Monday, July 31, 2006

"Beer says, 'what'?", ... "What?"

So last week I was at a business lunch over on Yangmadao Island (ok, kinda redundant since Yang = rearing, ma= horse, dao = island, so I just said "rearing horse island Island". Actually they mean "Horse rearing Island" because the emporor used to raise his horses there. Ok, back to the post) and I noticed that the restaurant had a stout beer on its shelves, somewhat resembling Guiness.

Well, I know as a business lunch, there would be plenty of "Ganbei-ing" and I thought a changed to the normal Yantai lager would be a nice change, so I took advantage of predicable Chinese hospitality and said, "oh, I didn't know Yantai beer made a stout!", knowing full well I had just ensured they would order if for me. If you show any type of interested in something, it will be given to you immediately and without question, often so often that you soon become sick at the mention of those stir-fried silkworm pupae you were so fond of before.

As I sat and ate my lunch, I quietly studied the bottle of my Yantai stout beer and curiously found that it is called "Hams" beer. "Strange", I thought, "I hope there are no pork by-products in this beer." (Hey, this is China... and I've had a beer at Porters Pub in the good old US of A that tasted like beef jerky (go mug club, go!).

Anyway, turns out I was wrong. I studied the label more and came across the fine print, in fantastic Chinglish no less. No, I am not making this up. When I am at work tomorrow and have access to a scanner, I will post a pic of the label.

"Hams Beer"
"Hormone About Man in Society of Business"

I guess their target market is business-minded men? Well, either that or something dirty involving gigolos...

And it wasn't half bad, either!

I should have...

...bought stock in Proctor & Gamble, the makers of Pepto Bismol before I came to China. Seriously, if I could go one month without getting some form of food poisoning, be it "mild" or "oh-my-god-I-can't-drink-fluids-quickly-enough-to-keep-myself-hydrated", I could use all of that uber-pink milky goodness that I currently use to placate my insides with to paint my bedroom a new fun shade of magenta.

Ok, I apologize for that graphic reference, but I figure that I have to deal with it on a regular basis, so you should too.

Friday, July 28, 2006


It would seem that the local pirate DVD show (the one with the hidden back room behind a movie poster) has just gotten its latest shipment of DVD box sets. I couldn't believe my eyes when I walked in. They even had the entire series of ER in a first aid kit box. Anyway, I picked up the new Pirates of the Carribbean movie and also the Scrubs box set. After watching it for two hours this morning (my driver showed up two hours late), I was laughing so hard I had a migraine. I forgot how wonderfully funny that show is!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Because maybe if you keep calling me, I'll magically speak Chinese!

Seriously... does the Chinese guy working in the building next to me honestly think that if he keeps calling me and repeating, "Wei, wei,.... wei" (wei is the standard telephone greeting), that I will suddenly develop a fluent ability in Chinese?

He has called me three times in the last 4 minutes. The only other thing I could understand is he wanted to know if Zhang Wei (David) was here. I've repeated the same conversation 4 times. I told him, "Ta bu zai jar. Wo bu zhidao ta zai nar. Wo bu hue shua Putonghua, wo shua Yingwen. Dui bu qi." (He is not here. I don't know where he is. I don't speak standard Chinese language, I speak English. Excuse me.) How much more clear can I be?

Maybe if I call him repeated and say, "You're an idiot" he'll suddenly start speaking English fluently!

China Blog List

I've put a link to the China Blog List (CBL) up on my sidebar under China Links. It is a listing of blogs written about China, mostly by expats living here. I have applied to be listed on CBL, but it will take some time for them to add me I think.

Check it out!

"Yes, yes" or "Yes, no?"

Preface: This post is another in a series of "Nick-whining-about-something" posts. While it comes across in a rather negative light, I am quite happy right now. Things are starting to go better with work, and life is good. Now, just let me get this off of my chest.

I am sitting here at work being a little frustrated. I finally have a ton of work for the staff to do and they’ve been sent outside to work on the new tennis court. I’ve informed the Chinese management that they have a lot of work to do for Max and I now, and I asked if it would be ok if they stop their work and come and work for me…

I heard Lou… I understood what he said in Chinese perfectly… he said “Yes, ok. They can stop working and go back to the office.” But, all of the staff kept working outside! I knew they did not want to be outside and they would much rather be in the office, so I asked why they continued to work outside when Lou had said they could come back and work for me.

