The kids look like they grew an inch a piece and they have turned into little brown people, they are so tan (and I know they use 30 SPF sunscreen).
Brian tested for and received his Blue Belt. And to think that he was just an Orange a year ago.
Erica is playing Bach's Minuet 1 very nicely on her violin - she has definately been practicing.
Many of the garden plants have been decimated by Japanese Beetles, those cursed things!
My tomato plants are doing fine, even having been neglected for 2.5 weeks.
The water lilies in the pond are doing great - the lily pads cover about half of the pond and they are blooming like crazy. The new koi are getting bigger.
There is this huge weed growing out of an abandoned pot in the front. It is taller than me, but Scott doesn't want to get rid of it because he thinks it is "cool".
Finally, gas prices haven't done anything except go up. How depressing..........
Monday, July 24, 2006
The kids look like they grew an inch a piece and they have turned into little brown people, they are so tan (and I know they use 30 SPF sunscreen).
I can see the sun setting across the clouds this evening as I am heading back on my flight from Beijing to Chicago. During this 5th leg of my trip, my seat is located in the upper deck of the 767 – right by the flight cockpit. Here, I have observed some of the flight staff’s security procedures – when one of the pilots needs to use the restroom, the flight attendants do not allow passengers to access the other restroom by the cockpit. I have counted four pilots for our flight.
This morning I checked out after breakfast – my bill was a whopping $5000 yuan – note that this was for merely two days and that my bill in Nanchang for two weeks totaled $6000 yuan. Wow – Beijing isn’t cheap, but I will have to say that the Grand Hyatt Beijing is a wonderful hotel. Last night I went to the pool. Hopefully I can find a picture of it – it is a full 55meters long and boasts two huge hot tubs – you could fit more than ten people very comfortably in each one. It has a tropical island / grotto feel to it and is certainly one of the nicest pool areas I have ever experienced. The only other one that comes close would be one in Hawaii. I told Scott that we should come to Beijing with the kids in 2009, after the Olympic games.
We headed to the Summer Palace – the weekend residence of former emperors and leaders of China. With its own large lake, wonderful gardens, mighty Pavillion and Opera house, it is a quite nice weekend home., with similar elegance of the Forbidden City wih more informality. Tony tells me more about the “Dragon Lady”, ShuQi who really ruled China during the Qing dynasty, behind the child emperors of that time.
After lunch we have time for a stop at the National Silk factory. I learned that they use two different types of silk cocoons – the smaller ones are spun into silk thread while the bigger ones are pulled apart with the natural silk matrix in tact and combined to form a silk batting. There was a spinning machine in operation – the smaller silk cocoons immersed in water and threaded up to the spinning machine, then over to the spools of raw silk fibers. I watched as one woman worked with the larger cocoons, pulling them apart by hand and forming the raw silk batting. Each piece of silk batting is then pulled as a thin layer in the manufacture of a silk blanket – many, many layers form the blanket filling, much like polyester fiberfill, but obviously with much different properties. I guess this is the silk equivalent to down. All of the pulling is also done by hand to ensure evenness. I helped pull several pieces for a queen-sized blanket. I really thought this process was really interesting and loved the concept of the silk blanket, so of course, I bought a king sized one! They ‘vacuum pack’ it for you so that it is fairly thin, but I am now carting yet another satchel in my collection of carry on bags.
The last stop before heading to the airport is the DVD store. I now know that you can’t get the inside scoop in Beijing unless you hire a guide. These places are backrooms behind store normal storefronts – through people’s kitchens and down alleyways I would never venture to on my own. Tony tells me that the area we are in (right across from the very respectable looking Holiday Inn Beijing) is really not all that good and the one doesn’t go into the Foot Massage place to get a massage (wink, wink). I guess the give away is the woman at the doorway to the Foot Massage establishment is in a cocktail dress vs. a traditional Chinese dress.
