Monday, December 31, 2007

Tell me About your Unpaid Internship

Ever worked for free? Or for a crappy stipend that barely covered your transportation? Worked for lattes?

Unpaid internships have become a rite of passage for eager undergrads who yearn to get hands-on experience. At their best, they offer an inside look at otherwise intimidating industries. At their worst, they're filing, answering phones or coping with bosszillas. Often the most prestigious gigs are unpaid and with monstrous companies with booming annual revenues. You're qualified. You work. You don't get paid. What gives?

I'm working on a feature right now for FiLife (Dow Jones/IAC site that launches in a bit) about unpaid internships - the companies that do it, when is it legal and why it sucks.

Please drop me a line (marypilon@gmail.com) if you've ever done an unpaid internship (meaning you didn't earn at least a minimum wage for the hours you worked). We're adding these companies to our Wall of Shame and leveling the playing field.

Here’s what we’ll do with this information: We’ll call the institution, confirm that they require credit or don’t pay, tell them what we think of that practice and give them a chance to comment. Then, we’ll post those comments on the Wall. Here’s what we won’t do with this information: We won’t publish your name (unless you want credit for nominating the offending institution, which is cool with us – just be clear in your e-mail).

Because we can save the world, one pissed intern at a time.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Failure


Last night was HA2 night, an annual tradition in which an elite group converges and watches what happens when you put Tim Curry, two Culkins and Christopher Columbus in the wilds of early-90s Manhattan.

Above: the evidence of my being so swept into the film that I let the oven attack my poor little peanut butter cup morsels. I'm a lousy housewife. (But sometimes, my nephew and I get it right.)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Racist, or progress?

One of my common laments of the Pacific Northwest is the tragic lack of quality Indian fare. But during a stroll down 13th street in Eugene last week, (I was in town visiting the fam and doing some research), I came across this place: Here's a close-up on the part in question:
Now I'm not Indian, so I'm not going to make the call on this one, but the first thing I thought of when I saw this was this:
Just sayin'....

Monday, November 05, 2007

A Limy Porn and Roman I Ply


The Freakonomics blog steered me back toward an old favorite site, wordsmith.org, which led to some tinkering with the Internet Anagram Server. Okay, so I'm a lameoid geek, but plug your name in and don't tell me that it doesn't make you smile. Don't miss the best of section, either. Debit card=bad credit! Genius!

Some favorites for "Mary Pilon"...

Mainly Pro (hollah!)
Amir Pylon (sounds like the name of my long-lost middle eastern cousin)
Palm Irony (potential name for my indie band)
Primal Yon (potential name for my metal band)
A Limy Porn (yeah...)
Ail My Porn (double yeah...)
Roman I Ply (potential name for a final paper on classical thinking)
Ramp I Only (a road sign I would have written when I was five)
Army In Lop (Iraq, zao gao)
Rap In Lo My (as close to gangsta as I'll ever get)
Mail No Pry (grrr...)
Rayon Limp (potential name for my American Apparel line of unitards)

Enjoy! :-)

PS - T minus two weeks until I head to Oregon for turkey and research on my meth thesis. Drop me a line if you're going to be in the hood or have any info.

Photo cred

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Mary Pilon: The Mini Memoir

Mary Pilon is a native of Eugene, Ore., where she got her start working for her hometown paper, the Register-Guard and reading comic books about journalists.

In June 2008, Mary started at
The Wall Street Journal, where she's currently on staff as a reporter based in New York City. She covers various aspects of personal finance and the financial crisis for print and online editions and regularly appears on national TV and radio. Among her lesser-known accomplishments: bringing
slugs, yo-yos, the NYSE movie room and the word "poo" to the Journal's front page.

Mary covered student activism and the 2004 presidential election for NYU's student newspaper, the Washington Square News. She's interned at New York Magazine, USA Today and Gawker.com. Mary has also worked as a singing ice cream server, nanny and elf.