Their response? “Well, he said it was ok for us to go back, but he didn’t really mean it. The look on his face changed. He really wants us to stay outside.” Are you kidding me?!

Oh, that’s right. I forgot what country I am in! In China people never say what they really mean, especially if the answer is “no”. Saying no is essentially the same here as saying, “kiss my butt” so people almost never do it. It doesn't maintain the "group harmony". Group harmony is a very important concept here. By no means does it mean that everyone in the group will actually be happy, far from it. Rather, generally no one in the group will SAY they are unhappy or say anything to cause a direct conflict. You can ask someone to do something, they will say yes to your face, and then proceed to go and do something entirely different. You often have to rely entirely on body language and facial expression to grasp the true meaning of what a Chinese person says. It never ceases to amaze me and it also never ceases to confuse me. There have been whole books written on the idiosycracies subtleties of Chinese expression and speech, but this is crazy.

It goes against pure logic... if someone has a grievance, they put it out in the open, work it out, and then bury the hatchet. By simply pretending that everything in hunkey-dorey, people are going to tend to dwell on their feelings until it eats a hole in them. This is why middle-aged housewives bonk their fat, demanding, ungrateful husbands in the back of the head with a frying pan after years and years of smiling and saying "yes, Dear."

Thank goodness there aren't many clock towers in China...

Monday, July 24, 2006

Ridiculous crap

Our company has a basketball team which plays against some of the other Haide Group teams. There are some guys in the office who clearly only work here because of their height, and are useless at their actual job. Today one of the basketball player (who actually is a very good employee) told me that last week each member of the team was fined 50 RMB for "not being hospitible enough to the visiting team." For a westerner earning $50,000 per year, that is an equlivalent fine (salary percentage-wise) of about $175, quite a lot of money! When the players complained, the Chinese president decided to give the whole staff a 200-400 per month salary increase... except for the members of the basketball team.

Ridiculous crap!!

New pics up!

I have three new albums up on my webshots.

  • Fargus, Josh, and Eli come to visit
  • Xi'an with my parents
  • Deer farm
Check them out!

Hiking and the deer farm

Last week I had a business dinner with a friend of my company's Chinese partner. The man's name is Mr. Liu, which translates to Mr. Deer. Rather ironically, he owns a farm and raises deer for a living. Apparently deer antler and blood is a high priced item used in many Chinese herbal remedies. Mr. Liu invited the staff to come out to his farm sometime and go hiking in the hills. I was informed by Adam (whom I work with) that Sunday, my one day off for the week would be spent doing just that. I was looking forward to it, but I did not appreciate having my only day off taken away from me.

So, yesterday I was picked up at 9am and a group of us drove out to Mr. Liu's farm. I was rather apprehensive as I had heard stories of people who had been there... I was told they would bleed a deer infront of me and then pass around the blood for everyone to drink. I've had my shots and all, but I'd really rather not tempt fate that much.

We arrived at the farm which is in the mountains around Yantai and started out on our hike. It was an absolutely beautiful day and I quickly became sunburned.

After climbing as far as we could up a ridge (with no path) we turned back and arrived at the farm in time for lunch. I cringed as the first three dishes came out.

Yes, that is fried scorpion, silk worm pupae, and giant month chrysalis. The only one of the three I tried was the scorpion (as I had had it in Beijing before and it wasn't bad). Fortunately, we were also served stewed goose, fried venison, boiled deer antler, chicken soup, veggies, corn-on-the-cob, and some other edible (in my book) foods. In addition to the food, there was PLENTY of ganbei-ing beer, so by the time we left to go back to the factory, everyone expect for our driver was quite drunk. I was rather pleased that we saw no deer being bled or killed and especially that I did not have to drink any deer blood.

When we got back to the factory, Adam wanted everyone to go back to work. I pointed out that no one was quite capable of working, so I told some of the staff to go back to their rooms to sleep. A few of us went out to our new basketball court and played a little HORSE before I decided to go home. I got home and was so tired that I slept for the next six hours or so, woke up, got ready for bed, and slept for another eight hours.

I actually really enjoyed the day!

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Drunken shrimp

Well, I finally did it. The moment I have been dreading since I came to China. The one exotic food that I was sure I could not eat.



Yes, you would think I would have an affinity for the poor buggers... a mutual understanding if you will. But they are the one Chinese food I have always been apprehensive of. I've eaten silk worm pupae, jellyfish, eel, pregnant squid, live lobster, sea worm, pig lung, and scorpion, but I've never eaten drunken shrimp.