Saturday, July 22, 2006
As I write this, I am enjoying my dinner in the Red Moon, a Japanese sushi bar on the hotel property. Actually, I am not entering this into the computer, but rather jotting things down on a piece of paper. I find that when I am eating alone, this helps to quell the boredom. So, I am too tired to venture out tonight and I am craving sushi, so this is the place. The restaurant décor reminds me of a wine cellar – dark and mysterious. An eclectic mix of music helps to set the mood – initially some jazz and now some jazzy electronica, if there is such a thing. As I watch the sushi chef prepare my meal, I recount the day’s activities – TianAnMen Square, the Forbidden City, the Jade factory, the Great Wall, and some shopping. Whew! I am tired just thinking about it again.
Today’s adventure starts out with a trip to the Palace Museum, also known as the Forbidden City. The Forbidden City is just across the street from TianAnMen Square, where we begin. The square is bustling with Chinese tour groups – summer camp groups and college groups, all waiting in a long snaking line to catch a glimpse of Mao’s body in the masoleum. We clear through the crowds in order to get a view of the famous Palace gate – the one with Mao’s enormous picture in the center:
Inside the many gates is the main courtyard area, along with several of the main halls. Like in Tengwang, there are big thresholds at the entrance to each main hall. Since Anthony and I could on guess on their significance, I asked Tony – his explanation was that the high threshold served to keep the “Foreign Ghosts” from entering into the Palace, as those Spirits could threaten the rule of the Emperor. Tony then tells me how the Last Emperor, Pu Yi, as a young child had been given a bicycle and ordered many of the thresholds to be cut away so that he would be able to ride the bike more freely around the Palace grounds. And so it goes that 3 years later, PuYi was stripped of his throne and ended the feudal rule of China.
A few pictures from the Forbidden City:
Detail on the Main gate leading inside the Palace grounds:
Dragons that also serve as water drainage spouts during the rain:
Detail on the handles of large water jugs, found throughout the Palace grounds:
After my visit to the Forbidden City, we drove out towards the Great Wall, stopping first at the Dragon Land Superior Jade factory and gallery. There I witnessed the making of jade carvings and had lunch. Oh yeah, I bought some jade pieces as well.
Then it was off to the Great Wall. I consider this to have been the highlight of my trip to China. Seeing this massive structure cutting through the mountainside was breathtaking. First of all, today’s weather was just perfect – sunny, medium humidity, with blue skies and a light breeze. Tony tells me that such day is “precious” and cites that in the year 2005, Beijing recorded only 30 such days.
I head up the West portion of the wall, carefully climbing the steep steps:
Along the Great wall are Towers, which originally served as manned posts. If you recall the movie Mulan, the opening scene shows action along the Great Wall and its Towers – smoke would be used as a means of communication between the Towers. Tony has suggested that maybe I’ll make it to four Towers today. But I just keep climbing upwards. I make it to the first tower – here is a picture from inside the tower, overloking the mountainside, There is a pagoda far up in the distance:
I climb higher and higher – at each ascending tower there are fewer and fewer people. Here, I asked a young girl to take my picture, around the 4th Tower:
I finally see that I have almost reached the pinnacle for this portion of the Great Wall and make my towards it. I have lost count of the number of Towers I have passed, and later on, I am told that I have made it to the 8th Tower.
The view from this high point is breathtaking (plus, we are all out of breath from climbing up all of those stairs!). You can see one of the far suburbs of Beijing in the distance.
And here I am at the top!
On the way down, I spot that Pagoda again – but this time I am above it rather than well below it:
My shadow as I descend:
You can see how steep the steps are – these are the final steps down to the access to the Wall:
Gosh, that’s all for today, and this will probably be my last entry while I am in China – tomorrow morning I will head to the Summer Palace before heading out to catch my plane back to the US.
Friday, July 21, 2006
My flight from Nanchang relatively uneventful except for the occasional turbulence, during which the flight attendant gave instructions for the passengers to stay in their seats and “in the event you should feel motion sick, please use the motion sickness bag in the pocket in front of your seat”. I thought that was funny – like you needed to be told what to do…...
