3 July 2006

So, I've just launched Shanghai Networking News, and now I'm just trying to find ways to publicise it. I'm trying to make it a one-stop shop for networking in Shanghai, with events details, a calendar, forums, etc. It's early days yet, but we'll see how it goes.

29 June 2006

Shanghai Networking News

Well, I've decided to pack it in at Shanghai Expat...it's been a great place to work and I've learned a lot, but it's time for me to do my own thing. Right now I'm in business startup mode, with a zillion and one ideas to deal with and more coming in every day. The first business in Shanghai Networking News, a website/newsletter targeted at social/business networkers in Shanghai, since that's a niche that doesn't seem to be catered for in a big way. It'll be listing and reviewing events, pointing people to info and advice about networking, and hopefully making me some cash in the process. I took the plunge and bought some hosting about an hour ago, and the site should go live in a couple of days. I'm just living in dread of the next few hours when I suddenly realise I completely mispelt Sahnghai in the URL and have to pony up more cash to get it sorted out...

Stayin' Alive

At the American Chamber of Commerce event last night, the hoary chestnut that is the "you know, you really do look like Boris Becker" conversation reared it's repetitive head, but this time with a twist. Apparently I now have the smile of one of the Bee Gees, though I'm not entirely sure which one. So to recap, according to various people, I have:
  • The smile of a Bee Gee
  • The general appearance of Boris Becker
  • The lips of Mick Jagger
  • The posture of David Bowie
Most people, when they're young, go through a phase of daydreaming about if they had been adopted, and their real parents were fairy tale kings and queens, ready to return some day to whisk them off to god knows where; I'm stuck with the haunting notion that I'm descended from a trio of 70s music icons and a German tennis player.

20 April 2006

Back in the UK

I'll be back in the UK from Apr 27 to May 5, so if anyone fancies a coffee or a drink, bang me an email, leave me a comment, or give me a phone call. Looking forward to seeing y'all (yet again...)

10 April 2006

Stop the world, I want to get off

If this is someone's idea of a big cosmic joke, let me tell you, it's starting to freak me out. This is the third time I've met a fellow Salopian* in Shanghai. The first time was some guy who used to play cricket at Whittington Castle and attended Lakelands School. Yesterday, there was the guy who did French at Adams School in Wem, and today I meet a tourist from Shrewsbury who's based in Japan. As you can see, two Shropshire lads in as many days -- Shropshire to Shanghai emigration is starting to kick in. It's becoming spooky. No longer can I practice my salsa on the subway, because I'll probably bump into an old school friend whom I haven't seen in years and it'll all seem terribly embarassing. I'll be afraid to buy condoms for fear that an Ellesmerian will overhear me and report it to my gran. What is it that makes Shanghai a Salopian magnet? Is it that there's a disproportionate amount of Salopians here, or is it just that we're all drawn together by some magnetic force? The ghosts of Charles Darwin, Thomas Telford and T'Pau's musical career seem to be guiding our every move, bringing us closer together. But for what? Fuck it. I'm just going to give in and start up Shropshire Expat. The way we're going we'll soon outnumber all the other expats put together anyway. In a way it's kind of fitting that the descendents of Darwin, the man behind "survival of the fittest," get to see just that in action every day on the highways, byways and pavements of Shanghai... * For those not in the know, a Salopian is someone from Shropshire, a green, insignificant county on the Welsh/English border, best known for it's sheep and it's cameo in some sort of TV commercial down under. Those Aussies, eh? Anything with a connection to sheep...

