Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Some funny things...

Every once in a while I will write a post that just lists funny things I have come across. This is one of them.

  • Shandong, the province where I now live, follows very strict protocol when it comes to seating at a meal. There are specific rules of where certain people sit, which people may toast, and hot toasting is done. After a certain point in the meal, toasting becomes open to everyone... but there is a catch. Whoever proposes a toast to a particular person may instruct that person how much to drink, but they get to decide how much to consume for themselves. The toastee may not refuse to drink, lest they suffer a tremendous shame. You can see where I am going with this... people abuse it to no end. Somehow at dinner tonight I managed to stay under the radar and only had to down a few glasses of wine. Celine, the site manager in Shanghai however, got pretty tipsy and started getting violent. She was punching and pinching people when they wouldn't listen to her and some people started getting a little sick of it. When someone is being rude enough that other Chinese point it out, you know they are being very rude. Anyway, after she punched me in the arm hard, I took advantage of the Yantai toasting tradition and made her down a few glasses of wine in revenge. I felt bad when a few minutes later she ran off to the bathroom to throwup! Oooops.
  • There is a Communism Department at the factory where I work. As far as I can tell they are a remnant of when the Communist party kept a close eye on all business, but now they serve as the closest thing to a workers union that I have seen here in China.
  • Mr. Live Scallop and Mr. Live Lobster made their appearance at dinner again this evening, much to my dismay, but this time they were joined by their friend, Mr. Fried Jellyfish. I don't like him very much either. Mr. Live Scallop fights like you wouldn't believe when you are trying to break into his home and eat him alive.

Anyhow, it is time for bed. Zaijian, everyone.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Lost in Translation

I had to borrow the title for the Sophia Coppola movie for this post...

I have a rough time understanding what is going on most of the day (yes, Fargus, I know I do even in the States), but it is very difficult for me here. I have a translator, Ngee Siew... his main job is to translate for me and help me get along with people in business. But here's the thing... I love the guy to death (he's the only actual friend I've got out here) but his grammar is not always spot on. Don't get me wrong... this guy has a really hard job and is phenominal at it. I would think regular translation is hard enough, but he has to translate technical conversation. Perhaps the below examples will illustrate what I mean.

Today, I was having a discussion with the Yantai Site Manager. It was his turn to speak, and he went on for about four minutes, using all sorts of gestures. When he was done speaking, I turned to Ngee Siew and said, "Well... what did he say." His response? "Barcode." Thats it.. one word. I said, "What about a barcode? We have one, he wants to use one? What?". Response... "Barcode system."

During lunch today, some of my coworkers were having a conversation. I asked Ngee Siew and he said, "Build team support". Well... what about build team support? We need to....? We are currently? What does that mean? I then when on to explain to him as nicely as I could the importance of a subject in the sentance. I gave him other examples where he leaves out one or two words and it completely messes up the translation.

Occasionally though, mistranslations can be HILARIOUS. I thought about leaving this one out, because its not really family friendly, but we are all adults, so...

At dinner this evening, I was eating a dumpling that had cucumber in it. Wangyen, a co-worker, asked if I liked it. I said I did very much, but I thought I could also taste peanuts in it. She said, "No, not peanuts... it has penis paste in it." I honestly don't know how I avoided spraying my food everywhere and making her feel dumb... after a few minutes of discussion I realized she meant that it had "peanut butter" in it. Her mispronunciation coupled with the mistranslation of butter into paste led to a delicacy that I would rather not be eating.

And with that, I'm off to bed.

My new apartment

I am making these few entries brief, because it is late and I have been spending all evening uploading those photos. My new apartment in Yantai is awesome. Check out the pics. I live on the 20th floor, and have a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, living room, and study. The view would be hard to beat if the pollution would allow me to see more than 4 blocks (at least I think its pollution... might be mist from the ocean). Oh yeah... I can see the ocean from my apartment and can be on the beach with a 15 minute walk.

Yantai is cooler than Shanghai, which is great. I was finally becoming accustomed to being a sweat soaked mess, but it is nice to get away from the sweltering heat. The area is definitely different. The people, the food,... nothing is the same as Shanghai. Foreigners are not at all common here like they are in Shanghai, so I get started and pointed at wherever I go.... takes some getting used to.

I finally gave in and had to try using a squat toilet in KFC... but thats enough of that story.