The flight started at 18:00 and lasted two hours – just in time for a glorious sunset. I normally don’t take pictures from the plane, but clouds and the sun painted a scene just too wonderful to pass up:
For my two days in Beijing, XiaoHua has arranged for a personal tour guide who will transfer me to the hotel and provide sightseeing over the next two days before I fly back to the US. I meet my tour guide at the airport – a young Chinese man (he looks to be in his early twenties but is probably older). He reminds me of Simon, who I used to work with at GE – a natural talker and seller. His Chinese name is TianLi, but tells me to call him Tony. A big bonus is that his English is excellent (but I do tell him to speak with me in Chinese).
The ride into Beijing is a smooth 45 minutes, and not even close to some of the harrowing rides experienced in Nanchang. In fact Beijing seems to be the exact opposite of Nanchang – everything glistens with newness and a gleaming clean in Beijing, compared to the rough grittiness of Nanchang. The temperature, although warm, is no where near the sauna-like humidity of Nanchang.
My hotel, the Grand Hyatt Beijing, sits in the center of the elegant Oriental Plaza and is two blocks from the Forbidden City and TianAnMen Square. I can see the front fountain from my room.
So, it will be the Forbidden City in the morning and then the Great Wall in the afternoon……ciao!
Taken again in the early morning, I was struck by the calm water along the water, providing a nice reflection of the towering buildings.
I finally got a picture of a bike full of ducks. Unfortunately, it is blurry, but I guess it will have to do. I did notice that the ducks were all alive, many bobbing their heads up and down as they travel down the street to an unlikely fate. On the way to work, I noticed a what looked like a duck farm – several shallow lakes of water, full of ducks. Oh, poor Jemimah Puddleduck!
The work culture at my company’s JiangXi plant is unlike anything in the US. The plant is located about 50 km from Nanchang, in a small town called YangJiaLing. Because of its small size, not many people recognize this town’s name, so normally this location is referred to by the county name only. The area is an industrial park, with several chemical plants in the vicinity – like the rows of refineries in Houston or Louisiana. The main difference, however, can be seen in the employees’ work – life situation.
The vast majority of the employees here have apartments very near to the industrial park, and they live in these apartments during the week, away from their families in Nanchang. On Sunday, they take the train from Nanchang back to their “work – apartment”. My assumption is that many cannot afford to travel between Nanchang and work every day, and perhaps this is the expectation of them during the week – to be close to the plant during the week.
The exception to this is the plant’s upper management – about 5 people from this site are provided transportation to and from Nanchang on a daily basis. I was part of the daily convoy this week, as is customary for those visiting the plant and staying at the hotel in Nanchang. However, I did learn that although these men are provided this luxury, their families do not live in Nanchang. Only one of them has his family in Nanchang. The others all live in Shanghai, all for various reasons, but probably because Nanchang isn’t quite the big and glamorous city that Shanghai is. It is probably like living in NYC vs. Elizabeth, NJ. Or for me, Boston vs. Houston (I would much prefer Boston!).
So it seems that regardless of one’s position in the company, there are enormous tradeoffs when it comes to quality of life and family. As I talked with one of the managers here about his family in Shanghai – his wife and 6 year old daughter - I could tell that he missed them terribly. And so I can see that the managers at this facility really aren’t going to stay long term – many will try to go back to the plant in Shanghai or transfer to a more desirable location.
I know that there are similar situations in the US where the family unit is disrupted, but it so common here – just a part of everyday life. I guess I am so very fortunate to have a different situation where I can work and be fulfilled that way, yet still have the experiences with my growing children.
It’s now 3pm on Friday afternoon and most of the engineers and managers have left for the weekend – the engineers leave at 2:30 to catch the bus that takes them to the train depot. The plant manager left at noon to fly to his family in Shanghai. And so it is just me again, waiting another hour to catch my ride to the airport. Later…………
Thursday, July 20, 2006
It’s Thursday night, which represents my last night in Nanchang. Tomorrow afternoon I will fly to Beijing to spend Saturday and half day Sunday sightseeing before making the long journey home. The oppressive heat has returned to Nanchang. I now know that clear skies mean scorching heat. Somehow, though, I have become used to it - or maybe I have been fortunate enough to be spending time in a place where the air conditioning unit is fairly new, so it works consistently.
