Building Work in Vietnam is…Different

I came home to this the other day.


That’s a full-blown bonfire on the floor of the place next door to us, which has been under construction for the entire time we’ve been here. They were burning the wood that they used for that floor.

Being from a wildfire-prone state in the USA, my sense of panic at the sight of open flames is probably overblown. But this was not to be the weirdest thing about the construction this week.


That’s the new balcony, right next to our room. There is a side that has no building at all near it, but no. They chose to put the balconies on the side with two feet between it and our building. There is now a balcony so close to our bedroom that we could high five our new neighbours when they arrive. Of course, it could be worse.


They are building the balcony on top of our upstairs neighbours’ balcony. On their floor. Blocking it completely from the sun and the open space that used to be there. I have to think that the architect planned this, because a colossal fuckup the order of 14 inches too close to a neighbouring building seems to be too big. But then, who knows?


Our balcony on the left


They’ve cooped my laundry space for their nylon construction fabric

For the full effect, you really need to see it in motion. Here’s a video.

Does it snow in Shanghai?

It does, actually. Even though I could have been tempted to say, ‘When Shanghai freezes over,’ as a turn of phrase this summer…that day is here. It’s the coldest it’s been in 35 years. I would never have believed how cold it is here. Colder than Patagonia. Colder than Colorado. If only because the buildings have no insulation.

coleen to delete 075

In summer, it was unbelievably hot.

Layers. Layers. So many layers.

Three shirts. Merino baselayer. Trousers. Four sweaters.

Indoors. Yes, Indoors.

Oh lord. It is so cold. So. So. Cold. Also, here is a whiteness comparison of my pallor and the wall in our apartment.


Pretty close. No Filter.

Here’s the snow from today in three videos!

Chinese Fire Drill

In the USA, we sometimes play a game called ‘Chinese Fire Drill’ at stoplights. You get out of the car and run around the outside, switching seats as fast as possible.

Today, I got to experience a real life Chinese Fire Drill.

White smoke billowed past our teacher’s room window. I had been told that a fire drill would be happening at 13:30. I assumed, as one does, that a fire drill meant the alarms would go BEEP BEEP BEEP and we would all walk outside in an orderly fashion for a few minutes.

A guy was wandering around the lobby with a can of gasoline after our training about fifteen minutes earlier. This should have been my first inclination that this was no normal drill.

So yeah. The smoke. It was coming in through the stairway door. I opened it and the whole thing was totally white. Filled to the brim with smoke. To the point that my immediate thought was, ‘Oh shit stack! We are actually on fire. Where is the fire?’ I ran into the stairwell, hoping to find the source of the fire and extinguish it.

Mind you, all the Chinese staff and all the managers had left the building, except the teachers. Me and Eve ran around worried that we might be experiencing a real fire, scarves over our faces, in the stairwell. Insert copious muffled swears here.

The smoke had gotten everywhere. There was no real way to clear it. I spent 20 minutes fanning with flashcards to try to get it out, with the help of a teaching assistant who happened to arrive way early for his shift. My sales team colleagues helpfully closed all the windows and doors I had opened to try to get some of the Very Unhealthy Air (per today’s AQI) into the school to clear the toxic cloud. I was stomping around, two air conditioner controls in hand, opening windows and rolling my eyes.


The Culprit 

The security guard thought I was hilarious. ‘Why didn’t someone tell the Laowai?’

What a mess. I currently reek of gasoline smoke, nearly eight hours later. My director was angry at ME when she finally deigned to join us for work today; apparently it is shameful that no foreign teachers signed up for the fire training. We were neither invited nor told what the hell was going on, so I’m less than sympathetic. The person organising the Chinese Fire Drill seemed to bald-face lie to the Director, claiming we had all been invited (nope).

It was useful in a couple ways. I learned:

  1. Our smoke alarms are fake or don’t work. The school was fucking filled with smoke and not a single one went off.
  2. If there really is a fire, the majority of folks I work with are unaware and/or useless. It would be carnage.

Weirdest day in China.

Power Station O Fart

It’s not actually called that, but the lack of spaces in the title of the museum on the Huangpu makes it seem as if it might be. The Shanghai Power Station of Art is a strange place. We arrived in the late afternoon on a chilly November day, and after refusing to leave my bag in a locker we wandered the place and looked at…some art? I suppose?

Here’s a weird gallery of weirdness.

It is a strange place. Easily the best part of the experience was the rooftop.

Overall, would maybe recommend. It’s a little bit weird and totally desolate out there, but maybe that’s the point. There was also some great moral mural artwork on the way back to the subway station.

Eeeheheheheheheee boobies

Eeeheheheheheheee boobies