Work seems like it will go well. My assignment is to get the staff of 28 Fluidcare employees up to par by the time I leave. The Fluidcare program has many many problems here and I certainly will have my work cut out for me. The first place I will start is the lab... they don't even know how to do a simple triazine test for God's sake... sheesh... what do you mean, you don't know what that is either?

Well, time for one more quick post.

Posted many more photos

Ok, now that I have broadband internet in my new apartment in Yantai, I can finally get some more pictures posted. I have new photos under every album in my webshots... check them out. For some reason, webshots is being dumb and the upload tools isn't working properly. Consequently I only have captions on some pics because it is very time consuming to add the after the photo has already been posted.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Zhu Hai

Let me first start this post off by mentioning that the Chinese really know how to let go when its time to let go. Let me secondly say that I am never touching red wine ever again. I wouldn't wish the kind of headache I woke up with on Monday upon anyone... except maybe Darren James (personal joke between me and my friends, Mum).

Houghton China had its annual company meeting this past weekend in the tropical paradise city of Zhu Hai. This gorgeous beach city lies very near the recently reaquired island of Macao (it was also leased to Britain like Hong Kong, but wasn't given back until 1999) off of the southern coast of China. Needless to say, when I found out we were getting flown to a beach resort to stay in a 5 Star hotel and swim in crystal clear waters, all on the company's ticket I was very excited.

And..... cut to reality. It rained the entire weekend. What looked like the Caribbean in pictures looked more like the Jersey shore in a thunderstorm. None of the 180 picturesque islands surrounding Zhu Hai (pronounced Ju Hai) were visible in all of the rain and fog. Despite all this, we still did manage to have a blast.

After work on Friday, everyone took a bus to the Pu Dong airport and we arrived late in Zhu Hai around 10pm. We all checked into our hotel and went to bed. Since I was the only westerner out of 130 people, I was also the only person given his own room. The hotel was amazing... definitely 5-star. My bathroom even had a computerized toilet... yes, Darren, you heard me correctly. It had a heated seat and all sorts of controls to wash... well, you get the picture.

Saturday morning we woke up and met for breakfast. It was the first western style breakfast I have had since coming to China. The bacon and eggs were great, but the best part was the milk. They actually had milk!! That didn't come from a bean!! It should be noted here that in China, everyone drinks soy milk. I like the stuff here a whole lot more than the soy milk that Mum drinks back at home, but I was really beginning to miss the bovine variety.

Next we had a mile walk through the rain to the bowling alley where we all arrived soaking wet. 8-ball, snooker, and bowling was enjoyed for the next few hours where we all got to know each other. Since I was literally the only westerner there, everyone wanted to come and say "hello" or at least something resembling the word. Next we were off for lunch at the best restaraunt in the city. I have to admit it was pretty cool. As you walked in the restaurant, it was more like a deep sea aquarium.... huge lobsters, the largest clams I have ever seen, tanks swarming with shrimp. It was the freshest seafood I have ever eaten. Then it was on to a bus tour of the city (oh, btw... when you can't understand the tour guide, bus tours stink) and the to a recreation of the Summer Palace in Beijing which burned down and was never rebuilt. This was by far the most disappointing aspect of the trip. While I am sure the original Summer Palace was a sight of grandeur, this was more like a cheap Disney World version that you'd find in Epcot. There were even electric trams to take you around the park. Comparing Zhu Hai's version of the Summer Palace to the real one would be like comparing the cardboard crown they give out at Burger King to the Royal Crown Jewels in the Tower of London.

We were given a few hours to ourselves before we headed out for our dinner cruise. As our boat made its way towards Macao, we were treated to a buffet dinner and entertainment from the crew. As the meal was wrapping up we were arriving in Macao where (much to my disappointment) turned immediately around and headed back to Zhu Hai. It is funny to think that of all of the people on the boat, Ngee Siew and myself were the only two people that would have been allowed in Macao. See, yes Macao is a part of China, but there are sections of China that are designated free-trade zones. These zones were set up by the People's Government to encourage economic growth... only thing is, they don't want regular Chinese entering them, but because Ngee Siew and I are foreigners, we would have been allowed. Well, we turned around and went back to the hotel. A few Houghton employees and myself didn't feel like going to bed so we walked to the nearest club where it was open mike night. We had some drinks and I learned how to play an ancient Chinese dice game that roughly translates to "cheating". Then it was off to bed.