The management team at work has been nice enough to take me out to dinner most nights this week, and as a contrast to last week’s more drawn out, formal dinners, these have been more informal and more importantly, shorter. My appetite has come back and I am enjoying most of the Chinese food. I did break down on Sunday and went to the Pizza Hut, but since then, it has been Chinese food. I ventured into a bakery store Tuesday night and tonight and actually felt comfortable buying some bakery treats – egg tarts (DanTa) and buns with dried BBQ beef (I know, that last one sounds kind of yucky, but they are really yummy).
I continue to be amazed at how cheap food is – for example, tonight’s dinner cost $2.50 per person in US dollars. Heck, I am drinking Diet Coke out of the mini-bar in the room that costs $2.00 per can. And speaking of Diet Coke, I cannot find it in any of the little stores around the hotel - plenty of regular Coke, Sprite and Pepsi, but no Diet. So I will continue to drink the extremely expensive stuff out of the mini-bar.
After dinner tonight, I went out to buy Erica a Chinese-style silk dress. The small laundry and dress shop across the street from the hotel has been closed for over a week, so I had to go with plan B – head back out to the dress shop where I had purchased my Chinese-style, “cheong sam” the first day we were here. This store is in one of the main shopping areas – this area is open only to pedestrian traffic, with various stores lining the street. The ladies at the store remember me - the Chinese woman who couldn’t speak much Chinese! They also remember the dress that I bought (they probably charged me too much). But my Chinese has improved over the past two weeks and I am able to tell them that I needed a dress for my daughter, that she was nine years old and not too skinny (but not too fat, either!), and that the dress had to be blue. Ten minutes later, I am walking down the street with a beautiful turquoise silk dress.
So, my suitcase is all packed and ready to go. I can say that this week hasn’t been all that bad – I have gotten used to the cultural differences between the Chinese and Western cultures and haven’t suffered too terribly. However, I am ready to head back to the comforts of my home and family.
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
There is such a thing as "Nanchang Style" - and that is "spicy - hot" or "La!" in mandarin. But while my comments aren't really spicy (trying to keep it clean here), they certainly are about Nanchang.
When it rains, it is impossible to get a taxi. And it does rain quite a bit in Nanchang.
People are offended if you don't eat a lot. I spent the first week here, barely eating. It was due to jet lag, because now, I am eating pretty normally and usually am starved by the time it is meal time. But apparently, I offended some people last week when I ate very little.
Cash is king. I have yet to use a credit card since arriving. I was ill-prepared on the AMT card front, and my card doesn't work. And don't believe your credit card company when they tell you "you can get a cash advance at any bank in China" - I spent an hour going from bank to bank on Friday before giving up.
Forget about personal space and orderly queues - courtesy is optional and really, ignored. Everyone crams in and pushes their way to the front of the line. Just like the good old days in Boston, trying to get into the Sumner tunnel, except using your body instead of a car.
Cab rides are scary. Today, we got into a cab - we were on the right side of the road, but needed to go the other direction. No problem, the cab just turned directly into ongoing traffic. Close your eyes, Shirley, I say to myself, and pray.
There are two speeds when it comes to driving - full throttle and stopped. No gently slowing down. Just go really fast or break really hard.
Crossing the street in Nanchang during rush hour is like placing your life into God's hands - you have to have faith that that huge bus barreling down the street (full throttle) isn't going to hit you. I have been positioning myself downstream of another person (generally a male), so that they would get hit before me and take some of the potential energy out of the vehicle.
Caucasian people are a rarity here and get noticed. Just ask Anthony - his picture is captured on many a cell phone camera, taken by awed Chinese.