Well, tonight that changed. The evening started out as normal. Just another business dinner with more baiju (rice wine) and fried pork... until...

A bowl was brought out with another plate on top of it. And the bowl was making noises... like something hitting it rather violently. The waitress (fuyuan) removed the plate to reveal a bowl full of live shrimp, swimming in baiju. Quite literally they serve you live shrimp swimming in alcohol... not the worst way to go, mind you... They were creeping and crawling, and one of them lept into the air, fell out of the bowl, and landed in the dish of soy sauce, spilling wasabi-soaked-soy all over my pants. There was only one way to pay back the little bastard...

Everyone at the table reached into the bowl, chose a particularly fiesty little (or rather quite big) shrimp, and placed him on their plate. As poor Mr. Shrimp jumped up and down (you could acutally catch them in mid-air jumping out of the bowl) you picked him up, ripped off his head, and proceeded to peel him as fast as you can.

Why so fast you ask?

Well, it is simple. If you were very good at peeling the shrimp, you could get him in your mouth while he was still wriggling and spasming around. Trust me, this was not easy to do... you really had to be up on your shrimp-peeling skills to get him into your digestive tract before the poor bastard lost all nerve funtion from not having a head anymore. Sure you might get a muscle spasm or three, but its not quite the same as when the poor little guy is still conciously fighting for his life. That's when you want him in your mouth!

The result? Well, as much as I was terrified of this dish, and swore I would never eat it (also promised myself that about the silk worm pupae), it was really delicious. It really is a struggle (quite literally) to peel the shrimp while he is fighting against your fingers, but once you dip him in wasabi soy sause, and toss him down your gullet, you can barely feel the wriggling.

Eww... I know. But really... surprisingly good, and I can't explain why. I must have had about eight of them tonight. Occasionally we would replace the lid to get the little guys a tad more drunk. Shrimp can put up quite a fight you know!

While I did enjoy the meal, I need to learn not to express quite so much interest in Chinese cuisine... the Chinese staff decided that I liked drunken shrimp so much that they will probably now serve it at every meal we have together for the next 10 years.

Friday, July 21, 2006

I don't talk so good no more

Apparently when living in a foreign country, you're English ability goes downhill at a steady rate. I used to listen to people like my crazy Dutch friend Peter speak and I just figured he was drunk (haha... just kidding)... but now I realize that his corroded gramatical skills were due to the fact that he has been here for so many years. You forget how to speak "normally". I just read my last post to myself and was appalled at my grammar ability. I actually used the word "please" in place of "pleasure". When my parents where here they pointed out that I speak painfully slowly now and I tend to "over annunciate" my words. And th-ey are cor-rect. When I'm chooseing my words for a sentance, I actually feel as my vocabulary has regressed to a 5th grade level.

I think if I re-took the verbal section of the SAT now, I could say, "goodbye, 680 verbal. Hello, 500". At this rate, in three years time I will have the auratory skill of a salamander.

New blogs

I've posted some links to some other Yantai blogs. They are all either more interesting or more well written than mine. Kiwi Nick is a friend of mine who I usually hang out with at the outdoor Chinese BBQs. His blog will give you a better view of Chinese culture because he spends so much time with his wonderful girlfriend's family. I've spoken to Meg through email and I know her boss (who's from Philly), but I've never had the please of meeting her. I hope to change that soon. Her blog makes me laugh every time I read it. And, Magnus... I have no idea who that guy is, but he has some good pics! I guess I'm not spending very much time on Chao Yang Jie this year so I'm not up on the "who's-who" of the Yantai expat crowd anymore.

So, whats going on with me?...

Work-wise thing are picking up. It looks like my company may have secured its funding afterall. My boss Max will be back in Yantai soon! Thats great, because I've been here on my own for 3.5 months now. We can hopefully start our production soon. That would be great because it means I can actually get paid (its been quite a while). Sometime in August I will be travelling to the French and Swiss Alps for a week or so for some business. I think I'll stop by Hong Kong to get my visa situated.

