Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Drumroll, please...

Ok, so my news that I keep hinting at. Many of you already know this, but I am finally going to educate the masses.

In living up to my reputation as being the luckiest man alive (at least this is what my friends and fam tell me, even if it is dumb-luck), I have been offered a new job. I am the new Production Manager for a startup company here in Yantai called ATK Panel Systems LTD. They manufacture (or rather will... they don't have a factory yet) structural insulated panels (SIPs) which are used to build emergency housing for diaster areas like New Orleans. These panels can be used to build a single family home in as quickly as one day. They are the only company in the world who is endored by both FEMA and the UN. Because of this they already have millions of dollars of orders placed, and now they need somewhere to make them, which is where I come in. The first part of my task is to get the factory built. Most of that has already been planned, but I will be overseeing its construction. I start March 1st.

So, here's my schedule for the next year or so....

  • End of Jan - fly home to Philly for a few weeks
  • Mid Feb - fly to Singapore. Spend rest of Feb backpacking through Malaysia and Thailand. Go sea kayaking in Ko Phi Phi (where The Beach was filmed), scuba diving in Ko Tao (regarded as some of the best diving in the world), and attend one of the legendary Full Moon Parties on Ko Phangan (where over 10,000 people flock to one beach for a massive dance festival).
  • Feb 28th - my birthday... fly back to Yantai to my new apartment. I can't decide on the one with two floors or the one with marble floors... hmmm.
  • March 1st - start my new job. I expect 60 - 70 hour weeks as it is a startup. March is going to suck and I'm going to have to learn very, very quickly.
  • April - moving to Munich, Germany for one month. The factory line is being assembled there and I will go there to learn about its production and operation.
  • May - Back to Yantai. Over the course of the next 9-12 months we will be getting the factory finished, commissioned, and running. I will be in charge of production and the daily operations of the plant.
  • Then... if I've done a good job and haven't managed to get myself fired by then, they want to move me to Oman to build the same factory there. The deal was signed with the Sultan of Oman to build it a few weeks ago and I'd be dealing directly with him.

I hadn't posted this yet because I hadn't told my current company yet. I was worried they might find out if I put it up here. Anyway, I got final verification today (had my last interview) so I am resigning tomorrow. I hope they're not too mad. They wanted to move me out to Kenosha, Wisconsin for a few months to work at the Chrysler Engine Plant. Was supposed to be moving there in two weeks... oops.

The interview I had today was the strangest I could ever imagine. Well, at least the getting-there part. Seriously, this could only happen in China. I was to meet the Chinese president of the company in Jinan, which is a four hour drive from Yantai. The secratary called me to say that someone would pick me up at 6am this morning and drive me there. She also told me to dress warm because the heat in the car didn't work. I wake up at 4:30am this morning, out the door by 5:15, downtown by 6:00. The car shows to pick me up. It is a Buick minivan... two guys in the front, two empty seats in the back, and the rest of the van is filled to the ceiling with boxes of fresh seafood! Eels, tiger shrimp, crabs, fish... it stank! And, the heat worked just fine... what she really meant was, they couldn't use the heat because of the seafood. In fact, they had to blast the airconditioning the entire way! So, here I am stuck in a car with two guys that don't speak a work of English, and half a ton of fresh, stinky seafood, freezing my ass off for 8 hours. Yes, eight hours. Oh yeah, it is only a four hour drive to Jinan... but what no one told me was that we would be driving to approximately six other cities in between to make seafood deliveries! Unbelievable!

Well, we finally get to Jinan at 2pm. I had my interview, everything went fine, and then I had to take a four hour bus-ride back to Yantai. Needless to say, I am exhausted... but I am glad I finally got it all worked out and that I can tell you what it going on. Now lets just hope my old company doesn't want to kill me...

And seriously, how do I do it?

Relating to the previous post's title

Ok, so I guess my last post never really explained the title that well. I can't go into too much detail as I don't want to embarrass any one person in particular, but I will list a few things vaguely so you get the idea a little. Yes, its slightly incriminating, but I'm not telling you anything you didn't already guess.