And my last observation, a personal one - I had to come to China to remember a description (and to some, a culturally insensitive one) from my college years. I have come to the conclusion that I am certainly a "Banana". That is, Yellow on the outside, and white on the inside. Yep, that's who I am and proud of it.
Monday, July 17, 2006
I never thought I would say this, but it was a nice night in Nanchang. The temperature has actually been bearable – only in the mid 80s. And coming back from the plant today, we noted that the sky was blue. A comment was made that a clear blue sky was very unusual in Nanchang, and that this must be due to the Typhoon which passed through Shanghai over the weekend – it apparently blew all of the cloud cover away. The view of the sky was clear as well - I captured these pictures of the Tengwang Pavilion, the lights along the GanJiang and the Ferris wheel in the background – taken from large window in hallway by the elevator in the hotel, seventeen stories up:
Sunday, July 16, 2006
If you read down to my Nanchang – Day 2 entry you will see that we attempted to ride the big Ferris wheel which is located across the GanJiang, in the “new” section of Nanchang. The original plan was to go back on Friday night, but the weather didn’t cooperate. Well, Saturday night was my night. XiaoHua accompanied me there and we arrived just as they were opening up. I noted that XiaoHua didn’t ask the taxi driver to stay and wait for us, but I noticed that several taxis were dropping off other perspective Ferris wheel riders.
The ride itself was smooth and nice – we watched as the lights across the city turn on, one by one. Music is broadcast inside the cabin, and the lights along the wheel’s spokes flicker to the rhythm. This ferris wheel is definitely bigger than the one in Navy Pier - the total ride time was about 25 minutes, with the ascent showcasing views of downtown Nanchang, and the descent providing views of the less developed, “new” section of Nanchang.
Illuminated against the dusky sky, the wheel lends some brightness to this area, so different from the constant neon of downtown Nanchang.
At the end of the spokes are various Chinese characters.
After being mesmerized by the shimmering lights of the big wheel, the rain started. At first, just a light sprinkle - but then, a large, soaking downpour accompanied by horizontal winds. And one little umbrella between the two of us. One thing I have learned yesterday and today – when it rains, available taxis become very scarce. Couple that with the fact that we are out here in the middle of nowhere and XiaoHua starts to freak out. 10 minutes pass without any taxi traffic. I suggest that she call the hotel and have them send out a taxi to come get us – we’ll pay the fare for the roundtrip. I don’t think that she initially thought this was a good idea, but after another 5 minutes pass, she is on the phone. We finally reach the hotel after 8pm. Neither of us is in the mood to go back to the BaYi fountain.
One last note – the taxi driver who took Anthony and me out to the Ferris wheel robbed us. He charged us 100 yuan round trip. But the fare tonight was less than 50 yuan, and that included the fare for the one-way trip out and the roundtrip fare to be picked back up.
Warning - the following may contain content which may gross the reader out. Just feel fortunate that you don't have to see what I am going to describe.
I don't want to knock the Chinese culture and all, but some of what they do seems odd. Take the following two behaviors I have observed and you can decide:
For dinner Saturday night, XiaoHua and I eat at the closest KFC. That's right, KFC, as in 'Kentucky Fried Chicken'. Except no one here calls it that - it is simply KFC. And I say the "closest KFC", because this chain is very popular in China and well, there are several of them in Nanchang (I have ventured upon at least 3 of them in my short time here). XiaoHua really likes KFC - she says this with a smile, so I know it is true. I have eaten mainly Chinese food since arriving, and I was ready for something on a bun for a change. So I get a breaded chicken sandwich. And a pair of food service plastic gloves. I look around and notice that people are eating their food with these gloves on.
So I ask XiaoHua - "what are these for"? And she replies - "to keep your hands clean while you eat your food".
Contrast this to what I commonly see while walking around the street:
Man is walking and spits on the ground. They ALL do this, about once a block.
Man stops to blow his nose. He leans over a bit, pinches his nose and blows into the street. Or onto his fingers, or pants. The he picks his nose. Wipes the sweat from his face.