All of Sunday was spent in presentation, after meeting, after presentation. Sound fun? Oh, trust me, its even worse when the entire thing is in Mandarin. I was bored out of my mind. To occupy myself I tried to remember how to perform a triple integral to figure out the volume of the donut I was eating. Hey Fargus... if the formula for a circle is x^2 + y^2 = r^2, how do you write the integral of that? Because if you just take a regular integral, won't you end up counting all of the area below that circle as well? You have to subtract out the integral of the bottom half of the circle, right? But how do you write the formula for only one have of the circle? I can do the integral that rotates it around the z-axis, but I couldn't get the area integral. Or do you just use A=pi*r^2?

Do you see how boring this was? That was entertaining compared to listening to a Chinese accountant discuss the status of the Chinese company, in Chinese.

Anyway, after sitting through all of that, the we were treated to a banquet. Business was over and now it was time for the Chinese to let go. Have you heard of the word, "Ganbei"? It is the Chinese equivalent of cheers, although it more accurately translates to "bottoms up". And that is what they intend for you to do... pound back the entire glass of red wine you are holding. For that reason, the wait staff only pour a very little bit of wine into your glass so that you don't kill yourself. Ok, now take that same scenario and pretend you are the only westerner there. Oh, right... all of a sudden every single one of the 130 Chinese employees wants to "Ganbei" with you. I don't know if it will gain them face, or if they just think it is cool to mess with the foreigner. And, its not like you can say no, because that would be considered a tremendous insult. After approximately my 42nd Ganbei, things start to go a little fuzzy, although I do remember being in the kareoke hall upstairs and singing Yesterday by the Beatles with the President of Houghton China.

The next thing I know, my translator is having the hotel staff open the door to my room so that he can get me out of bed. None of his 12 phone calls to my room have woken me and our flight leaves in one hour. I hurry out of bed and run down to the bus that is full of people waiting for me. Embarrased as ever, I am reassured by everyone that it is ok, we are still on time, and my Chinese boss tell me he fells bad because he knows I was treated like a novelty and that everyone wanted to "Ganbei" me. He wants to give me the rest of the day off to recover, which I gladly take upon arriving back in Shanghai, because the woodpecker that lives in my brain is trying to get out and is causing me great pain. I then proceed to lie in bed for the next 9 hours moaning in pain and vowing never to touch red wine ever again.

I'll post pictures of the weekend as soon as I get my camera back. For some reason, some guy in Shenzhen has it (only a few hundred miles away). Not to worry, that guy is visiting Shanghai this week, so I'll have it back in a few days.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Yo, Fargus...

...I bought the first two seasons of Six Feet Under for $3.06 US. I also got Madagascar for $0.85 US and five years worth of Discovery Channel specials for $14.

I went to the Houghton's Shanghai plant and offices yesterday. They are very nice... brand new. Production hasn't even started there yet, but in October they will start blending coolant concentrates with mineral oils. I still think it is very funny that due to the complete lack of copyright laws my company will not tell Houghton China how to manufacture its own products. Instead, the US manufactures a concentrated version of each fluid and sends it to China where they dilute it with a mineral oil blend.

After work, Ngee Siew and I went hunting for the British Bulldog Pub, somewhere near the American Consulate. We finally found it, and despite the fact that it was a Wednesday and kind of dead, we had an awesome time. The new manager has only been there for three weeks... he is a Scotsman who just went through a divorce and ran off to the Far East to escape I suppose. I am trying to teach Ngee Siew how to play 8-ball pool because this Friday we are flying to Zuhai in southern China for Houghton China's annual meeting. While we are there, there are many activities and competitions to take part in... I am trying to get Ngee Siew to play 8-ball with me, but he is pretty bad as last night was only the second time he has ever played. We got pretty friendly with all the bartenders and I told them that I used to bartend in the US. We started exchanging bartender tricks, bar bets and the lot. It was very fun, although I think that bottle of red wine on top of all of the beer was a mistake. I just had to call Ngee Siew because he is an hour and a half late for work... I guess it hit him harder than it did me.

Anyway, I should go and do work. Oh, Oliver... congradulations on getting into Fordham.... thats awesome.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Century Park and The Bund

Apparently "Do Not Disturb" translates in Chinese to something approximating, "Ring Doorbell every 20 minutes and if there is no answer, have front desk call your room repeatedly to see if you are ok and if you want them to clean your room." Needless to say, it completely defeats the not-being-disturbed purpose. So, after not being able to sleep in like I wanted, I decided to leave the hotel and explore Shanghai.