She's an honors graduate of New York University's College of Arts and Science with double majors in Politics and Journalism and a minor in Spanish language. She spent over a year abroad in Spain, Russia and China.

Her work has garnered awards from the NY Society of Professional Journalists, the Freedom Forum, the Hearst Foundation and NYU's Journalism School.


Her grandmother claims to be her biggest fan.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

It's Halloween and All I've Got Is a Rotten Gourd

Any excuse to watch "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" is a good one.

Here's 1/3


Part 2/3


Part 3/3


And this is my pagan neurosis at its peak for Gawker.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Methematics


It's honors thesis time for Mary and after nearly four years of immersing myself in New York City and running around the world, it's ironic that the lens of my thesis will focus on none other than Lane County, Oregon.

I'm writing about meth (methamphetamine) and how it is destroying rural America. It all stems from those eerie encounters with toothless gas station attendents and friends from high school who have seemingly vanished off the face of the earth due to a drug that some experts estimate is 10 times more potent than cocaine.

I'll spare you the details of what I'm specifically looking into, but if you or anyone you know, in Oregon or out, could be a valuable source, drop me a line.

Photo: Methtaskforce.org

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Friday, August 31, 2007

Friday, August 24, 2007

FiLife Begins at Conception?


Contrary to popular belief, I haven't joined a cult. Rather, I've been working with an awesome squad at Dow Jones and IAC to create a new site, Filife.com, that will cater to the finance needs of twenty- and thirtysomethings. As much as people love to dive into the wallets of Gen Y and Gen Xers, not enough people are out there giving objective, clear advice on how to navigate through the gobbilty gook. As far as I know, this is the first site of its kind out there.

Our site is pretty bare bones right now, but here's the URL: Filife.com. My first post can be seen here and click here to get on the e-mailing list. The blog component will stay, but the real madness launches in the fall. Bookmark and obsessively check accordingly. And if you're feeling really bold, leave a comment!

FiLife is short for "Financial Life," as in we're going to rock yours. If you have better idears for site or the url, please let me know! Honesty hurts sometimes, but sucking at helping people with their financial foibles is even worse.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Dollar Bills: A Flickr Tribute

Everyone is whining about the subprime mortgage crisis, the stock market's volatility and the decline of the dollar, but I thought why not celebrate the cool things that the dollar can do.

Here are some Flickr morsels:





Thursday, August 16, 2007

10 Things I Learned This Week


Here's what I've learned:

- You can watch HBO's rad new show "The Flight of the Conchords" for free online.
- How to solve a Rubix cube.
- Sweating is actually pretty awesome.
- Nothing you read in the papers is true. Really.
- I can make lots of things by myself rather than buy them.
- Small change = paying bills.
- Even when (not if) you win the Nobel Prize, people still ain't gonna give you any respect.
- Bottled water sucks.
- So does Wal-Mart (no new news there).
- Reasons why I ain't rich.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Chinese Approach to the Internet

I'm lucky that I didn't get sent off to one of these camps while I was in China.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Meanwhile in America...


So I've been back in the U.S. for a month and half now and horribly neglecting this blog because I've been busy at a new job (details to follow), restarting an old one, visiting family back in Oregon, moving into a new place and catching up with friends back in the city.

I wish that I could write some lengthy, eloquent post that pinpointed exactly how China transformed me as a person, how life in the states will never be the same, how the bridge between China and Chinatown seems a little more accessible, blah blah blah, but the truth is that I'm still perplexed by it all. Almost as weird as my time in China are my conversations with people now that I'm back: "You ran out of cabs?" or "There was smoke all the time?" or "So you're fluent in Chinese now, right?"

Gah. Glad to be back in New York, but there is that occasional pang for the land I left. Sigh.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Video Explosion: Migrant Kids in China

A short documentary created by my journalism class in Shanghai got picked up by PBS! It profiles a school for the children of migrant workers in Shanghai and can be seen online here. Hen hao!