Toddler-aged children walking around with open-bottom shorts. I guess if they need to relieve themselves, they won't get their clothes as dirty.
And these are the folks who eat with gloves to keep their hands clean while they eat their KFC.......
I tried to go swimming in the hotel pool last night. I only lasted 10 minutes because the men in the pool doing laps completely grossed me out. They would swim across the pool and once they reached the pools edge, they would stop a bit, cough up a louie and spit into the pool drain that follows the pool edge. Then they would blow their nose (pinching their nose with their finger) into the drain as well. At each end of the pool. And this wasn't just one guy - like three of them using the pool drain as a spitoon and mucous collector. And imagine the noise these guys are making while doing this, in a nice large echo chamber the pool is. ICK.
Again, these are the folks who eat with gloves to keep their hands clean while they eat their KFC.......
Ai-ya - I just don't get it.
Saturday morning marks the solo portion of my visit here. Fortunately, I have a host today, Lily, who also works at the Cabot facility. Her Chinese name is XiaoHua, which means ‘small flower’, and that is why she has chosen Lily as her western name. But I’ll call her XiaoHua. I learn that she has a degree in Information Technology, from the Nanchang University and that she has worked at Cabot for a little over a year. I took her picture while we were visiting the Shengjin Pagoda:
I had mentioned to one of the engineers at the plant that I wanted to go to a museum, so that is what XiaoHua has planned for me this morning. We take a taxi to the Nanchang Museum – which documents two thousand years of Nanchang’s history. Yet unlike the Tengwang Pavillion, this facility is empty except for XiaoHua and me.
The most useful portion of the museum is this plaque which describes a bit of Nanchang’s significance in China – if you blow up the picture, you can read the entire text. Nanchang’s role in the Chinese Revolution – the Nanchang Uprising. I looked up some more information around this online and found this entry in Wikipedia:
The Nanchang Uprising (Nánchāng Qǐyì) (August 1, 1927) was the first major Kuomintang-Communist engagement of the Chinese Civil War. Communist forces in Nanchang rebelled under the leadership of He Long and Zhou Enlai attempting to seize control of the city after the end of the first Kuomintang-Communist alliance.
Other important leaders are Zhu De, Ye Ting, Liu Bocheng.
Communist forces occupied Nanchang successfully and escaped from the siege of Kuomintang forces at August 5, withdrawing to the Jinggang Mountains of
western Jiangxi. The day of August 1st is later regarded as the anniversary of the founding of the People's Liberation Army. It is regarded as the first gun against KMT.
Next stop is the Shengjin Pagoda. This is the second main ancient structure in Nanchang, the other structure being the previously visited Tengwang Pavilion (and unlike the Tengwang Pavilion, the pagoda is more than 1000 years old). Here is some information on the Pagoda I found online at China Travel Guide:
Shengjin Pagoda is located on the Zhushi Street of Nanchang, it is the highest construction of the city. The simple and unsophisticated pagoda makes the ancient city more beautiful.
The Shengjin Pagoda was built in the years of Tianyou Period of Tang Dynasty, 904 to 907 AD. Though it is more than 1000 years old, its structure has been perfectly reserved.
The 59 meters high pagoda has seven floors. It is made up of bricks and woods. Looking from outside, it has eight angles. Each floor has sharp angle eaves and eight doors. Inside the pagoda, there is a rotary stair going to the top.
Climbing up the pagoda and looking into the distance, you can see the Ganjing River with smoke flying above and the ancient city Nanchang with luxuriant trees. The pagoda and the Price Teng's Pavilion are standing opposite to each other at a distance in the city.
Near the Shengjin Pagoda, there is a Shengjin Temple with an ancient name Tianfo Compound. People also call it Taxia Temple. The temple and the pagoda were built at the same time. In the front of the temple, there is a moon-like pond.
XiaoHua and I make our way up the steep steps to the very top of the pagoda, where vast views of the city can be taken in. Unlike previous days, today is cooler – still in the mid-80s, but far more bearable, especially with the light breeze at the top.