First stop: Century Park. Shanghai's Century Park is somewhat akin to Manhattan's Central Park although you had to pay 10 RMB to get in ($1.12). In a bustling city of constant motion, it is the one place where you can go for some peace and quiet. There were times walking along the various trails in the park that I did not see another living soul for over ten minutes at a time. Glorious. I will add a new album for my Century Park pictures later.

I left the park and headed to the subway. Just outside I saw a man selling DVDs out of a box and decided to take a gander. Two words: Fargus' Paridise. Name a movie in the US that is not yet on DVD and this guy had it. I bought Star Wars Episode III and Sin City for a grand total of 11 RMB, or about $1.34. I thought for this price that they would probably be pretty bad, perhaps even a recording made with a camcorder in the theater, but to my surprise, it was a regular DVD with a menu and all. Perfect quality, just like you bought them at Best Buy.

I got on the metro and headed for Nanjing Road. I decided that I wanted to walk to The Bund and walk its length. I wanted to try and time it so I could watch the cities lights come on as the sun went down. I will post pictures of this also.

While walking The Bund, I was confronted with one of Shanghai's not-so-pleasant features, the beggars. Now, I know that all cities have beggars and homeless people, but Shanghai's homeless are heart wrenching. I passed a man today on Nanjing Road, a road just teeming with money and people with lots of it. He had deformities best described as Elephant Man syndrome... he didn't even look human. You look around and see Armani, Mont Blanc, Ferrari. People are willing to spend $500 on a pen and this poor man can barely raise the 15 cents for a meal. I tried to put this man out of my mind, but I could not. Later I gave money to an amputee, and while I was eating a street food dinner I gave some of my food to a man who looked like a concentration camp survivor. While walking along The Bund I came across one of the saddest things I have ever seen... an old lady whom I had seen begging earlier was lying dead, facedown in the same place I had seen her earlier. And no, she wasn't asleep... the living do not sleep they way she
was positioned. Someone walking along even poked her a few times with their foot, but nothing... It was horrible.

Well, I really don't know how to transition from that last paragraph to this next one, so I am just going to change the subject... since I had given most of my street dinner to that beggar earlier, I was starting to get hungry around 9pm. I went in search of a sushi bar and found exactly what I was looking for. I don't know what they are called, but you sit at the bar and a conveyor of sushi goes past you. You take what you want and at the end of the meal, the waitress comes and counts up the number and the color of plates you had, with each color being a different price. You can spend very little or a fortune depending on what you choose... my total meal cost about
$4 and I was stuffed. I'll put pictures of this up also.

Well, I am writing this at work so I suppose I should go and actually do what they pay me for. I'll talk to everyone later.

The Venice of China

On Saturday I was taken by the Houghton managers to Zhu Jia Jiao, a small Venice-like town about one hour away from Shanghai. It was a really cool ancient town... from what I gathered it was many hundreds of years old and the age was apparent in the construction of the buildings and streets. I don't know what the town's original source of income was (probably fishing) but it subsists now entirely off of tourism. Non-locals must pay a fee to even enter the town and there are countless little stores, food vendors, craftsman, tea houses, and restaurants for tourists, both Chinese and Western, to spend their money in.

I acquired my first two articles of Chinese art in Zhu Jia Jiao. The first was a beautiful paper cutting made by a man who won the title of Best Paper Cutter in all of China 1999. I don't really know how else to describe what I bought, but the skill it takes to make this and the detail represented are unbelievable. I am going to put pictures of it up on my webshots site under
the Zhu Jia Jiao album.

The second of my purchases (well sort of) was a glass bottle that was hand painted with a beautiful scene depicting ancient Chinese life. The thing that made it even more interesting was the fact that it is painted from the inside of the bottle, one painstaking dot at a time. I had seen one while we were walking around and asked the price. I was amazed when the vendor told me 80 RMB (about $10) and agreed without even bothering to try and haggle the man lower. My Chinese coworkers thought this price was atrocious and literally dragged me from the store and would not let me buy it. They told me once we got out that if we went back later the man would give us a better price. Now, I am entirely for arguing with vendors to get the price down, but this was a handmade piece of art that took tremendous skill to produce. It is worth far more than the artist was asking and I wanted to pay him at least that much. Well we went the whole day without going back to the store, and as we walked back to the car I noticed that QP Lu was
missing. He showed up at the car a few minutes later, bottle in hand, and presented me with the gift. I insisted that I pay for it but he would not let me. He said he had only paid half price for it. I will also post pictures of this on my webshots site.