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Monday, June 25, 2007

Nanjing: The Wedding of the Century



Although the above pictures look more like a bizarre menagerie of images from baijiu-induced dreams, they are actually authentic glimpses at a modern Chinese wedding. A few weekends ago, I was lucky enough to tag along with my roomie and another friend from Shanghai for my roomie's Aunt's (in purple, but she changes costumes) wedding in Nanjing.

The bride worked for a bridal shop and the groom as a driver. The day started when we went over to their apartment, which was PACKED with family members, neighbors, and several unidentifiable onlookers. We saw the crazy wedding suite, full of glossy, early-90s photos of the couple, complete with digitally enhanced sparkles and some crazy up dos. The bride's parents were demoted to a side bedroom and performed a ceremonial handing-over-of-a-red envelope, which in the old days had money. Couples nowadays opt for copyright unfriendly Disney paraphernalia.

The ceremony was held at a hotel and pretty void of religious pomp. But the theme of "enchanted forest prince and princess" (or something along those lines) was carried out by an emcee, who guided me and about 200 Chinese people through an epic story of romance as Chinese pop music throbbed underneath his foreign exclamations. But even if it were in English, I still don't think I would have understood what was going on.

Me and my foreign friend became the unofficial stars of the event - photos were snapped and this B-list local TV celebrity yanked my friend on stage for an awkward dance routine in front of everyone. But before you get all worked up about his scandalous hotness, know that this was a family celebration, which reached its climax when the bride and groom hopped into a cheesecloth-adorned swinging bench, surrounded by children and two strangers in grubby Mickey and Minnie costumes while a fog machine enveloped them in a mist of enchantment. Not to mention the praying to the champagne glass fountain.

The more I study China, the less I understand.

Monday, June 04, 2007

June 4th: 8 years 天安门

A difference of information.

In the rest of the world:
In China:

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Even Nixon Had to Return: Random Updates

-Back in Shanghai and still seeing weird crap.
-Pudong is gorgeous in the spring and my obsession with the Bund tunnel continues.
-Headed to Oregon on June 16th.
-Will return to NYC (and missing the pizza like whoa) on July 2nd, where I'll be rockin' out all summer long.
-Still food-poisoning free (thank God)
-Mandarin is still difficult as ever, but rewarding...locals put up with my awkward sentences and laugh with me.
-Had an AWESOME birthday last Wednesday, complete with dancing waiters and yummy food. Shout out to all of my awesome friends and family who sent me b-day lovin'!
-Failing miserably at keeping blog updated.

Spring Break: Hainan




To complete the scrambled up break, me and a smaller crew headed to Sanya, Hainan, a bizarre tropical island that is right off of the southern mainland, but still considered part of China.

We booked a hostel in advance and were pretty psyched about crashing out. Until we discovered the cat urine in our linens and the bugs scurrying nearby. After seven hours, we booked a room at a nearby hotel.

This hotel, although a step up, had a brothel downstairs, or a, ahem, "massage parlor," and a fish treatment spa. After hours, we jumped in and learned that a fish treatment spa is essentially a jacuzzi with small fish swimming around who nibble off your dead skin - a great way to conclude any evening.

And in the spirit of happy endings, I spent the next five days sunning, reading, eating seafood from a nearby crab shack, swimming, staring at the ocean, playing mah jong and previewing my life as a retiree. Hainan is beyond bizarre - a tropical island where everyone speaks Chinese with a huge Russian expat scene, brothels, bikes and clams - and a must see for those who want to see the quirky side of China, or just to feel sand in between your toes.

Spring Break: Juizhaigou




Although Juizhaigou is a 45 minute flight from Chengdu, we spent all day trying to get there. We actually got on a plane, then could not land at the airport, turned around and went back to Chengdu where we waited all day for the air to clear. Juizhaigou airport is literally on a mountain and once we got there in the early evening, for the first time in my travels here, I really felt like I was in the middle of nowhere.