We also briefly visit the Shengjin temple, whose entryway is guarded several dragon pillars.
We lunch at a restaurant called “Jia Chang Fan”, which directly translates to “Family Chang Restaurant”. The interesting thing about the “Chang” part is that the Chinese character is the same as my Chinese last name – and I am told that my Chinese last name is highly unusual. It literally translates to “long” or “always”. I’ll have to find a .jpg representation of the symbol somewhere……
XiaoHua orders way too much food – a nice fish steamed with a sweet-salty sauce with peanuts, a broccoli dish, a soup and a plate of lotus bean pastries. All of this for 60 Yuan, which is about $6.00 US.
After lunch, we do a little bit of shopping before heading to the Ba Yi Square to view the monument and enormous fountain.
Ba Yi translates to “eight – one”, undoubtedly referring to the August 1 Nanchang uprising. If you look at the first two characters on the monument, they are the Chinese characters for ‘eight’ and ‘one’. The August 1, 1927 date is also inscribed on the base. Unfortunately, it has started to rain, so we cut our visit short. The original plan is to come back at night when the fountain is illuminated by lights. But as you shall see, this never happens. More later………….
Saturday, July 15, 2006
Well, the supposed torential rains from the Typhoon never materialized, at least not in Nanchang. Anthony was very concerned last night that he would be stuck here another day, but I am assuming that he is now on his flight back to the US. And not to sound unappreciative of China and all, but I am kind of jealous. All I can say is, thank goodness I am only here for two weeks and not three like many of the previous groups that have been here.
Really, this is a bit of a surprise for me - I guess that I had different expectations of how I thought I would react, visiting China for the first time - afterall, my roots are in this country, my father was born here and being Chinese is part of who I am. I thought I would feel some sense of connection to the land, to the culture. Nope. Very little (if any!) connection. I am a bit disappointed in myself!
I guess the real thing is that being in a place like this can really put you out of your comfort zone. Everything is so different and the language barrier really exacerbates things. At least I am able to communicate a little here. I can only imagine the frustration of people like Dave, Anthony and the operators from work who don't speak any Chinese. I totally feel out of place (even though I blend in very well, LOL) here.
OK, I will stop my whining a look at the bright side of things. Yes, this experience really has brought me out of my comfort zone. That really isn't a bad thing every now and then. I will totally appreciate the conveniences of the US so much more. And I will be much more sensitive to visitors to the US, especially people who visit from this region. They must feel the same stress.
And I can start counting down the days until I am scheduled to leave.....8.....
Friday, July 14, 2006
The weather here has turned for the worse. They are talking typhoon remnants here tomorrow.
It started to rain this afternoon, and the wind started to blow in all sorts of directions. We didn't get to go to the Ferris wheel tonight, a bit of a disappointment, but really, who wants to be that far up when there are high winds and chance of thunderstorms??? We looked out at the night horizon tonight and didn't see the lights of the ferris wheel, so we assume that it was out of service due to the weather.
So, there is torrential rain scheduled for tomorrow. That means that I will not be going to the Lushan Mountains, but rather, partaking in some bowling activities with people from the plant. I am very appreciative that they are taking time out of their weekend to host me around. But really, it kind of stinks that I won't be able to go to the mountains. I guess all things happen for a reason and I am very thankful that I won't just be holed up in my hotel room by myself, because, you know, that is just really lonely, and I really have had my share of lonely on this trip.
We have several people flying out tomorrow morning, and of course, the risk is that they will be not be able to get out due to the storm. I personally think that they will make it out, but you never really know....... we will find out more tomorrow.................
On Anthony’s suggestion, I went running yesterday (Thursday) in the morning. At 5:30am, Nanchang is a completely different city from what I had previously experienced. There is little to no traffic, and the stores are all closed, but streets are far from empty – the Chinese use this time of the day to exercise, transport goods to the local market, sell their goods along the banks of the river and buy their daily ration of "Xing Tzai" (vegetables) and "yui" (fish) and other foods. The majority of the people are out exercising – walking along the canal and greenway which follows the GanJiang River. After yesterday’s jog, I decided to take my camera along with me this morning and capture some of the what I previously saw.
