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Shopping for Pearls (and DVDs) in Shanghai! March 31, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in China, Travel.
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The red banner ironically prohibits the sale of imitation goods

If you are looking for quality pearls (and some quality imitation branded goods) in Shanghai, look no further than Hongqiao International Pearl City.  I wasn’t, but we still ended up going there twice because the freshwater pearls are so insanely cheap compared to back home that we just had to.

Located at 3721 Hongmei Rd (near Yan’an West Road), Pearl City is actually on the second floor of the fairly large two storey building.  The first floor sells predominantly imitation goods, which is hilarious because as soon as you enter there is a large red banner in Chinese that apparently says ‘Sale of Imitation Goods Prohibited’.  In fact, imitation goods is pretty much all they sell.

The second floor, huge and arranged like a department store, is filled with different pearl vendors.  Most of the vendors know how to communicate in English, which is why Pearl City is such a popular place for expat shoppers.  They vendors we dealt with were very courteous and hardworking people, and even gave us free bottles of water (which we sorely needed after a long day out)!

However, if you don’t know your pearls or you don’t know how to bargain, chances are you will end up paying exorbitant prices or end up with poor quality pearls.  Honestly though, the prices are so cheap there that you’ll either think you’re getting crap quality (when it’s not) or you’ll think you’re getting a fantastic deal (when you’re not).  My wife spent about $50AUD and got 4 pairs of pearl earrings, a pearl necklace and a pearl bracelet.  You’d be lucky to get one pair of pearl earrings for that much in Sydney!

The best way to go is to go there with someone local, or someone that knows what they are doing.  We did, and we went to the store in the far right corner (from where you come up the escalators).  Certain times they wouldn’t budge from their prices or didn’t have exactly what we wanted, but that’s okay — you just go to another place and compare.

One word of advice: sometimes the vendors might try to play the sympathy card and say that they don’t make any money from the pearls or won’t be making any money if they sell it to you at X price.  Don’t believe them.  As long as they are willing to sell it to you, they are making money.  No vendor will sell to you at a loss or zero profit.

For those who think pearls are boring but are forced to go, don’t fear.  There are two ‘classic’ Shanghainese DVD stores right next to the building and across the road.  These DVD stores miraculously stock wall-to-wall DVDs of all the latest titles, of films currently at the cinema and films not even out yet!  And they are all wrapped up nicely like real DVDs. The staff there can speak English and can even give you recommendations, including which DVDs are of good quality (aren’t all DVDs good quality?).

Just be careful bringing them home, that’s all.

PS: There are lots of these DVD stores around in Shanghai.  I saw one of the movie The Fighter, which actually says, ‘The Wrestler, but with boxing’!  Oh, and there are street vendors selling DVDs in plastic wrap without cases — apparently the quality of these are sometimes questionable, but they are of course cheaper.

Movie Review: The Adjustment Bureau (2011) March 30, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews, Reviews.
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The other day I had a choice of Battle: LA and The Adjustment Bureau, and the general consensus with friends was the former, so I went with it and had a decent time (review here).  The Adjustment Bureau was supposedly ‘crap’ and ‘boring’, though one voice of reason suggested that it was ‘better than expected’.

To be honest, I had really wanted to see The Adjustment Bureau.  From the trailer, it looked like one of those classic sci-fi thrillers (and as I discovered, it was loosely based on a short story by Philip K Dick, the man responsible for Blade Runner, Total Recall and Minority Report, but of course also Paycheck and Next) where you don’t know what the hell is going on but it’s nonetheless all very exciting and thought provoking.

As it turned out, The Adjustment Bureau was both different to what I expected and better than I expected.  If you go into it thinking it’s going to be anything like Blade Runner, Total Recall or Minority Report, you’ll probably come away bitterly disappointed.

There are thilling moments, but The Adjustment Bureau is at its heart an epic love story between a budding politician (played by Matt Damon) and a contemporary dancer (Emily Blunt).  And while it has sci-fi elements and a sci-fi feel to it, it’s not really sci-fi either.  Does fantasy romance with a religious slant count as a genre?

There’s not much of a mystery involved either as you discover what the ‘Adjustment Bureau’ really is relatively early on.  That’s because the focus of the movie is always firmly on the love story.

Therefore, whether you believe in the romance plays a huge part in whether or not you can appreciate the film.  I must admit I was one of the ones that did, mainly because of the excellent chemistry between Damon and Blunt.  Ordinarily I would have thought such an obviously contrived romance would be cringeworthy, but I actually found it rather sweet.  Maybe it’s just the romantic in me.

So while the film was a slow crawl in parts and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense if you think about it, I’m going to go out on a limb and say I enjoyed it.  It’s really a fable about fate and love, and gets you thinking about free will, chance, and whether there are people out there who are meant to be together.