Shanghai Nightlife

So, I snuck out on Friday night. I am not really allowed out without my translator, because the Fluidcare manager, QP Lu is worried that something will happen to me. In reality he is worrying unnecessarily as Shanghai is one of the safest cities in the world for travelers. After talking to Ngee Siew, we both decided it would be perfectly fine for me to go out by myself.

I took the taxi to the Science Museum, caught the subway to People's Park, changed lines, got off at Shaanxi Road, walked a quarter of a mile, and there it was...

...part of Shanghai's famous nightclub district. I had purposely chosen an area frequented by both Chinese and Westerners alike. I walked up and down the street taking a look at the various bars and clubs, stopping in a few that looked interesting. I was starting to feel very out of place because everyone was there with friends... I was the only person walking around alone. Finally I struck up a conversation with a French guy named Raphael. We talked a little outside and went into Club Windows. By the end of the night I had made a few friends: a Frenchy named Raphael, a Chinese-Canadian named Florence, and a Shanghaiese student named PJ who happened to be wearing a Philadelphia 76'ers jersey and was a really good breakdancer. All in all, a very fun night.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Finally posted some Photos!

Hello, everyone. I have finally posted some photos, although I am going to spare you one of them... I leave my computer bag in the office everyday when I walk the plant floor. A few days ago I got back, took my camera from the bag to look through the pictures, and was shocked to find a picture of a man using a urinal.... lets just say it was a close up view. I think this is an extremely passive-aggressive way of one of the Chinese workers to tell me that he doesn't like the American support! My boss, Aaron, said that I had better not say anything because they would probably just fire someone at random. Quite a shock!

Anyway, you can view my photo albums at:

Wednesday, August 10, 2005


Ok, a few things... firstly, I have started writing these posts at work and posting them later in order to save internet time. The result of this will be that sometimes I won't post something I write today until tomorrow, so if there is an irregularity in the dates, that is why.

Secondly, I feel like hell and want to die. The alive lobster that I ate did make me a little sick (at least something from that meal did) althought thankfully that didn't last very long. After I thought I was over any stomach issues, I have developed strep or something like it and cannot stop coughing... that coupled with a weak stomach has caused me to throw-up alot. I ducked out of work early today to try and get some sleep, but was not able to do so due to all of the aforementioned sickness. I am starting to feel well enough to attempt writing this post... before this I definitely would not have been able to. Hopefully a good night's sleep will make me feel better.

Goodnight, all.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

5 Star all the way

Last night we were treated to a banquet at one of Shanghai’s nicest restaurants. I don’t know the name of it still, but it over looked The Bund from across the Huangxi River (I think that is it’s name). The Bund is a long row of beautiful colonial buildings that used to be Embassy Row. These impressive buildings are now all home to financial institutions and insurance groups. Needless to say, the view from our private room was spectacular. I am really angry at myself for not bringing my camera with me.

There were eight of us present for dinner: my American boss, our translator, three of the China Fluidcare employees, and two higher-ups from Shanghai General Motors, and I. In China the relationship with someone is very important before business can begin. Business is avoided at all costs until the end of the meal, despite the fact that this was a business meeting… both sides must feel a personal bond to the other before the small talk can end. Even once the business aspect does start, everything is spoken in generalities, with no specifics at all. It is all about, “We hope that the western culture of US Fluidcare can mesh seamlessly with the eastern Chinese culture. Together we will form a strong partnership together, blah, blah, blah….”

