Thursday, April 24, 2014

Things You Will Only See in China

Crocodiles for Sale at Walmart

Today's special is wikipedia, knowledge is delicious!

Perhaps a distant cousin of Colonel Sanders in the Far East? 

Photocopies fully paged and bounded

Man eating shark for Sale at Walmart

*Photo credit: Buzzfeed: "42 Things You Will Only See in China"

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

My Haunted Real Estate

Encountering haunted homes while working as a real estate broker is what inspired me to write The Beijing Ghosts, my third book for The Beijing Family book series.  I’m not a paranormal expert.  However, in my real estate career, I’ve encountered two types of hauntings – one is the classic paranormal kind such as strange and unexplained sightings, hearing sounds like voices and footsteps, feeling cold spots and picking up strange “vibes”. Then there is the alarming poltergeist variety where objects are moving and sometimes quite aggressively and violently in a room.  Some paranormal experts and critics don't believe in poltergeists and harshly debate its existence. I simply use the term categorically to reference hauntings involving moving objects.  Both cases are not only frightening but potentially hazardous and can sometimes be legally problematic as realtors. 

In the state of California where I’m licensed, realtors are legally obligated to disclose deaths that occur inside the home up to three years of the date you make the offer to purchase or rent a property under California Civil Code Section 1710.2.  If someone dies on the property, it's a material defect and can reduce the value of the home and it must be disclosed if it occurred within three years.  Technically, if the property was the location of a mass murder in 1975, the seller, lessor, agent or broker does not legally have to volunteer the information.  So the older the homes, the greater likelihood of unsettled spirits that remain unknown.  According to the National Association of Realtors, every real estate practitioner has had at least one paranormal encounter in their career.  In personal conversations with fellow colleagues, they've shared with me ghost stories ranging from the bizarre to downright frightening.  I've even heard strange unexplained events witnessed from contractors, developers and construction crews.  I’ve definitely had my share and it usually involves old homes and buildings.  Here are my real life experiences: 


My scariest experience as a realtor happened when I was hosting an open house in an old two-story estate in Hollywood Hills with a fellow realtor. Around 4 pm, we closed down. My colleague and I walked through the entire estate to make sure there were no straggling visitors.  The house was quiet and secured so we locked the doors.  I then proceeded to the kitchen and began cleaning.  Suddenly, I heard slow heavy footsteps up and down the wooden stairwell. Thinking it was my colleague, I thought maybe she was sweeping the stairwell and didn't think anything of it.  Yet I had  a tinge of doubt since she's thin and of medium height. The footsteps resembled the stride of a more tall and heavier set man.  I ignored it and continued tidying up the kitchen.  

After I was done cleaning, I walked towards the front of the house while the footsteps ascended up the stairs behind me.  I thought it was my colleague walking up the stairwell to check on the second floor.  So I continued walking towards the front of the house and happened to peer out the window and I was surprised to see my colleague standing outside rearranging her car.  She emptied out her entire trunk and car and was vacuuming where she had been all along.   From what I gather, there was no way she could have been walking up and down the stairs all that time.  So who was walking up and down the stairwell?  Suddenly, a chill overcame me and the hair on the back of my neck stood on end.   I couldn't believe it!  While I was cleaning the kitchen, someone or some thing other than my colleague was walking and up and down the stairs!  Unbelievable! I slowly turned to look and there was no one!  If I was clairvoyant or had super psychic abilities, I might have been able to see who was haunting the stairwell. 


I was co-hosting an open house in a mansion that was built during the early 1900’s in a nice affluent neighborhood with old money.  Another realtor and I arrived an hour early to set up the home for open house.  We walked around the empty mansion and began turning on lights, opening the windows and preparing the place to welcome visitors.  Since I was on the first floor, I passed by a door and opened it.  It was dark and I saw stairs leading down towards a dimly lit room.  Suddenly, I felt a cold draft that whisked right by me and I got this very strange and fearful notion that stopped me dead cold in my feet.  My instincts told me not to go downstairs so I quickly closed the door and walked away.    

If I give you a dollar, would you go down there? 

