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Location: Penang, Malaysia

December 09, 2005

What did you do in a foreign place?

What makes a foreign place foreign? Most people will tell you in one word. Yes, the "culture". You know that culture is a very general word. Some people are adventurous enough to experience to be a local. Some might want a controlled environment.

In a foreign place, the language is different, or at least, the accent is different. Some people can pick up the local accent in a short time. They can even imitate the accent as well. The way people joke and laugh at something is different from yours. When you try to crack a joke, you will be surprised that the local people look at you with wide open eyes. They just don't get it. The reverse is true too.

While in Shanghai, I asked a counterpart on how do local poeople recognize us as foreigners? Well, pretty simple, he told me. The locals usually don't turn on the heater at home. Some turn on the heater for certain rooms only. Therefore, they wear many "layers" of clothes. Foreigners usually stay in the hotel where the heater is always turn on to comfortable level, to a level you can do without a shirt. When foreigners go out, they will wear very little. Maybe, just a T-shirt and a jacket. That's all. So, it is really easy to distinguish foreigners.

Anyway, in a foreign place, it will be great to find out what the locals do. Shanghai is relatively safe. You can go out to the street alone at night and my impression is that it is as safe as Singapore. For certain cultures, "eating is a favourite pastime". The Chinese like to eat. We "roamed around to find food" every night while we were there.

On Monday night, we managed to find a Muslim restaurant. It was great and cheap. The next day was a little lazy. We walked around a found a Hong Kong style "tea shop" (港式茶餐厅) and we had good food there as well. The price was really reasonable. We worked a little late on Wednesday and ended up going for dinner at about 9 pm. We saw a Mexican food restaurant after a few hunder meters walk. The environment was really nice, the service is excellent. You won't believe it because Mexican restaurants that I went to before in United States are different. Not forgetting to mention about the food, it was superb.

After 3 nights of great food, Thursday was a really busy day, and at the end of they day, I found out that I was the last person to leave the company. So, I ended up eating alone at a Japanese restaurant near the office. It is actually located within the same building. A good dinner but unfortunately, I had to drink sake (Japanese rice wine) alone.

We disappeared from the company a little early on Friday. We went to do some sightseeing and not to forget buying souvenirs. It is important to buy something for the people in the office back home. Edible or not, you must buy something as "buah tangan" (in the Malay language). Japanese say "omiyage", they know this well. Friday dinner was interesting. The locals took us to a up-class Chinese restaurant serving local cuisine. We paid for dinner as a gesture of appreciation since they took us around. The food was "so-so" only.

After a week in Shanghai, we learned to go around with a map, walking, taking taxis, and using the MRTs. Learned some local accents and terms (vocabularies). While blogging about things happened after office hours, the main job was kind of out of the picture. Anyway, the main job was completed successfully. Work hard and play hard, of course.

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