We were seated at a large round table in our own private room. The middle of the table had a large Lazy Susan and a huge variety of dishes were brought to the table, perhaps five at a time. I made it a point to try some of everything, as to not do so would be rude. The highlight of the meal, which I didn’t realize until I was already eating it, was a huge lobster. If I had to guess I would say it was about seven or eight pounds… easily the largest I have ever seen. It was presented in a beautiful fashion… the lobster was posed on the plate in an attack stance with a huge mound of its meat on the plate next to it. It was quite obvious that the meat was raw, because it was semi-transparent instead of the normal opaque white. Well, when in Rome… so I decided to try some. It was absolutely delicious. It wasn’t until I was starting to swallow did I notice that the lobster’s arms and legs were still moving around, and it was staring at me with it’s beady eyes! That’s right, the thing was still alive!!! I nearly gagged when I realized this, but realized that I had already eaten it and would cause the host shame if I spat it out. The rest of the meal was delicious also, consisting of:
· Salad
· Dried minnows with chili pepper (the whole fish)
· Paper-thin steak in a very spicy sauce
· Curried Beef
· Some type of smoked fish (full of bones though)
· Raw Razor Clam (looks like a long straight razor blade)
· Pulled Pork
· Sweet and Sour Crab
· Ribs
· A whole chicken (head and all… don’t know how it was cooked… it looked raw, although it definitely wasn’t)
· Battered deep fried whole lobster (about three pounds)
· Pepper Steak (becoming one of my favorites… with chili peppers instead of bell)
· Chicken Stew
· Coconut Shrimp
· Collard Greens with garlic
· Lotus root stuffed with sweet rice
· Custard with fruit
· Squid cakes
· Dragon Fruit (never seen this before. Has a bright pink outer skin with a white inside fruit and lots of little black seeds)
· Watermelon (we call it the National Fruit because it is EVERYWHERE)
· Mango (ooooOOOOOOOoooooo….)
· Cantalope
· Oranges

Am I forgetting anything? Oh yes… lots and lots of Tsingdao Beer. Every 20 seconds someone would cheers or toast. Every ten minutes or so someone would clink your glass and say, “Ganbei”, which approximately means bottoms up. When someone does this you must both finish your glass, regardless of how you feel or how full it is. Needless to say, everyone is dragging at work today. Plus, on top of a small hangover, I have had to deal with my stomach. It seems that lobster is pissed at me for eating him alive and is causing me to spend much time in the bathroom… perhaps he is still wriggling around in there :-)

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Shopping in Shanghai

We left the hotel this morning to catch a taxi to the tea house district. We hadn't been outside of the hotel 10 seconds before we were treated to our first spectacle for the day... two taxi cab drivers were arguing over who's turn it was in line to pick up customers. The younger of the two drivers started shoving the other. In response, the older driver shoved back, and before you knew it the younger driver was punching the elder repeatedly. This was somewhat of a shock, but not as much as what came next... the shamed, beaten older driver calmly withdrew, realizing anymore response would get him hurt more. He walked over to his car, turned the ignition, rev'ed the engine, and very purposefully struck his assailent with his car. Hard. Like, the man's leg bent the wrong direction. He hit the guy with his car on purpose... good Lord.

We took the taxi to the Science Museum, which is the closest main subway station. The architecture of the museum was incredible... not very detailed, just grandiose (sp?). From there we took the subway (did I mention that Shanghai has 17 million people and all of them take the subway at the exact same time?) to East Nanjing Road. Nanjing Road is a combination of Rodeo Drive and 5th Avenue. Anyone that says China is anti-capitalism has no idea what they are talking about. Louis Vitton, Burburry, Coach, Sax, Omega, Versace... all there and all full of customers. We first went to a jewelers specializing in pearls and jade. They were trying to get out of the jade business, so most jade in the store (not cheap stuff by any standard) was 70-80% off. Keeping in mind that all things are negotiable in China, it was easy to talk them down to 90% off. The prices were too hard to ignore. My boss bought a pearl ring with diamonds for about $500. He thinks that when he gets home he will easily be able to sell it for at least $2000.

From there we took another taxi to the Tea House district. I don't know what else to call it... there are tea houses everywhere, but the main attraction here is the huge "fake product" market. You want a fake Rolex? You'll have one offered to you every 10 feet (literally.... it got to the point where there was 7 Chinese following us, trying to hawk there fake watches on us). One guy offered us Rolex, 100 yuan (about $12). We followed him for a few minutes onto a side street. He wanted us to to into a side alleyway... my b.s. detector had gone off a few minutes before, but this was the last straw. If you are stupid enough to follow a guy into an alleyway in Shanghai, you deserve the brick to the head you will receive and the hastle you'll have to go through at the US embassy to get your passport back and your credit cards canceled.

I did end up buying a fake Patek Phillipe watch from a street vendor for about $30. It is such a good fake that I think it might be real and stolen instead. If you make the mistake of even glancing into a store, be prepared to be followed by the proprietor for the next few blocks, trying to get you to come in.

I bought some Jasmine tea at a tea house. You put a golfball sized ball of tea into a glass of boiling water and watch a beautiful flower emerge. As the ball slowly opens, the jasmine flower blooms in the hot water and when it is finished opening, it looks the same as before it was picked from nature.