  • If you are a Chinese guy who's been charged with the job of driving a bunch of 20-something fraternity guys around your country, don't under any circumstance teach them foul language in Mandarin, especially as you are driving them to a bar or nightclub. It is just a bad idea.
  • If you are a western businessman hosting a business dinner in China, don't under any circumstance invite your son's fraterity brother friends along to the dinner. Chinese business dinners usually involve imbibing copious amounts of baijiu, a vodka-like rice wine and seeing who can hold the most liquor. When the restaurant informs you that you drank every last drop of baijiu in the place, the Chinese businessmen are basically on the floor, and a certain Englishman who's name begins with O starts to mock them loudly for not drinking enough... you know you've made a mistake.
  • If you are a Chinese villager who lives by the Great Wall and makes his living by trekking bottles of water to the top for thirsty hikers, don't try and sell a bunch of fraternity brothers beer. It only makes them look stupid because they are standing on a cultural wonder pounding back a beer. It was really refreshing beer though.
  • If you are the owner of a fireworks stall in China, don't setup shop near the entrance of a large western gated compound. If you do set up shop there, do not sell mortars the size of a Chevy or packs of 12 Roman Candles for $3.
  • If you are the guard of said western compound, do not leave your guardshack when a group of idiot fraternity brothers starts having a roman candle fight in the middle of the street. You might get hit by one and singe your jacket like we singed ours.
  • If you go to a night club, do not loose your coat-check tag and then try to bribe the guard to get your jacket at the end of the night.
  • If you are in a foreign country, do not abuse the phrase, "When in Rome..." Sometimes you shouldn't do things even if the locals do them.
  • If you are a bar owner, do not sell 12 shots of Absinthe for 100 RMB ($12). You will only get a bunch of stupid fraternity guys drunk, and then they'll buy more, seeing if they can finish all the shots on the menu. On second thought, if you are a bar owner, do sell those Absinthe shots.

Actually, all kidding aside (and despite the above list) we managed to do a very good job of reining ourselves in I think. We managed only to get a few stares from people, and I think that was just because we were such a large group of Westerners. As much as I like to joke, I think we didn't make fools of ourselves too much. Surprisingly.

How to Ruin International Relations 101

Many of my college fraternity buddies were coming to visit me for New Year’s.  I had been looking forward to this for months because I really miss all of my friends from home.  Now, keeping in mind that these are fraternity buddies, I was a little worried about how many of us would be making it home, and how many of us would end up locked in a Chinese red prison.  Granted, we’ve all calmed down greatly since college.  Heck, you could even call us responsible, respectable citizens.  Singularly my friends are law students, medical students, responsible white collar types.  But… put us together and you get The Jew (Charles), O-face (Oliver), Captain Dan-o (Dan), Dutchboy (Johan), and Tessa and Lin (their nicknames are not blog-appropriate).  I knew from the getgo that this was going to be one New Year’s to remember.  

We hadn’t really made arrangements to meet up in Beijing, so I figured that the best way to find them would be to surprise them at the airport.  While sitting at Starbucks waiting for the flight to land, I bumped into Johan who had come to the airport with his father’s driver to pick everyone up.

Johan’s father lives in Beijing in one of those Western Villa compounds in a large five-bedroom house.  The whole place is crawling with guards keeping the riffraff out, and if it weren’t for the bitterly cold wind you would swear you were in Boca.  We couldn’t have had a sweeter deal.  In the daytime, Mr. Van Gorp had given us full use of his two personal drivers.  They would take us anywhere we wanted to go, whether it was downtown Beijing twenty minutes away, or a two-hour trip to the Great Wall.  In the evenings, Mr. Van Gorp would take us out to the nicest restaurants in the city and pick up the entire bill.  He wouldn’t let us pay.  Then, once we had had enough of China for the day, we’d retire to Europe.  Stepping through those gates at night was as good as taking a plane to Belgium.  You could find every western food and amentity you could ask for.  If we didn’t feel like walking around in the cold all day, we could walk over to the clubhouse and sit in dry sauna, steam room, or jacuzzi.  There was a Subway, Domino’s Pizza, and a Starbucks.  For someone who has been living in China for six months, this place was a paradise.  I cannot begin to thank Mr. Van Gorp enough and tell him how much we appreciated everything he did for us.

I’ve decided not to go through ever little detail of my friend’s trip here.  If I did, this entry would be too long to read in one sitting, and probably pretty incriminating.  Rather, I’m going to list some of the places we went to see and what I though of them.