A few hours later during the open house, one of our fellow realtor friends came by to take a look at the house.   She decided to look around the house by herself and leave us to the many potential buyers walking around the mansion.   No more than 20 minutes later, she came running down the stairwell with a shocked look on her face and ran out the front door without closing it behind her.  She got in her car quickly and drove off like a speed racer without saying goodbye to us.  It was peculiarly strange.  I looked at my colleague and joked, “Gosh, you think she saw a ghost or something” and we laughed and continued on with our work.   Unbeknownst to us, that’s exactly what happened!  On Monday afternoon, she contacted me to inform me that she had gone upstairs to peruse the bedrooms and saw an image of an old woman with white hair and long earrings.  However, she was completely see through like smoke.  This insanely scary apparition  approached her and told her to leave in a mean and scathing way.    

Our realtor friend didn't want to divulge of this secret while we were hosting the open house that weekend to distract us.  We later learned that the home was originally designed and owned by a wealthy old woman during the early 1900’s who had died in that home. Since her death, the home had underwent a succession of realtors to sell that home and each attempt had been unsuccessful.  Strangely, that home garnered plenty of visitors and potential buyers during our listing but it never sold and remains empty to this day.  


Pine Avenue, downtown Long Beach, circa 1928

I once met an owner of an old commercial building on Pine Ave. in downtown Long Beach, California that has since been renovated for office spaces on the upper levels and retail stores and restaurants on the bottom two floors.  The old buildings along Pine Avenue were originally built in the early 1900’s and have undergone much gentrification in reshaping the neighborhood into an entertainment spot for popular bars and restaurants.  

Pine Avenue today, downtown Long Beach, CA 

We went to an empty banquet room on the second floor to discuss selling the building.  When I walked in, I noticed the room had at least 15 feet high ceilings with small rectangular shaped windows in hopper style lining the top to let in the cool ocean breeze.  Since there was no one using the room, all the hopper windows were closed and can only be opened by twisting and opening a latch.  

Hopper style windows 

Five minutes after we sat down and began discussing the process to sell the owner’s commercial building, one of the windows above us twisted itself open very abruptly and opened and slammed itself shut about four to five times violently.  As I looked up, it looked like an invisible force was opening and closing the window angrily.  The motion caused loud slamming sounds and it startled the both of us.  We both stared at the window in silence and bewilderment.  There was no strong wind that would cause the windows to suddenly open and close by itself.  It felt surreal and I thought I was watching a movie.  It was bizarre and we sat in shock and silence for a few seconds.   Stunned, the owner said, “And this building comes with a ghost" and chuckled to ease the tension.  I asked him, “Is your building haunted?” to which he didn’t reply.  I suddenly got this ill feeling that the ghost didn't want me there.  I’ve heard of ghosts scaring realtors to prevent a change in ownership and this one was falling into that category of the poltergeist kind.  If it can open and close windows on its own with that much force, I wondered what else it can do to me or moving objects.  I feared for my own physical safety.  It appears that this ghost became attached to this old building and was not letting go of it to maintain its keepsake.  As frightening as incidents like these can be, it’s better that I become aware of dangerous and sometimes pesky spirits upfront rather than after the listing agreement is signed when it requires legal maneuvering to get out of selling the property.  I never went back after that afternoon since I didn't know how far that ghost would have gone to make sure there are no new owners.  

Speaking of haunted bars and restaurants, I once visited the notoriously famous Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop and Bar in New Orleans.  It is reportedly one of the most haunted bars in America. 

Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop and Bar built during the late 1700's 

According to legend, buccaneer pirate Jean Lafitte used the bar to run his shady business.  Some say there is buried treasured in the ancient bricks.  


A broker in Nevada once contacted me regarding an old casino saloon built in the late 1800's he had listed for sale. It was about 100+ miles north of Las Vegas. The old casino saloon had a long history of seedy gamblers, outlaws and people of ill repute who didn't want the watchful eye of the Las Vegas Strip.  Eventually, it was finally cleaned up by the Nevada gaming regulation years later.  I asked him to send me some photos and it appears that the casino saloon had retained most of its original design on the exterior and renovated most of the interior.  However, in practically every room, there were orbs floating everywhere.  Some paranormal experts suggest that the orbs are spirits. Maybe they were people who died unwillingly. 

