shades of grey and gray

Calm your fluttering little hearts, I’m not about to go into a discussion about that smutty little novel-turned-film. No, instead I’m going to talk about spelling and one particularly annoying variant between British English and American English: the difference between grey and gray.

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Yang Yongliang (杨泳梁), From the New World (来自新大陆) (detail), 2014

If you check the dictionary, it’ll probably list ‘grey’ as chiefly British and ‘gray’ as chiefly American. So … what of those who use both? I am a proud American English user and use the American spellings of color (v. colour), organization (v. organisation), traveled (v. travelled), inquiry (v. the inquiry/enquiry divide), and meter (v. metre). Oh, and the last letter of the alphabet? That’s a ‘zee’, not ‘zed’.

But ya know what? I use both ‘grey’ and ‘gray’. I also use both ‘theatre’ and ‘theater’ – although for different things. The stage ends in ‘-re’ and cinema is ‘-er’ – a distinction that I’m not alone in making. Yet when I use both ‘grey’ and ‘gray’, drawing a difference between ‘gray’ for a warmer hue and ‘grey’ for a cooler/lighter/steelier/bluer variant, suddenly I’m a complete weirdo. Am I? Really now? I checked on the web and there are others who think like me. Then again, on the internet you’re bound to find someone who agrees with you.

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Pang Yun (庞云), Portrait of Trees No. 3 (树的肖像3) (detail), 2014

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Li Jinghu (李景湖), Sea Breeze (海风) (detail), 2009

In general, I use the spelling ‘gray’ to describe the colors on a ‘grayscale’. I fully realize that I am in the minority with my double usage of theatre/theater and that I am practically alone on a deserted island for grey/gray, so as a rule, if I’m writing something official or for publication (peer-reviewed, academic, in print, or must conform to CMOS), then I only use ‘gray’ and ‘theater’ for the sake of consistency and not confusing everyone with my non-standard spelling distinctions. But I guess this duality is what happens when you study so much (British) English that both end up feeling quite natural. Although serial commas are a must.

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grilled cheese for the win

There’s a new restaurant in town and it is beyond amazing. Right next door to CinnaSwirl and actually sharing the same address is Co. Cheese, another sign that Americans are taking over this city. But instead of that being an apocalyptic statement, it’s a glorious one (although maybe not for the traditionalists). Co. Cheese is a sign that not all Americans are English teachers, we don’t eat McDonald’s all the time, and lowbrow food can be darn good food.

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Co. Cheese is a grilled cheese restaurant. Oh yes. But it’s not just cheese, bread, and butter; it’s got options. Back when I was in New York, there was the whole gourmet simple food thing going on, like specialty hot dogs, fancy mac and cheese, et cetera. In a city like New York, known for both the best pizza on the planet and dollar cheese slices, it made perfect sense and I didn’t think that much of it. In Shanghai, where it’s a struggle to find decent comfort food, and where you’re usually stuck deciding between the fancy schmancy restaurant with food flown in straight from France (with its associated prices) or the somewhat sketchy place on the corner with its ten-kuai noodles in a plastic-lined bowl, a proper grilled cheese sandwich is like ambrosia not meant for mere mortals.

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At first the thought of a grilled cheese restaurant was like “those crazy expats,” but upon first bite of a brie, avocado, ham, pear, and arugula grilled cheese sandwich from Co. Cheese, I was in heaven. And instantly I felt three times more American, remembering all those grilled cheese sandwiches I used to make with Colby-Jack on sliced sourdough bread. Let’s face it, as simple as the grilled cheese sandwich is, there are probably a million ways to make one: In a toaster oven, on the stove, with an iron? Kraft Singles, a mix of cheeses, shredded or sliced? White bread, whole wheat, sourdough? Which sides get buttered? Any toppings or tomato soup to dip it in?

There’s just something so great and democratic about a grilled cheese sandwich. Grilled cheese sandwiches are for everyone, and everyone loves ’em. Co. Cheese steps things up a notch by offering a wide range (I need to try the mac and cheese one next) so it’s beyond the standard grilled cheese that I could make at home. But even if it were just cheese, bread, and butter, being that this is Shanghai, where you have to go to specialty or import shops for good cheese and bread, Co. Cheese is greatly appreciated and fills a niche. It’s simple lowbrow food, but it’s so darn American, so darn appreciated, and so darn good.

Co. Cheese Melt Bar
32 East Yuyuan Road
Jing’an District, Shanghai

burger at the camel

Ah, burgers. I try not to be one of those obnoxious “look at me, look at me” Americans because they give the rest of us a bad name, but it’s still pretty obvious that I’m American. Not only because of my accent and the way I project my voice without consciously meaning to, but in my absolute enthusiasm for meat, cheese, and bread. And being from Texas, not only do I like burgers, I am a burger connoisseur. And sadly most of Shanghai’s options land on the mediocre to mediocre-good portion of the scale.