I packed flip flops and tank tops. You can imagine my surprise when I looked out and saw snow capped mountains and yaks. We were close to the Tibetan border and the nearby influence manifested in some of the villages we perused. We trotted around the mountain all day, then took in local minority show which was both cheesy and oddly patronizing. The sights were good enough for this couple and had me pretty stoked as well. I'll let the pictures do the talking.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Spring Break: Sichuan


Due to the crazy high cost and pain of trying to obtain an entry visa, I was not able to travel to Tibet this spring break, as I had originally planned. But, a large posse of students (including me) did journey to Sichuan for five days.

We flew into Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan and by all accounts, a pretty hip little city. Every time I leave Shanghai, I expect to see shanty towns and much more poverty, which is true in some cases, but Chengdu had a strip of high-end shopping that rivaled European capitals.

In addition to being known for spicy food (we ordered pig brains and yak meat...which we later believed to be dog...), Sichuan boasts an impressive panda reserve. This place was a serious step up from the Shanghai Zoo, but still had a couple of troubling cages. Perhaps more interesting than the pandas (if such a thing is possible) was the loads of panda merch EVERYWHERE nearby. In China, there's a cheap, streetside giftshop for every attraction imaginable.

Thanks to geopolitical factors, Sichuan has a considerable Tibetan influence. After a short stint in Chengdu, we hopped aboard a plane to Jiuzhaigou.

Pandas Gone Wild





What do these images all have in common? They were all taken within a few days of each other during my spring break in China. One country, millions of things to see. More to follow.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Beijingin' Around





Beijing is to Shanghai as Chicago is to New York: both are fabulous, but one is less international than the other. What is lost in local scope is made up for in local charm. In Beijing's case, this is an increase in the number of street vendors, rickshaws and, well, pollution.

As much as I love Shanghai, Beijing is distinctly more "Chinese." I only was able to stay for four days last weekend, but in that nibble of time, I saw a robust local music and art scene, saluted more red flags (hey, don't judge), heard the thick regional accent (try adding an "r" sound at the end of every other vowel) and was bombarded by a blitzkrieg of Beijing 2008 Olympics merch and countdowns.

The rumors are true - there are ads everywhere instructing locals to be polite. The pollution is heinous (think skin breakouts, yellow water and crowds EVERYWHERE). Beijing people seem much taller than their Southern counterparts and there are loads of people trying to scam the waiguoren (foreigners). There was blatant racism at times (against a Chinese friend of mine...don't really know what the motive is behind that) and Mao's portrait still watches over the city.

In spite of all this, I fell in love. We wandered through alleyways and found a bizarre Muslim-Chinese fusion restaurant, complete with belly dancers and old men jamming the night away. The tiled roofs and symmetrical communist buildings side-by-side charm and amaze. Our hostel had a shrine on the first floor and enough local color to be blinding.

If you make it to Beijing, the Forbidden City is worth seeing, but the Summer Palace is what really entranced me. Tienanmen Square is a must. Don't miss out on Peking duck or Beijing Opera, they're both famous for a reason.

This weekend and next week = Golden Week (a.k.a Spring Break!) I'm off to Sichuan and Hainin...details to follow.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

There's this wall...maybe you've heard of it...






This handful of snapshots don't capture it...you've really got climb around it to understand the scope of it. Days later and I'm still speechless.

It's the world longest manmade structure, so I only got to see a part of it outside of Beijing. Almost as notable as the wall itself is the Engrish on the signs around it.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Lines (or lack thereof)





Among other revelations during this last weekend at Huangshan, the fact that lines don't exist in China really solidified.