24 March 2006


Right, I don't know who or what turned my website pink, but at least now it's back to a tasteful white. Don't want none of that pansy, pinko gay color here, no siree. Besides, that particular shade makes my eyes water so much that it smudges my mascara...well, not quite. Anyway, the new sidebar on the right shows some of my designs from the MTO123 website, so if you want one of them (or anything else) on a T-shirt, hoodie, USB key or whatever else, let me know. Since I'm blogging from work, I guess I'd better plug, plug away. So, here's a quick(ish) intro to MTO123: Why We're Here We're to help you express your brand or identity by delivering unique, high-quality, customized products. From playful T-shirts to professional workwear, from USB keys to coveralls, we've got it covered. How We're Different There are already lots of companies out there providing branded goods. So, what makes us so special?
  • We specialise in small runs -- Whether you want ten thousand employee shirts or just one shirt for yourself, we can do it.
  • We're devoted to quality -- Each of our best-of-brand garments is hand-customized to ensure the high quality our customers expect
  • We're affordable -- Since we source from all over place, we can get great prices for anything
  • When we say customize, we mean customize -- You want to buy 50 T-shirts, each with different color trim and individual names? You got it!
In a nutshell, we believe in the concept of MTO -- Made to Order -- meaning you don't need piles of products going out of date and taking up valuable space. We'll manufacture products as and when you need them, saving you space and always keeping your image fresh and up-to-date. We use only the most sophisticated technology, quickest ordering processes and most creative designs to turn your dreams into reality in the shortest time possible and we're always on the forefront of new techniques and products, forever expanding our skill-set and product line to better help you. What We Believe Take a walk down the street. Look at people's clothes. How many of them really stand out? With their "Nike" this, "Adidas" that and "Louis Vuitton" the other, most people are walking billboards. Even more amazingly, THEY pay the companies that they're advertising! We're here to shake things up a bit. No more hordes of zombies in Nikes. We're here to take back branding and put it where it rightfully belongs: in the hands of the masses. Whether you want to kick-start the next Reebok, hand out clothes to your groupies or establish your own personality cult, branded clothes will help you take it to the next level. There's only one you in the universe and we're here to help you express that. With us, you can make your own personal brand. Wear your own slogan, your own message, your own emotions. Wear yourself. But wait, MTO123 isn't just about individuals! Here at MTO123, we believe there's no better investment for a company than to support itself with the best promotion there is, being used in the most creative ways and tied in with the evolution of your business. Branded products lead to an increased bond between your company and your employees and clients, greater brand equity and represent your business in the right way. We can help you with this by producing small, quick production runs that hit the streets when you need them, at the right cost and with the quality your business deserves. Whether it's corporate gifts, staff uniforms or a token of appreciation to your employees, we're the people to talk to. Moreover, we're a value-centred company. We eat our own dogfood, so to speak, meaning our employees wear, use and believe in what we produce. This is the best way to guarantee quality for you.

4 March 2006

Back in the saddle

I've finally got time to blog again, and, obviously, I can't think of a damn thing to write. Let's see what I've learned from my months in the non-blogging wilderness:
  1. You can never have too many sequins
  2. Hairspray and excessive boredom do not a good combination make
In other news I'm now working full-time for Shanghai Yang Ma Advertising, the guys behind Shanghai Expat and MTO123. The work for MTO123 seems to be taking up most of my time -- customized hats, T-shirts, basketballs, hoodies, USB keys...well, just about anything really. It's more exciting than it sounds, and it's got lots of potential going for it. Not the easiest job in the world, seeing as I'm the only sales dude, but great fun nonetheless and a fantastic challenge. Quite a few of the designs on the MTO123 website are my own, though the creative juices have been a bit on the low side recently. More soon...in theory

21 December 2005


Finally got home to Shanghai about a week ago after several weeks back in Blighty. And what a few weeks it was. Delhi Belly, strange encounters of the blurred kind (just ask the other dancers in the Newtown bars) and a night at the ballet were just of the experiences I won't forget in a hurry. I would have been back in the Whore of the Orient -- Shanghai, that is -- earlier, but had to stick around to watch my uncle dance ballet in The Nutcracker. Wow. I never realised he was that bloody amazing. Looks like I'll have to re-enrol at Jazz du Funk soon... Though the euphoria should wear off in a few weeks, for now it feels great to be home and settling down again. I've got a new job -- doing advertising sales -- and a new place, a circa 1931 building in the French Concession, a nice leafy area around several parks. Needless to say, it's a much nicer place than my last one, which I was paying through the nose for, and was right at the end of line two. Aaah, Zhongshan Park, I knew ye well. Oh yeah, it also has double-glazing, which is pretty damn astonishing, considering the usual sorry state of insulation in Shanghainese apartments. Am I the only one who finds it weird that my 75-year-old apartment is a hell of a lot warmer than the newest, flashiest places in Shanghai? Incidentally, they even get the floor numbers right. I'm on the second floor, but it's the third window up. Just one of the many benefits of British imperialism. Then again, there was that whole "No Dogs or Chinese" thing, which evens things out a bit. Cue ancestral guilt trip here. The staff at the local Kwiki Mart Alldays seems a lot friendlier than the convenience stores in my old part of town, and don't even have to be trained to say thanks and goodbye. Lots of cheap eats nearby and bars no more than a short taxi ride away, allowing for potentially explosive consequences if I mix the two in the wrong order. What joy.