This blog has gotten very frustrating for me lately. I would like to think that initially it was well-written and funny enough to be entertaining, but now I feel/worry that it is becoming just another one of those I-had-this-for-lunch-today -what-do-you-mean-you-don't-care- about-my-daily-schedule type blogs. I read other blogs such as violet eclipse and find great entertainment value in them? Have I been here to long to write good stuff anymore? Have I run out of all the I'm-new-to-China-omg-you-won't-believe stuff? Surely not... the Chinese-way is so nutso at times that surely I can get many more years of good comedic content out of it? I guess I am just in a slump. Anyway, sorry to drone on and I hope my next posts are funnier!

Friday, July 14, 2006

New Skype Phone Number

Ok, so I lost my old Skype number because I couldn't pay for it before it ran out (funny how that happens when you don't get paid for months on end). Anyway, I received some money from my boss so I was able to activate a new number and this time for one year. It is almost the same as the other number... just have to change the last two digits in your phonebook.


I am generally on Skype from 8PM EST to 6:30AM EST (ie when I am work). If I'm at home I'm probably not signed on, so just leave a voice message. I swear I'll try and call you back, but I'm pretty busy so if I don't, please don't be offended.

Monday, July 10, 2006

You've got to feel sorry for them...

Our poor Chinese staff... I feel for them. I'm not sure I could work in the conditions that they do, and for the time being my boss and I are powerless to change things.

Kevin is one of our most talented young designers/draftsman. If I need something to be done quickly and properly, I know to give it to Kevin. He is very smart, a quick thinker, and very creative. At the same time he is very quiet and shy, and will often burst into laughter when he tries to speak English to cover his embarrasment. I like Kevin. (Don't worry, Franklin, I still like you more...)

Last week Kevin didn't show up to work for three days in a row. Considering that Kevin lives at the factory (in horrible little rooms) like the rest of the workers, it was quite surprising that Kevin had gone anywhere. When he showed up three days later, he told me that a female friend of his has travelled a long way to see him and that he had thought it would be ok if he took some days off because we aren't busy. I lectured Kevin and told him that he is smarter than that... he knows that he must ask permission just to leave and that even in a Western company his behaviour could result in termination. Kevin then confided to me that he knew he should ask but he was afraid the answer would be, "No", so he decided to go anyway.

Louis, the Chinese president had decided to fire him after the first day of absence... but Max and I both need Kevin. We are about to send him to France for a month to learn a new production technology for trailers, and we both feel he is the only one that can do it. I went to the chinese management and explained out position and that we need to keep Kevin. We felt willing to forgive him this transgression if he promised to ask next time.

Anyway, Louis agreed to keep Kevin... but he fined him one month's salary ($180), gave him a permanent pay cut (now he makes $160 per month), locked his computer until futher notice (so he can't actually do any work for me now anyway), and forced him to sign a contract saying he will not leave the company for another FIVE years!

I think the only reason Kevin is not in tears now is because he knows we are sending him to the French Alps for one month. I'd be pretty happy about that too, but it looks like I am only going to get to go for one week.

Overall, I think things will get a lot better for our office staff once our new office building is complete. There are two floors of bedrooms (4 people per room... about 15' x 20', and at least now they will have showers (currently my staff shower once each week at their old university where they still have friends). I have to talk to Louis seriously about getting some clothes washing machines, a big television, and DVD player. They already have a ping pong table (stereotypical, I know). Perhaps we can even set up a small shop for them to buy things in, food, etc.

Alright, well again... I know... not much comedy in this post, but I just wanted to relay some of the stuff I have to deal with.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Xi'an... with the 'rents

So I'm in Xi'an with my parents and having a pretty good time. I feel kind of guilty because of how much time I've been taking off of work lately, until I realized that I work ridiculous hours and haven't been paid in over 5 months.

My Dad and I spent this week meeting stone suppliers in Yantai with the intention of importing stone from China to the US. Hopefully my Dad can make something of it and it would be a good excuse to get him back to China again. The best part were the business luncheons that we went to. The first company took full advantage of the traditional Chinese business drinking attitude and fed us baiju. By 2 pm I was quite tipsy, but I had to hide it a little as we were meeting with another company. Some of the companies seemed genuinely interested in starting some partnership with us, but as with all things in China, we must take them step by step. Perhaps after a few containers full of orders, these companies will be interested in forming a more formal relationship than just the normal buyer/seller one.

I know these posts haven't been particularly interesting or entertaining. I'll try and write some funnier, more comical posts in the future, but for now I am going to bed... these 5 star hotel beds are quite comfortable.

Good night and zaijian.