When you wait anywhere, the checkout at Carrefour, to enter the subway (you don't wait for others to exit first), to use the ATM, or, in line for a gondola ride at Huangshan Mountain, the idea of patiently lining up single-file is ludicrous. Some would find this rude, but in a country of 1.3 billion, I understand why some efforts to organize become absurd. Also with that many people, the instinct to try and survive on your own runs rampant. The problem is so bad that the government, at least in Beijing, is starting to intervene.

The photos (COMING SOON, or check snapshots here!) above are from what ultimately turned out to be a 5.5 hour wait for a gondola ride to the midway point at Huangshan Mountain. Yes, a gondola ride, not a national-border or for UN rations. This man nearly pummeled a 10-year-old to cut in line (he was scolded promptly thereafter in Mandarin by a member of our party). I have a bruise on my rib cage from an old man elbowing me. People made fun of us yelled "Go, home!" As the ones not doing the shoving were quite confused...

The wait was caused by a corrupt tour guide and a bunch of us ended up hopping the fence at 12:30 to hike up the peak on our own. The apathetic cops didn't seem to care about us, or anything for that matter.

Although Huangshan (of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" fame) is beautiful, the line and related violence were inexcusable. I've been to punk shows with more polite crowds. Ultimately, everything worked out, but until I go back to the states, I'm finding myself more aggressive with my shoulders.

This weekend's adventure: Beijing!

Monday, April 09, 2007

Expectorations


One of my favorite aspects of Chinese culture is how spitting is completely acceptable. I saw this sign in the metro station near People's Square, but it comically doesn't deter anyone. Spitting here is:
1) loud
2) hearty
3) takes place in
a)cabs
b)the street
c)in homes
d)restaurants
e)at schools
f)anywhere else there's ground or a remotely flat surface
4)a daily occurrence

In general, the louder the better, and I haven't stepped in any yet, nor reached the point of analyzing the tangible outcomes of the spittage...

And FYI, the slurping rumors are true. There's an amazing noodle place around the corner and it's literally hard to hear things over all the yummy noises.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Disabled?


Another chapter of China unfolds...

Today a group of NYU students and I hopped into our bus to work at an orphanage. Our work at the migrant worker school has been successful thus far, and highly satisfying. We anticipated a similar setup: kids, us, playing, teaching, helping out wherever we could.

About 10 minutes into our ride, we pick up these Chinese people who were not familiar faces. It soon became clear that they were our "guides" for the afternoon. They handed us very professional folders with PR releases that rivaled some of the top firms in NYC in terms of quality and detailed the region we were working in. A detailed schedule for the afternoon and background info on the schools was enclosed. Glossy literature showed the future of the neighborhood and the neighborhood itself was pretty typical of Shanghai: developing.

Our first stop was at a community center for adults with mental disabilities. Before we entered the building, our entourage of 3 or 4 Chinese guides was met by a small paparazzi of volunteers at the center, who snapped photos incessantly. Another small van full of outsiders pulled up, these ones being representatives from the Shanghai International Airport. It is still unclear to me why they were along for the tour...it seemed corporate in nature And yes, by this point, we realized that we were on a tour rather than volunteering.

At the center, a dozen or so "children" ranging in age from 20-50 or so(perhaps this was lost in translation) sat in orderly rows working on bead work. The staff there quickly ushered us NYUers and the Airport posse to the front, where more photos were taken and we were presented with a song by the group. It was clear that it had been rehearsed a lot and this wasn't their first time singing it. We were presented with small beaded gifts and again, more photos were taken. Five more minutes were spent showing us drawings stapled on the walls and more beaded work completed by the adults there. We were promptly escorted out and onto the shuttle for our next stop, the elementary school for the disabled.

During the ride over, everyone had their suspicions about how prepared everything seemed. I personally have heard horror stories about how the mentally handicapped are completely shunned by the Chinese government and ostracized from public life. Why was everything suddenly sunshine and flowers? Was I being too cynical?