2 December 2005

Of Men and Micropenises

These are the top keywords that people search for that lead them to my blog. After looking at 1 and 3, I'm getting slightly worried.

Stuff I've been looking at recently

Since I seem to have a few more visitors than I expected, I've decided to try and post more frequently. The problem is, though, I don't really know what to post. There's always the photos of dogs dressed as bees, of course... For now, here's stuff I've been looking at recently: On the web
  • Bloglines - ah, faithful old Bloglines. Without this killer tool, I'd have to visit a few dozen sites a day only to find a few updates. Here, practically every site I visit is presented in one simple interface. It slices, it dices, it shaves hours off my day.
  • Del.icio.us - yet another Web 2.0 service, this lets me store my bookmarks online, so I can access them from anywhere, and even see what other people are bookmarking. The Recent Bookmarks to the left are thanks to this little puppy. Tagged, bagged and ready to surf.
  • Google Analytics - One of the Big G's latest buyouts, this lets me check where and how many visits I get to this page.
  • The Onion, although it's been losing its funniness recently.
  • Defective Yeti, which is still consistently funny
  • Plus various technology sites, of limited appeal to my suspected audience.


  • The BBC's ShakespeaRetold has been fantastic. A modern-day retelling of the bard's stories. Surprisingly good.
  • Little Britain, though it's getting a bit long in the tooth by now. "But I'm a lady" can only be funny so many times.

In print

  • The Guardian - Yeah, it's a bit liberal for most of my family, but I'm so used to reading it online that it's nice to be able to hold a print edition. Beats the Torygraph in my book.
  • Sudoku - a puzzle game invented in England, perfected in Japan and then imported back again. More fun than it looks at first.

On my iPod

On my bod

  • A funky striped shirt from Energie. Ahh, if only it were cheaper I could buy a lot more.
  • A corduroy blazer from Zara. Again, not cheap, but blazers are in right now and I couldn't find a cheaper one with real pockets.
  • A military-style hat from H&M. So far, the only cheap thing I've bought, and the only thing I'm not entirely sure suits me. But then, I've never really been a hat person before.

I guess it's time to wrap up this irrelevant little post. Incidentally, the whole site's now Creative Commons licensed, meaning you can redistribute my content as long as you obey a few rules.

1 December 2005

In Which Alex Waxes Dangerously Philosophical

Caution: The following is a joke-free post. Feel free to insert banana peels, buckets of whitewash and other slapstick as you see fit. If swallowed, consult doctor immediately. It's only by returning to my roots in Shropshire that I've realised how abnormal I've become. Not abnormal in a bad way, but just "not normal." I suppose I could use the word "extraordinary," but it seems a bit arrogant, doesn't it? Of course, "normal" means different things to different people, but since I've been back I've found myself on a different wavelength to most people I know. Other people try to get a steady job, make some money and eventually start a family. People like me, on the other hand, gallivant from country to country, never knowing where home is, where we'll end up next and or what tomorrow may bring. It all sounds terribly exciting and romantic, but it's not the easiest existence: Language barriers, cultural barriers, losing touch with old friends and sometimes a feeling of not belonging are just some of the problems. Wherever I go, I never feel quite at home. Home is more than just a place. It's the people you know, your shared experiences and memories. That's why coming home has been tough in a few ways. With some of my friends it's like I left only yesterday. With others, it's like I've been gone for a hundred years. A lot of them have married and/or have kids already, while some have only just graduated. It's all been a bit of a shock sometimes, and it feels terrible not being to relate to some of them like I used to. I've realised how everything's changed, or hasn't changed. Most people I've seen since I've been back are busy doing "normal" stuff. Apologies if the quote marks make me sound like a bit of an arrogant twat, but I can't think of any other way to describe it. I've heard a lot of them saying they wish they could do what I do. The fact is, it's not such a big deal. Admittedly, I've had some advantages, like having experienced emigration at a young age and a background in language study, but so what? I know people who've done more on less. It's not that I can do these things, it's that I do do these things. It's all a state of mind. Doing what I do wasn't easy at first. I got into some bad scrapes a few times, thrown into insane situations, got horribly sick and often wanted to catch the next plane home. But I stuck at it, and it's made me a lot tougher, and, hopefully, a much better person. I was actually chatting to an old friend about this a while ago, and I lied to her. It's only now that I realise. When she asked if I ever got scared, I just answered no. Truth be told, I've been scared out of my wits more times than I can count, and I know I will be again. I can either let the fear paralyse me, or fight through the fear. Every time I fight it, it gets a little easier. In the end, everyone has their fears. For me, it's the fear of having regrets. The fear of kicking myself later in life for not grabbing hold of a great opportunity now. The fear of having no stories to tell my (eventual) grandchildren. It's only by taking the road less travelled that I'll ever have these stories. I guess, in a way, that's what my life is all about.

