completely redone and now the driveways have a new coating of tar. At one point, the area around our home looked like a World War One battlefield, what with trenches and craters pockmarking the landscape. Strange men are often seen passing through our backyard, and cigarette butts litter the ground all around our house. While I’m sure the end result will be a much more attractive complex, we were initially promised that everything was to have been finished by the start of this year (as in "January"). Now we are almost halfway through 2015, and the end is still nowhere in sight. Granted, seeing as all we pay for is the Internet and landline telephone bills, we can’t really complain (and, hey, the complimentary breakfast at the hotel this weekend wasn’t bad), but if we were one of those other families paying the rent each month to live here, I think we would have a right to be pretty furious.

The not-quite-as-impressive view from the room Amber and I shared this weekend. We could see the swimming pool, which we used a couple of times. 

My daughter on the mean streets of Hóngqiáo 虹桥

Meanwhile, the pace has picked up at work. Since the federal government decided that busloads of Chinese tourists shopping at suburban factory outlet malls is the solution for curing whatever it is that ails the U.S. economy, demand for visas has continued to grow. But that isn’t the main reason I’ve been putting in サラリーマン-like hours at the office in recent weeks. There are several projects for which I've offered my services, including one that relates to a certain national holiday coming soon, and which is testing my extremely limited graphic design and computational skills. Had it been up to me, this particular occasion would’ve been a low-key affair, a modest celebration of how far we have come as a nation balanced with an honest appraisal of the challenges still facing us, to be shared with guests from our host country and others in the diplomatic community. But just as our foreign policy has been recalibrated over the past couple of decades to include free trade as a measurement of democratic progress, or, better yet, how two certain year-end festive occasions are now sinking in the morass of over-commercialization, this upcoming celebration must have a theme. And that theme must benefit a designated industry grouping. No wonder I'm feeling kind of hollow now when I listen to those old Black Flag favorites.

"You need suit? How about pants? You look!"

Don't be so shellfish

At least all of these efforts should reflect well on my annual performance review, due before we leave Shanghai at the end of next month. Of course, what started out as a well-meaning effort to provide impartial evaluations of the workforce has been altered over the years as it passed through the bowels of the federal bureaucracy to become a document filled with bragging boasting astounding accomplishments, which few will take at face value but which will be used as the basis when the time comes for considering tenure and promotions. In the end, the number of hours of unpaid overtime I've put in at the office getting things done won’t be taken into account. Instead, my career trajectory will be determined in large part by whether or not I used proper grammar and punctuation when writing my own performance assessments. And in an organization in which everyone is expected to demonstrate "leadership", what will become of the followers who will actually get the work done? 

Tasteful decorations in the hotel hallways

No one will ever accuse Amber of not being a team player, as she showed during a get-together yesterday at the consulate. Her father, on the other hand...

Still, it’s been an interesting couple of years here in China, and I’ve enjoyed the work for the most part. The next few weeks are going to be busy ones as I wrap up my roles in the aforementioned work projects while simultaneously preparing for the move out of Shanghai. I’m looking forward to relaxing in the U.S. for a few weeks this summer before undertaking the next challenge of learning just enough Russian to be able to do my job well enough at my next post in Vilnius

This painting adorns the wall outside a Chinese restaurant that Pamela inexplicably always insists on taking visitors to when going out to eat.

Hiding in the bushes on the consulate grounds is this stone lantern, the likes of which are common sights at Shintō shrines 神社 in Japan (as well as in various locations in the former Japanese colony of Taiwan), but here in China...

And, with any luck, by the time we arrive in Lithuania next May, all this work at our housing compound in Shanghai may just be getting finished.

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