3.5 stars out of 5

2532 Words March 30, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Blogging, Misc, Novel, On Writing, Study.
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City of Words by Vito Acconci, 1999

Yesterday wasn’t quite as productive as I anticipated.  I went to watch Red Riding Hood — I know — but it’s only because I had a free movie ticket that was expiring in a day or so and would have gone to waste otherwise.  Anyway, review coming soon, but for some reason the movie made me very lethargic and lacking inspiration.

Alas, more writing had to be done.  I powered through yesterday to 2532 words (meaning under 1000 words for a day).  I’ll still take that.  But I really started struggling as I reached the climax of the first chapter.  The wheels were in motion and the story was progressing, but it felt like something was missing.  The prose, the dialogue — none of it was as exciting as I had visualised in my mind.

I started committing the cardinal sin of editing while writing.  According to traditional wisdom, the first draft is supposed to be where you just pour it all out so you can rewrite it and fix it up later.  And it really slowed me down.  And the stuff I was amending wasn’t necessarily making it better.

I have a feeling it’s because I haven’t given enough thought to my protagonist, my narrator.  I’ve spent all my time and effort developing the six or seven other minor characters in the chapter and made them very intriguing people, but I’ve forgotten about the guy the readers are supposed to care most about.

Whatever.  The goal is to just get the first chapter DONE and worry about the rest later.  My guess is it’ll be around 3500 words or so and I’ll have to eventually trim it down to 3000.  Wish me luck.

Lapis Thai at Tianzifang (Shanghai) March 30, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in China, Food, Reviews, Travel.
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Following on my previous post about the hip and trendy Tianzifang in Shanghai, this one is about the restaurant we visited for lunch.  There are literally dozens of restaurants at Tianzifang, and all of them look pretty darn good — from traditional Chinese to Italian to Japanese to Thai, you can be sure you’ll have a decent meal wherever you go.

On advice from my sister, we decided to go to Lapis Thai (Thai Cuisine and Lounge).  According to the business card it is only one of three stores in Shanghai, with a fourth one opening in April 2011.  From the outside it doesn’t look like much because all you can see is the bar, but all the seats are upstairs.

From the inside, with all its traditional wooden fittings, wine cabinets and cushions, Lapis Thai looks and feels like a relaxing place to be.  There are certainly lots of expats dining there, which could be an indication of the type of tastes the restaurant caters for.

Anyway, needless to say, we had a feast.  A huge feast. I know.  You want pictures?  I got pictures!

First, we got the assorted snack platter, which included shrimp cakes, spring rolls, fish cakes and satay sticks.  Very good, similar to the type of appetizer platter we get back in Sydney.

Second, green curry with beef.  Again, the type of stuff we can get at home, but this one dare I say was better than what I’ve had in Sydney.  This one was creamier, more flavoursome, and the beef was very tender.

Third, and I have to apologise for the blurry photo (darn camera couldn’t focus and I didn’t check), fried broccoli and yellow curry and coconut — this one was a highlight because I haven’t had anything like it before.  The curry was also creamy and fragrant, superb stuff.

Fourth, and sorry again for the photo, the spicy and sour pork neck salad.  Another highlight.  Tangy, with a terrific zing.

Fifth, sweet and sour chicken.  An oldie but a goodie.

Sixth, stir fried fat noodle with chicken.

And last but not lease, the sensational pineapple fried rice.

The verdict?  Excellent food with solid variety.  The flavours were on the strong side, especially the sweets and sours, but I like my flavours strong.  The prices are slightly dearer than your local Shanghainese restaurant, but still very affordable for the average tourist.  Definitely recommended for visitors to Tianzifang.

8.5 out of 10!

For more information, check out the Lapis Thai website here.  The Tianzifang store is located at No. 14, Lane 248 Tai Kang Road, Lu Wan District, Shanghai.  Other locations can be found on the website.

1600 Words March 29, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Misc, Novel, On Writing, Study.
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Source: sustain450.com.au

Just a quickie.

Yesterday, at long last, I commenced working on my new novel.  I know, I know, I haven’t even finished my old novel (stuck at around 110,000 words), but this one needs to take priority as it is a course project I must complete in the next few months.

So after a lengthy, difficult struggle and excessive planning (I always love to plan), I sat down and began to write (type).  Several hours, multiple breaks and countless procrastination sessions later, I had 1600 words.

A far cry from the 6000-8000 words Iused to pump out locked away in a room during the bitter winter of Cambridge, but I’ll take it considering how long it’s been since I last wrote fiction.

The best thing of all is that I thoroughly enjoyed the writing process.  It’s only a rough first draft at the moment, but I loved the feeling of getting the words in my mind on the page, even if I can never get it exactly right.

This begs the question — if I enjoy it so much, why don’t I write more?  Come on, start writing!

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