You like me, you really like me!

Wow. I've just checked the logs and I've been getting hits from all over the place. Not just New Zealand, but quite a bit of western Europe, the States, South Africa. And there I was thinking I didn't have much of an audience. Anyway, if you're reading this, leave a comment and let me know who you are and where you're from. Y'know, something to warm the cockles of my heart.

21 November 2005

Pink Tea-Towel Holders

NB: Don't look at the link for Robinson Crusoe on Sin Island unless you're really prepared for it. It's pretty mucky and I wouldn't want to be responsible for any hairy palms, blindness, eternal damnation, etc. While in London I've been staying with some of my uncle's friends, and it's been a bit of an eye-opener, all in all. Another friend was doing costume management for Robinson Crusoe on Sin Island, a pornographic version of (I think) Pirates of the Carribbean. Thus, a few weeks after my arrival, I was treated to quite a graphic description of what actually happens on a blue movie set. Sordid stuff indeed. After that, my curiosity (and only my curiosity) aroused, we all gathered around the computer to watch the trailer for this movie. That's right, four guys -- two gay, two straight -- watching a skin flick just to check out the quality and historical authenticity of the period costumes. Yes! Marvel at the realistic brass buttons! Be astounded by the intricate embroidery on Robinson's jacket! Gaze in wonder at the detailed carving of the peg, uh, legs. I've also learnt a whole lot of new words for, um, the male genital organ, not from the movie, but from the comic strip that Ricky (a guy I'm staying with) draws. I'll never think of custard the same way ever again. In related news, according to my uncle, I am the lucky owner of a sense of humour that's steadily becoming more and more homosexual, probably due to a few double entendres that I "slip in" here and there. Damnit, there I go again, and I'm not even trying. I don't know quite where this is going to lead me, and frankly, it's probably better that I don't.