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A bit back I went to The Camel, a pretty popular sports bar in Shanghai, for their Wednesday burger deal (burger and beer/wine for 50 RMB). I had their bacon cheeseburger and yum it was good, but just the standard kind of yum. You know what I mean? Meat, cheese, and bread will nearly always get a checkmark in my book, but it was a bit lacking in flavor and seasoning and just didn’t have that greasy richness I was hoping for. So The Camel won’t make my list, but if I’m in the area on a Wednesday … it’s still a good deal.

The Camel
camelsportsbar.com
1 Yueyang Road
Xuhui District, Shanghai

munching on munchies

Because sometimes you just need a hamburger. And crinkle fries. Especially when there’s free delivery. And if that craving happens about once a week, what’s the big deal?

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Oh yes. I don’t understand why people think burgers are oh so unhealthy. What’s in a burger? Bread, meat, vegetable, fruit (the tomato), and dairy. Right there you have your five major food groups. Granted there’s not much nutritional value in the accompanying fries, but they’re good for the soul, so they’re a-okay in my book.

Five years ago when I first arrived in Shanghai, I heard about this hamburger place called Munchies, which was opened by an American, so I gave it a try and promptly fell in love. A lot of the burger joints in Shanghai are the gourmet kind, but Munchies is more of a normal burger place: good service, good food, and decent prices. The food isn’t write-home-about, but it’s solid. Now Munchies has two locations, although I’ve only been to the one. And I will keep going, because it’s good eatin’.

Munchies
munchies.cn
974 Wuding Road
Jing’an District, Shanghai
+86 4008 008 420

dixie grill: yummily non-dixied

A new little restaurant (er … hole-in-the-wall) called Dixie Grill opened, so I went with a friend to try it out. And the food was really good. Fresh but hearty Asianified American – think wraps, salads, sandwiches, et cetera with a hint of vaguely Asian flavors. Truth be told, I barely tasted anything Asian, save for the obvious use of kimchi in the kimchi pulled pork fries, but everything we ordered was great nevertheless.

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I love Southern food and I love fusion food, but tacos and fries don’t make it Dixie. The food was straight-up random American. And who says Dixie anyway? To me, it’s one of those borderline offensive terms that used to be a source of pride and isn’t in itself offensive, but has all those negative historical connotations that have caused it to fall out of favor. But the proprietor’s not from the South (he’s Canadian-ish), so I guess I shouldn’t blame him too much, even though I’m sure I was rolling my eyes when he talked about the Tex-Mex style as being ‘Dixie’. Sorry honey, but Dixie is down-home cooking like biscuits and gravy or chicken fried steak. Tex-Mex, as much as it is Southern, ain’t Dixie Southern. I think Texas has always been a bit weird to that regard – South, but not ‘the South’.

Naming complaints aside, the food is delish. Delicious. Fried chicken taco was great. Fresh pear and orange juice was refreshingly fresh. Kimchi pulled pork fries were ohmygosh amazing. And the prices are reasonable. The chipotle sauce was a bit meh though. Apparently Dixie Grill opened for business around seven or so weeks ago, so it’s still in its fledgling stages. I hope it survives, if for those fries alone. They were talking about starting up delivery service, which would be a really, really great idea since the place is too small, even though it is clean and bright and in a good location. Try it out. The proprietor’s name is Jeff and he’s very willing to chat and listen to your advice on how to improve his place. And while you’re at it, check out DiscoverWish.com, founded by two guys, one of whom is a Houstonite I met here.

Dixie Grill
688 Changle Road, near Fumin Road
Jing’an District, Shanghai

a good burger at piro

Yum, that’s a good burger. One thing I miss about the States is all the ground beef. I suppose that’s not typical of the whole of the States, but in Texas, I basically survived off of red meat and carbs. Steak, burgers, barbecue, and Tex-Mex galore! The meat quality in China can be iffy at times (and downright revolting at other times) so it’s hard to find good steak here without paying an arm and a leg for it. Thankfully there are a number of fairly decent burger places! (Not arm and leg prices, but not everyday deals either.)

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When I first heard of Piro, I thought it was an Italian joint, because Piro sounds Italian, right? But thankfully it’s not! Because Shanghai really doesn’t need another mediocre Italian restaurant. Piro in Xuhui District (right by where Fortune Cookie is located) is American pub kind of food and it’s one of those bar/restaurant sort of deals where there’s always some kind of NBA game or what-not playing. Id est, it’s the typical American restaurant that doubles as a sports bar, which is the only kind of American restaurant you’re likely to see in Shanghai. I guess it’s the prevailing view that all Americans are obsessed with sports and beer. Hm … no comment.

Anyhow, their burgers are good, which makes sense given burgers make up half their menu – lots of burger options! Their burgers tend to the fancy shmancy type (small but tall) versus the more low-key wide and squat that I actually prefer, but taste and texture were good and my arms and legs are intact, so yay!