At the school, a digital reader board read out in Chinese characters a greeting to "American friends." We entered to the school yard and rather than observing their normal recess, it paralleled the adult community center in that we were the stars of the show rather than the children. Music played overhead and the kids, none of whom seemed severely disabled, quickly dispersed into organized games. This happens at the migrant school, but some of the teachers at the school seemed taken aback when some of the NYU kids and I tried to participate in games with the kids. While helping a little boy who was struggling with jumping rope, a teacher swooped by and took the boy away and placed a jump rope diva in his place. The boy wasn't frustrated or anything, just working on his motor skills...I was rather perplexed.

The organized games continued and then the children performed a very orchestrated show, reminiscent of something you'd see in an Olympic opening ceremony. They had Shaolin uniforms, hula hoops, pom poms, the works. It was extremely clear that they knew the routine inside and out and were used to performing for outsiders. Again, the photo parade continued.

As soon as the show ended, the same kids were whisked into a classroom where they worked on crafts. Pre-colored drawings and beadwork sat on desks like cars in a showroom and they were prompted to say things to us as we walked by. We were on a parade route that didn't include most of the school and the halls were eerily quiet, especially considering that a third of the student body (which raises the question of where the rest of the kids were) just returned from recess on a beautiful spring day. The show went on.

Through a sunny corridor, we and the our tumorous posse (we kept accumulating administrators, teachers, translators, photographers, etc.) lead us to a large conference room, complete with an executive board table, fresh fruit, bottled water, brochures and high-backed chairs. I've worked in a lot of schools before, but I've never seen an entire large room set aside for guests quite like this. The headmaster picked up a microphone and a typed script and began to lead us through an elaborate Power Point presentation about how great the staff was rather than the progress that the students were making. Native Chinese speakers commented on how "cheesy" her Chinese was, full of flowery language.

The Power Point featured a video reenactment of a disabled boy who mistakenly ate dirt. His teachers, in a saintly fashion shoved their hands up his throat to get it out. The translation roughly mentioned how "the teachers hands were bloody, but it was well worth the sacrifice." (Sacrifice on behalf of the teachers was a repeated theme.) The reenactment shook up all of the Americans and we didn't know whether to attribute our discomfort to cultural miscommunication or shock at how the facility functions.

The presentation continued to highlight who the children performed for and famous locals who visited the school (not the children). The pictures of notable visitors on the playground were almost identical to the ones taken of us only a few minutes earlier. We were presented with gifts and no children were to be seen. We brought cookies to give to them, but were never given the opportunity to interact with them, creating some awkwardness at the end. After more photos, we left for class and noticed that all of students were gone. The outside, which I would imagine to be full of afternoon excitement at the schoolday's end, was void of children or parents.

I don't know what to make of it all and those brief couple of hours this afternoon keep running through my head. It's very easy to step in as a product of Western public education and say that the way they do things here is wrong and backwards, but I don't know if it's that simple. Why do tours like these exist? The school was run by the local communist party, who is notorious for not letting foreigners (or even Chinese citizens) into orphanages, so why the sudden campaign to Westerners about how great they treat the disabled? Is all of my mental frazzle just due to huge cultural clash? What is it about this experience that seems so strange? Similar stories exist with Chinese factories...has this perception of China become a PR pit stop? What is the truth behind this school?

I'm soooo confused.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Hangzhou-mama







This weekend, I made my first excursion out of China to the "small town" (over 6 million people) of Hangzhou. My all-too-brief visit consisted of a loooong bus ride, boating on West Lake where bats flew overhead like seagulls would at the Pacific Ocean, eating yummy duck, a ridiculous club and an early morning hike around Lingyin Temple. Overall, breathtaking. I'll let the pictures do the talking...xianshang! (That's Chinese for "enjoy"...yeah! I'm learning!)

P.S.-- On the way there, I saw this awesome nuclear power plant. And although it's unclear in the photo, there's a stream directly on the left and a housing complex 100 meters or so on the right.