15 November 2005

Homecoming Queen

Coming "home" to England is weird in many ways, not least of all is my hometown, Ellesmere. I was only fifteen when I left, but still...it's all a little surreal. A matter of relative scale I guess...it's a bit of a shock coming from a city of 16 million to a town of 3,000. Honestly, it takes less time to walk from one end of town to the other than it does to walk to my local subway station back home. It's not just the geography that's small either. For lack of a better word, so are some of the people. Not small-minded as such, but small in terms of experience. It really put things into perspective for me when one English woman was wondering aloud what it would be like to visit London. It's making me take my globetrotting less for granted a week or so later. That and the quote "Oh my God, Alex, I applaud you, I really do," after someone discovered I was a 23 year-old who lives in Shanghai. It'll be nice to get back to all the other normal folk in Shanghai so I can swap war stories about going "home." Hmm...it's getting difficult to remember which "home" is home, if you get my drift. And that's leaving out New Zealand, Taipei, and Jiayuguan. It's bad enough people not being able to tell where I'm from, how old I am or which team I bat for, but on top of it all, now I don't even know where I consider home. Expect an identity crisis and mental breakdown soon folks. No change from the status quo, come to think of it. Speaking of breakdowns, I'm almost having a mid-life (well, mid-twenties) crisis. Most people I know from childhood are either hitched, have children and/or are having a baby. I'm actually starting to feel old. Granted, this is Ellesmere we're talking about. A place where...well, let's not go into that. Suffice to say, these things generally happen earlier over there. You know, small town, lack of entertainment, that kettle of fish. Protection basically consists of locking the doors. Until now, sprogging hasn't really crossed my mind that much, mostly because, being a complete narcissist, I rarely think of anything but myself. That, and the fact I'd make a terrible dad. I still remember goading my kid brothers into eating soap, almost slamming my brother's head in a car door and missing my sister's head by inches with what seemed like a small boulder. Not exactly acts to inspire faith in my parenting skills. When it comes down to it, I'm completely not ready for the responsibility, maturity and poop that comes with having the pitter-patter of tiny feet running around the house. And falling down the stairs. We C-G's, or at least one of us, have a knack for that kind of thing. Not me though. I was just the one who ate coal. Culture shocks are still popping up all over the shop. I had one of my biggest last night, when I tried to buy some beer at the local service station. Apparently, it can't be served after 11pm. Okaaay. And here I was thinking I was returning to the more liberal country...it's just one of those times when I realised how much more laissez-faire China is, at least in some respects. That and the 40p DVD's and several metric tons of rip-off Gucci's. The other biggest culture shock (and it sounds so un-PC for me to say this) is the amount of black people here. Sure, I've always known England has a large black population, but it only really hit home when I got here. That's not to say I think it's bad, just that it's a bit of a shock to the system after Shanghai, where practically the only black people I saw where staring at me from tubes of toothpaste. Really, some of my best friends are black. It's just I'm more used to seeing a slightly different hue in humanity's rich rainbow of colours. Um, let's just assume that this rainbow includes black and white, and forget about the blue, green and so on, yeah? And with that Bulwer-Lytton-worthy analogy, I'm putting this post to bed. Though I'm sure we're all agreed it'd be better off if we put it to sleep. Thank you, and goodnight.

14 November 2005

London Calling

What better way to celebrate my return to blogging than a predictably lame title pun? That's right, I'm baaack, and this time blogging from London, which I'm still getting used to. People here drive on the wrong side of the road, they manage to keep their spit on the inside and the shops generally shut at five o'clock. In the evening. Yep, it's a strange place to come back to after Shanghai, especially since this is the first time I've been back in about six years. There are times when I really have to stop myself forming a scrum of one when I try to get onto the "tube" as people in countries other than China seem to have developed this amazing social practice, which I think is known as (though don't quote me) queuing. Basically, it's people just spontaneously forming a line, one after the other. It all seemed a bit technical to me at first, but I'm gradually relearning this fantastic skill, though it's not as easy as it looks. At first I thought there'd be someone handing out numbers to organize who stood where, but (unbelievably, I might add) it seems to be more of an ad-hoc arrangement. Gads, is it any wonder they, uhhh, we had an empire on which the sun never setted? Many say the past is a foreign country, and I couldn't agree more. My return to this fair and sceptered isle has provided me with my first case of Delhi belly in years, no doubt due to English cuisine's world-renowned richness and piquancy. I've run the gamut, from fish and chips all the way to jam on toast, and it's been a helter-skelter ride of thrills, spills and general unpredictability all the way. More later. Unless I starve to death in the middle of the night through not being able to buy a bag of "crisps." Or fall over stone-cold dead from the sensory overload of a runny boiled egg with (deep breath) soldiers. Or just get lazy again. You know what I'm like by now...

3 September 2005

The Yunnan Travelog: Prologue

N.b. I wrote this mostly for the Shanghai Expat website, but I thought I'd put it on my site too. More coming later. The article on Shanghai Expat'll have pictures too, some of which are also on my Flickr page. "That's it. I've either got to leave this crazy, mixed-up city or I'll go insane." How many times have you heard something like that? Most people, after living in Shanghai for a while, have felt this way one time or another. And it's not surprising. Shanghai changes so quickly that it's difficult to get a handle on the here and now and it can sometimes be nigh-on impossible to feel grounded. It seems that no sooner than something has been built up then it's time for it to be pulled down again, and replaced by something bigger, shinier and even shorter-lived. In short, it's not the most tranquil or relaxing place to live. It was with this in mind that I decided to escape Shanghai for a while. It had been nine months since I'd come in, and I'd lost track of how long it had been since my last holiday. Heeding the advice of many others who raved about the south-west of China, I chose to head to Yunnan, to the tourist Mecca of Lijiang and hopefully see some of the minority peoples and cultures on the way. I didn't so much go out of a desire to see Yunnan though. To be honest, I couldn't really have cared much less about seeing the tourist sights. No, my objective was to just break loose from the big smoke for a while, and any tourist sights on the way would be a bonus. Non-typical, yes, but Shanghai can do that to you. Anyway, on with the show...