Orbs over a cemetery in Indiana

Since these occurrences,  I’ve read some interesting books about why ghosts haunt homes out of curiosity.  I’ve since learned that many ghosts haunt due to unfinished business. Sometimes their lives ended abruptly and they feel that their lives were cut short.  Or maybe it was a dream or a passion never pursued, message never relayed when they were alive or fear of letting go of loved ones.  In turn, they become attached to a place, home and maybe even a person or object well after their earthly existence has perished. So I’ve learned from my encounters to live life fully and never put off tomorrow what you can do today.   Everyone is given 24 hours in a day and how you spend it is entirely up to you. Time spent on earth can never be replenished so embrace it!    

-Written by Gina Tang, author of The Beijing Family book series, 

*Photos used for this blog post are publicly available on Google.  Ownership belongs to their rightful owner and the author claims no credit.  Actual real estate were not used to protect the privacy and security of the owners. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

My Big Fat Los Angeles - Shanghai Life

I live in a dichotomy of two worlds daily.  I am a proud first generation Chinese- American living in the United States and my family and I live trans-pacifically between Los Angeles and Shanghai, China.   

So I am a blend of two very distinct worlds living life as an American.  I also physically vacillate between two continents since my family and I reside in both.  In 2011, I was at LAX or the Los Angeles International Airport at least 15 times to shuttle family members or myself to and from Shanghai or Beijing, China.  Some families go to their favorite restaurant once a month.  We go to the airport.  Some people may consider this to be rather complex, but for me I only see many advantages.   Luckily, the shuttling to LAX eased since then to only 4 times so far this year.  

I was made in Taiwan and raised in the United States, predominantly in the greater metropolis of Los Angeles.   My family and I are American citizens.  I speak both English and Mandarin.  I am culturally ingrained and indoctrinated in both the Chinese and American cultures.  Since I grew up in Los Angeles, watching 21 Jump Street, eating fish tacos and singing to Madonna was the norm.  Just an average American girl.  However, I look entirely Asian.   

The original cast of "21 Jumpstreet" 

My Southern California favorite - grilled fish tacos on corn tortillas!

Madonna "Vogue"!

Often, I feel like a woman with no country being a blend of two worlds.  I don’t look “White” enough to be American and I don’t act “Chinese” enough to be entirely Chinese either, especially when it comes to eating fish tacos.  But I feel that it’s my strength rather than a setback.

For one, it opens my mind.  I’m never stuck in one country too long to develop mind numbing narrow mindedness or blinding inertia.  In another words, I don’t become a redneck of any country.   And believe me, there are rednecks in every country!  

Cletus and Clem in rural Montana awaiting internet access

Wedding couple riding off in their tractor 

Lao Fung, in rural China has internet access and most likely a cell phone too. Chews on tea leaves to clean teeth in lieu of toothpaste. 

Used watermelon for ramen bowl and toilet paper for napkin 

Being open minded, I don’t develop hard and fast rules because I've learned that there are many ways to see life, view life and live it entirely. Being adaptable and flexible is the name of the game in this global economy. Often, this has become a comparative advantage for me in work and personal life. My ability to speak another language and immerse in its culture has opened many doors for me in both US and China that I am truly grateful.  Most importantly, my knowledge is not limited by geography or the city I live in.  If I keep an open mind, I can always learn something new wherever I am.  Nothing can be more differently than the East and West too.  It’s one thing to live between US and Europe, where perhaps they might share some similarities in Western culture and origins.  But the US and Asia are two entirely different animals in language, culture, history and thinking.  At least the US and Europe use forks and knives to eat and share some common Latin origins in language.  Not so in Asia where they use chopsticks and have a different language universe entirely. 

Who wants to be stuck with only one governmental system and cultural norm?  What if you had the language and cultural competency to access the two most powerful countries currently in the world?  What if you can have knowledge about the latest technologies and innovations because they are in your own backyards?  What if you were able to see and experience the world first hand that others only read about or see on TV?

For me, I enjoy my big fat world.  I am happy to be in between two worlds daily for the richness and diversity it brings.   For the same reasons, I developed The Beijing Family book series about a Chinese billionaire and his family living a bi-coastal life as well in Beverly Hills, California and Beijing, China.  Many of the story lines are inspired by own personal experiences living trans-pacifically. Not only does it bring a rainbow of scenes and plots but it brings more depth and cultural variety to the story line.  As an author, it’s a lot more fun and interesting!

More stories about my big fat Los Angeles- Shanghai life to follow.....

Written by Gina Tang, author of The Beijing Family book series.