Hmm... it is getting late and I've already told you the most interesting stuff for the day. Not to cut things short, but I think it is time for my bedtime.

Goodnight, all.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Funny little things

Ok, so I've been in Shanghai now for a few days and each day I keep coming across little things that make me laugh. I though I'd list a few for you here for your amusement:

  • In the mall there is a lingerie store called Schiezer. If you know any German, you'll know why this is funny.
  • I saw a woman today wearing a pair of Jew Jeans.
  • The sign in the taxicab said, "Psychos and drunkards may not ride in cab without a guardian."
  • All movies on HBO are in black and white for some weird reason.
  • Pepper Steak in China uses chili peppers instead of bell peppers and causes people named Nico to nearly die when they eat one by mistake.
  • If you are leaving a restaraunt when it is raining and walk back to your hotel, the wait staff of the restaraunt will walk the entire way back with you, holding an umbrella over your head because you are a stupid American who went out in the middle of a typhoon without one. Despite the stupid American's best efforts to say it isn't necessary, the waiter will still follow you five city blocks in the pouring rain regardless.
  • If you make the mistake of leaving a tip, even a small one, they will track you down later in your hotel to give it back. They know where you live because of the point mentioned before this one.
  • Chinese will make up any excuse or even lie to avoid telling you, "no". If they don't want to go to a particular museum, they will tell you that all of the taxicab companies were shut down due to the typhoon. When you take a taxi later in the day and realize they just didn't want to tell you "no", you sit in the back of said taxi cab and chuckle.
  • Address books on your new Chinese cell phone are very difficult to read in Mandarin. (I guess I will have to get a Chinese coworker to change the phone's language to English for me.)

Anyway, thats it for me now. Talk to everyone later!

Typhoon Matsa

I am still in my hotel today because the city of Shanghai is semi-shutdown due to an oncoming typhoon. I've been told that they are relatively common here and not really a big deal, but this one is supposed to be the largest one in over a decade. The wind has started blowing quite strongly to the point that it is difficult to walk against... we'll see how much worse it actually gets. Many people here seem to have the same distrust in weather prediction as we do at home.

My first day working at the factory was very interesting. The people are very nice and some speak English quite well. It is such a large facility that it is basically a city in and of itself. I'll talk more about work later.

I had dinner last night at Papa John's Pizza. Yes, that's right. My boss wanted some American food, so we went for a walk. It is funny... everything is so cheap over here except for foreign stuff. Consequently, Papa John's costs the same here as it does at home, which makes is an expensive restaraunt where people go for a nice sit-down meal.

Breakfast is a little hard to get used to, but it is very good. It is basically the same as other Chinese food, but revolves alot around tofu, soy milk, and egg. The soy milk is served hot and is very good... I never liked the stuff at home but it is growing on me here. There are many things in my diet here that I just don't ask what they are. I figure that it tastes nice so why ruin it by knowing what it is. There are some foods that I have never heard of... yesterday for lunch I had steamed lotus root. It looked like slices of cucumber with lots of holes in it and tasted a lot like sweet watercress.

My company had a bunch of business cards printed up for me. Business cards are a big deal here... everytime you meet someone a formal exchange of cards is expected. There is much etiquitte surrounding this action, rules must be followed: you always give and receive a card with both hands, when you give a card it must be oriented so that they can read it upright, you never put the card in a wallet but rather a business card holder. The reason for this last one is that your wallet is generally in a back pocket and then you sit on it... you'd basically be signifying that you think they are below you, literally. Anyway, the reason I brought up the business card thing is that one side is English and the other Mandarin. When translating your name, they write out the Chinese characters that most closely sound like your name. Can you see where I am going with this? That's right... all of my Chinese coworkers now know me as "Nico Habi". Since I go by Nick at home, everyone calls me Nico here. Kind of neat, but hard to get used to.

My translator Ngee Siew is supposed to be taking me out in Shanghai today for some shopping. One thing that I am a little annoyed about is that I am not allowed to go out without Chinese Houghton escort. Even my boss isn't allowed out, although we did both leave the hotel last night to get pizza. Don't worry, we're not going to get arrested or anything... its not a law. The Chinese Fluidcare manager, QP Lu, is basically responsible for our well being. If something were to happen to us, it would be considered his fault and be a great shame to him. He would have a heart attack if I left the hotel without Chinese escort because he worries too much about us. Maybe after a few weeks he will be a little more comfortable with the idea of my exploring... Ngee Siew lives half an hour away, so if I want to just walk down the street I have to call him and impose upon his time, which I feel bad doing.