26 August 2005

Well, I'm back, with lots of good ideas about what to do now. More later, lots of Shanghai Expat work to catch up on. Travelog and pics should be posted within a week or so, assuming I don't get hit by a truck or run away back to Yunnan, Dick Whittington stick and hanky over my shoulder (Do those baggish things actually have a name? I've always been curious...)

Going West Travelog, 7 Aug

Well, almost 24 hours into the journey and I seem to be coping okay. I've passed through the 'bored to tears' stage and I'm now in the little pool of calm tedium on the other side, just listening to the clickety-clack of the tails and enduring the odd blackouts as we go through a tunnel. I'd originally tried to book a hard sleeper for the journey, but having taken a look around the rest of the train and seen most of the passengers crammed six to a room in triple-decker bunks, I'm glad that only soft sleepers were available. That's not to say it's a walk in the park though: I'm still stuck in here with a family who think it's perfectly normal to wake up at 5am and yak for (what seemed like) the better part of an hour. To top it off, the daughter needs a night-light and the father has a buzzsaw snore. Fan-bloody-tastic. I chose to take the train because a) it was slightly cheaper, and b) for the bragging rights of having endured a 44-hour train ride. Me and my big ideas. Oh, wonderful. As if that wasn't bad enough, now everyone on board is being treated to the Backstreet Boys over the intercom. It's a wonder there are as few rail-related "accidents" as there are.

30 July 2005

Random 10 and the ghost of Cliff Richard

Just for the hell of it, and because I haven't posted for a while (and because it's a cool meme on the interweb and I don't want to be thought of as uncool, perish the thought), here's a random selection from my iPod 1. Dance with You, Bowling for Soup 2. Don't Stand Another Chance, Janet Jackson 3. We'll Be Together, Sting 4. The Closest Thing to Crazy, Katie Melua 5. Dreaming, Blondie 6. Easy Come, Easy Go, Winger 7. Breakdance, Irene Cara 8. Never in a Million Years, The Boomtown Rats 9. I Want You Back, Bananarama 10. Suddenly Strange, Bic Runga Admittedly, a lot of the songs are from Billboard Top 100's of the past 2 decades that I still haven't got round to listening to, which should deflect any major criticism of my musical taste. Except the Irene Cara anyway. Go on, laugh... Why have I added all that dreck? I'm running out of music I like, so I'm scouring the archives in the hope of finding some good oldies. Life's pretty busy again. Well, I say busy...I feel busy but at the end of each day it seems like I've done nothing at all worth mentioning. Applying for a few more jobs, just finished my interview with Shanghai Expat's infamous ballroom and latin dance teacher, Ivo and went to a steak restaurant for a review tonight. The verdict? WRB -- wouldn't rush back. My summer hols start in a few weeks, which explains why some of you might have heard me beling out Stiff Cliff's "Summer Holiday" at the top of my lungs, startling the living bejeezus out of the dear old biddies on the metro. Honestly, what old woman wouldn't like Cliff Richard? Admittedly, he hasn't penetrated the China market yet, but still...where was I before my train of thought was so musically derailed? Ah yes, the hols. I'll be going to Yunnan in South-Western China, to generally chill out for a few months. Fresh air, peace and quiet and some real China...just what I need after the hustle and bustle, mess and stress of Shanghai. Yes...that's how ill this city is making me. I'm resorting to dire attempts at rhyming prose and overdosing on ellipses. Just one week to go, thank God.

25 July 2005

Note to self

Headbanging to Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody whilst wearing glasses is not a particularly good idea. Just yet another one of my lapses of common sense. But, hey, who wants to be common?