  • The Great Wall – absolutly amazing.  Visibility wasn’t the greatest, but it is truly impressive that any civilization could build that.  Some parts were so steep that it was more like climbing a ladder than stairs.  Something I will never forget.

  • The Ming Tombs – interesting in theory, but dull in practice.  I think it would have been much nicer if we could have seen the other tombs in the hills, but air quality was bad that day so you could’t see anything.  The underground palace there was an unornate stone room five stories down.  Anything palatial had long since been removed.

  • Beihai Park – we paid the admission fee to get in, only to find that the main temple in it was closed for renovations.  Oh well.

  • Forbidden City – very impressive.  Even better if you had watched The Last Emperor a few weeks ago.  This place is massive.  Some have described it as dull and repetitive, but I can’t believe that I was standing there with my friends.

Ok, its late and I need to go to bed.  I am going to post what I have written so far, but I will be posting more about Beijing later.

Goodnight, all.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Beijing (Part 1)

Ok, I keep putting this off, so I figure I better write it.  After all, I’m going to have so much to tell you soon, that despite how awesome and amazing my trip to Beijing was, that will be old news and pale in comparison to my coming few months.  

After all of my whining about how none of the cultural sites in China are authentic, and most are Disneyized bastardizations of their former selves, Beijing finally satiated my desire to see China and its rich history.  

Louise and I arrived in Beijing airport on the evening of Boxing Day (day after Christmas) and took a taxi to the hotel we had decided to stay in.  The hotel, Chiang Kai Shiek’s former residence and the old Yugoslav Embassy, was located down one of the narrow hutongs, or alleyways in Beijing.  It took a good deal of searching before we found the right hutong and we finally checked in around 9pm.  The hotel itself was pretty rundown, but you could tell that in its day it was a very nice residence.  Due to its obscure location, I think we had the entire hotel to ourselves.  Then it was off to the nearest Peking Duck restaurant for one of my new favorite dishes.

Beijing was cold, bitterly cold.  We bundled up the next day and went wandering.  We visited the Drum and the Bell Towers in the north of the city, where we were treated to some pretty good views of Beijing.  Ever 30 minutes or so we would stop in a café for some coffee and heat.  We started walking South towards the Forbidden City and soon found ourselves strolling down a hutong full of bars and antique shops.  It really is amazing how you can take a few steps down an alley hutong and step into a whole other world.  You’d never believe you were in a large city, much less one with a population over 12 million.  We took our time wandering though the shops and ended up playing around on a frozen lake on ice-chairs.  You sit on these chairs that have large ice-skates attached to them and you propel yourself around the lake using ski poles.  Great fun.  Then we walked South to the park that overlooks the Forbidden City for some great views.  I got to try out my new lenses for my digital camera, although my hands were extremely painful… I had to remove my gloves to manipulate the lens… brr.  We continuted on to Tiananment Square, then to a street market where we stopped in a chopstick shop for some souveniers.  We made a few turns and after another hour or so walking, we found our way to the World Trade Center where we had a fantastic meal at an Indian food restaurant.  As normal, I made the mistake of ordering lamb vindaloo and had a very difficult time finishing.  The sweat pouring down your face as you eat it is annoying, but it tastes soooo good.  On our way home, we decided to try and find the Passby Bar, a “must see” according to our Lonely Planet guide.  After a few drinks there, we made the short walk back to the hotel and crashed.  We had been walking solidly for 12 hours and were exhausted.

The next day we took the Beijing subway into the city center and found the Oriental Pearl Shopping Mall.  This place is the embodiment of capitalism.  Fendi, Dolci & Cabana, Omega, Armani, Bose, Prada, Swavorski… the most expensive brands in the whole world, and the mall was full of them.  Combine New York’s 5th Ave, Shanghai’s Nanjing Rd, and Paris’ Champs Elysees into one huge building and you might come close.  Across the street there was a foreign bookstore where I spent far too much money (hey, books written in English are hard to get here).  After a few hours of shopping, we went back to the mall to get some Blizzards at Dairy Queen.  Yeah, they have DQ in Beijing… how much does that rule?  I ate my blizzard in the taxi on the way to the airport.  Why were we going to the airport you ask?  To pick up the most insane group of friends that any guy could ask for.  Beijing was about to get torn apart by Phi Psi Penn Theta… well, some of them.  God help us all.