Well, I'd better get off my phone modem... I'm expecting a call anytime soon from my boss.

Zaijian (goodbye)

Friday, August 05, 2005


It is 5:30am here in Shanghai (well, all of China really because even though the country crosses five time zones, they only have one... a ripple on the pond leftover from the rock that was The Cultural Revolution) and my body has no idea what time it is. My clock says 5:30am, but my brain says it is 5:30pm and refuses to let me sleep any longer despite the probable need.

I suppose I should go though a more detailed version of my trip so far. The flight from Chicago to Shanghai was hell... 14 hours in an economy seat is pure torture. I was lucky enough to be in an bulkhead seat on the aisle so I could at least stretch more than some, although I wish I had been one of the lucky ones who had a whole row to themselves... they could lie down. I was one of perhaps 20 westerners on the plane and I did not hear much English though the flight. All of the immigration forms were in Mandarin and I had to illicit the help of some of the other passengers.

Arriving in Pu Dong airport, we were herded over to Quaratine. Here you stand in a long line giving the patrolling doctors and infrared cameras a chance to look for any signs of sickness such as fever, cough, sneezing, etc. In the line for customs a Yemenese family of 12 cut in front of the entire line causing a "Good Ol' Boy" from Georgia to try and physically move them to the back of the line. I thought a fight was going to break out in customs! I don't know whether the family from Yemen or the man from Atlanta made their respective countries look worse. I picked up my bags and was greeted by Aaron (my American boss), Ngee Siew (my translator), and QP Lu (Fluidcare director).

As we drove from the airport to my hotel there were many near miss accidents. I've been told to just get used to it and they often look closer then they are. Ngee Siew translates for Aaron and I to QP Lu, but sometimes there are moments of mutual understanding and we all burst out laughing. I tried out some of my Mandarin on QP and he seemed impressed. We dumped my stuff at the hotel (a very nice hotel mainly for westerners, I think) and headed to what seemed like a local mall to have my passport picture taken for my employee ID card. At first glance you could be in any upscale American mall until you realized that everything on sale was negotiable. We went to the supermarket to buy some Tsing Tao beer (much better over here, btw) and some seasonal food called Moon Cakes. These are semi-sweet pastries that are only sold around the Moon festival. They come in all sorts of flavors although I don't think I recognized a single one. They also sold clothing in the supermarket and I couldn't believe how cheap it was. Shirts for $3, pants for $4... actually, everything was cheap, except the foreign stuff.

We came back to the hotel where Aaron and I had some dinner. We split a dish of chili pork with rice bread dumplings on the side. Sooooo good. I could easily get used to this food. We talked some business and then it was up to bed. My room is extremely small compared to typical western hotel rooms... perhaps 10'x 10' with a reasonable large bathroom.

As I type this I am watching Chinese MTV which is a strange mix of Jessica Simpson, Stone Temple Pilots, and what seems to be a Chinese version of Brittany Spears. A Chinese metal band just played a song and they were quite good, although incomprehensible to me. They were followed by the Chinese James Taylor. The bed is rock hard... actually under closer inspection there seems to be no mattress, just a boxspring of sorts. This is fine with me because I have always prefered a firmer sleep surface. I do wish they gave you more than one pillow though.

So apparently I will be staying in Shanghai for three weeks... they need that time to process my immigration paperwork for a work permit. Most of this time will be spend meeting people and getting my bearings in the Chinese Fluidcare business. I only have a dialup connection in my room, so I don't know if I'll be able to upload pictures, but I'll try. As far as a cell phone, I have been told that they will be buying me one... I don't think this will work for international calls though so when I go to work today I will inquire on how to call home. As soon as I can call I will, whether from work or with a phone card.

Well, I have to get ready for work now... oh, thats one thing I am very happy about. I was expecting 12 hour work days, 6 days a week... Aaron told me he generally works 8-5 and as far as my weekends, I should just tell them I will not work Saturdays. I hope he is correct about both of these things because I will have much more time to myself then.

Oh my... the Chinese version of R. Kelly just came on TV so with that it is time to leave.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

I can't believe it, I am actually in Shanghai...

I would love to write a long blog posting here to tell you about my adventures in the past 24 hours, but I am so tired that I have falled asleep 4 times during the time it took to write this sentance. I need to go to bed as I have to be at a meeting at 8am tomorrow morning.