Piro
91 Changshu Road, near Changle Road
Xuhui District, Shanghai

the right to vote

I read an article the other day about how in 2013, a record 2999 people renounced their US citizenship. Those who explained their decisions had perfectly logical reasons for doing so, and seemed genuinely distraught about the ordeal, but … wow. What’s my limit? I’ve always been proud to be an American, but is there anything that would make me reconsider?

One man who was still contemplating renunciation mentioned one thing he was reluctant to give up: the right to vote in US elections.

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It’s one of those things that so many people take for granted. And so many people in the US don’t even bother voting because “it’s a hassle” or “my vote won’t matter anyway” or “wait, there was an election?” I’ve always liked to vote. It’s like giving blood – if you can, you should. The US isn’t perfect, but people who complain about the country but make no strides to promote change or be involved? That’s the real shame.

So even though I’m in China, I’m all signed up for absentee voting. And since I’m in China, I don’t even have to worry about jury duty. No plans to stop being an American for me.

fortune cookie, the restaurant

Simply to-die-for amazing. One bite in and I was back in New York in my pajamas, foot propping open the door while awkward signing the credit card slip on my wall, itching to grab the plastic bag filled with takeout cartons. Ah, good times. Oh, and they give those fried crispy noodly things with the super sweet dipping sauce as an appetizer! Yay!

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American Chinese food. In China. GENIUS. The restaurant is located in a heavily foreign food-laden area, but its location on the fourth floor made it a bit difficult to find. The interior was nicely done and you can definitely tell a lot of thought went into designing the place, even down to the menu. I went with a local friend, and whereas she usually does the ordering at Chinese restaurants, I totally took the reigns here … and gleefully over-ordered.

The egg roll, moo shu pork, General Tsao’s beef, and tofu chop suey were all fantastic. Just the way they should be in proper American Chinese style: the egg roll had a thick chewy/crispy skin, the moo shu pork was served with the thin pancakes and hoisin sauce (to wrap ’em like burritos), the General Tsao’s was the perfect sweetness with just the right amount of batter, and the chop suey had a good thick sauce as well.

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In short: Fortune Cookie is fantastic. It’s been getting quite a lot of press recently, and for very good reason. With how many expats there are in Shanghai, an American Chinese restaurant makes complete sense. Back in the States I’d joke that American Chinese food is ‘fake Chinese’, but they’re truly two entirely separate cuisines and should be evaluated on their own merits rather than be compared to what’s ‘traditional’ or ‘authentic’. Authenticity is overrated anyhow. In today’s age of merging cultures, dismissing innovation in an attempt to protect the sanctity of past culture is simply naïve.

Perhaps it would be better accepted if we called American Chinese food ‘fusion’ instead … perhaps then the Chinese people will stop yakking on about how we’re butchering their dishes and using way too much sugar. But in a way, saying American implies fusion, because that is the American way.

Fortune Cookie
fortunecookieshanghai.com
4/F, 83 Changshu Road, Xuhui District, Shanghai
Sunday to Thursday, 11:30 AM – 10 PM
Friday to Saturday, 11:30 AM – 11 PM

american english is the correct english

Did you ever see such a controversial statement? Granted I’m biased, but American English seems to be the preferred (or at least more prevalent) form of English in the world. In the process of writing a bunch of text for work, I’ve been slowly but diligently switching every piece of the gallery’s written material into American English. American English for the win! Hoorah! Go USA!

When I first started, I didn’t want to rock the boat so I tried following the existing standards, but that quickly got confusing. So instead of going back after typing each paragraph to add in extra letters or remove commas, I went ahead and switched it all. Now ‘color’, ‘center’, ‘organize’, and ‘traveled’ are all spelled correctly. Oh, and the biggie: ‘one, two and three’ has become ‘one, two, and three’. Oh yes. Ladies and gentlemen, I have introduced the serial comma and there is no turning back now.

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This is Panel 3 of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., which is hodgepodged from a bunch of different sources. It’s only making an appearance in this blog post to facilitate a transition in topic.

The nearby Panel 1 is a somewhat butchered excerpt of the Declaration of Independence, but as in the official text, it lacks the serial comma. How un-American! The Declaration of Independence famously says “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Capitalization done in the style of the time (with nouns capitalized) and no serial comma. But did you realize that there’s a different version? I quoted from the text of the signed, handwritten version, which is considered the official version, but the printed version has “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” and Jefferson’s rough draft has the serial comma too! He was a patriot!

Regardless, all is forgiven because this was two centuries ago, and the CMOS had not yet been established. Yay American English! Yay Chicago!

civic duty done … too bad it doesn’t matter

My absentee voter ballot is in the mail, because I am a good little American. Last year I voted much earlier … but I was lazy this year. Election Day this year is November 6, 2012, so I’m cutting it close.

I never vote straight party, and I spent a good chunk of time in studio today researching all the people on that ballot. Unfortunately no matter how I vote, it probably doesn’t matter. The state I’m voting in isn’t a swing state for the presidential election, and all the state and local positions have already been decided by the R or D by that candidate’s name. Oh well, I feel good voting anyhow.

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