I took the small street directly behind the hotel and head south towards the canal over the GanJiang. The air is still humid, but the temperature is maybe 80 instead of 96 and the sun has just risen from the east. I can actually see the blue sky this morning and there is less haze across the city. As a precaution, I have my asthma inhaler in my pocket, having taken two puffs prior to leaving the hotel.
As I pass the Tengwang Pavillion, there is a light breeze from the river. I cross the main road, YangJan Lu, which is a 6 lane road. During the day it is full of vehicles, scooters, bikes and busses – but right now, only an occasional small truck transports melons along the empty road. A biker rings his bell at me, as I am almost in his direct path, and I maneuver out of the way, up to the canal and greenbelt, where the streets are lined with people walking, stretching and jogging. Note that I am the only one wearing running sneakers / shorts and tee shirt, – others are jogging in what looks like their slippers or sneakers with very thin soles and most are dressed in street clothes. Several people are walking backwards.
Just past the canal, there is access to the GanJiang. The concrete landing at the street level leads to steps down to the water. Several large boats are anchored in the water – we had seen these boats on Sunday while walking around the city. On Sunday afternoon, this entire area was deserted. This morning, the concrete landing is full of people – one woman with a bag of live frogs, another with a large basket of eggs, several more people with bags of greens, tomatoes, eggplant and other vegetables. Down at the bottom of the stairs, I see tubs with live fish, shellfish and snails. A couple of boats are coming into the shore, with what looks like seaweed draped across some string. Several people are washing their clothes in the river.
The buying and selling is at brisk pace. The fish are weighed using portable, crude balances - a stick with marks across it. The fish is placed on the end of the stick with a counter balance at the other end. A string is moved across the stick until it balances, and the mark at that point determines the weight and cost.
I notice several bikes pass by – on the back of these bikes are gutted whole pigs. Another bike passes with about a dozen ducks, feathers and all, tied on to the back. Then another with chickens. I wasn’t fast enough to take their picture, but I will be on the look out in future mornings.
Finally I head back to the hotel and capture this picture of a man transporting various goods to market. This was my first attempt at a panning shot – it is a bit blurry, but I kind of like it. Hopefully I’ll get better at this type of shot.
The sun is still low, but casting a nice glow on the Tengwang Pavillion when I took this picture.
Today is Anthony’s last day in Nanchang – he flies back to Boston tomorrow morning, by way of Beijing and Chicago. He had a very interesting experience here that I would love to blog about, but he would probably wouldn’t appreciate it very much. Our plans tonight include trying to find some Thai food and getting out to that Ferris wheel.
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
This entry is just for Erica, because I know she had a rough start to her day and she requested that I post some more pictures for her on my Blog. And here they are:
This one is a picture of a performance we saw in the Chinese Pavillion - note the old bells:
And another wing of the Pavillion:
Finally, a picture of the bridge which connects the New Nanchang with the Old Nanchang. I am staying in the old Nanchang.
Now honey, you make the pictures bigger by clicking on them - I hope this brightens your day and I will talk to you soon!!
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
Although I have only been here 4 days, it seems like an eternity..... even Anthony mentioned that this morning - he must be getting sick of me. Yesterday was really pretty rough - still jet lagged out, we had to start the Training session for 20 people - all Chinese (all men, too, but what else is new?). As usual, I didn't sleep very well and haven't been eating much also.
As is tradition, the group goes out for dinner together at night. Most of the people attending the training session are local - from Nanchang, but we have about 7 people from outside of Nanchang - several from Shanghai, a couple from Tianjin and one person from Malaisia. Most of the local folks did not come out to dinner, but we were hosted by David, who is the Technical manager at the facility in JiangXi. This was a traditional Chinese banquet, at a hotel. It is all very interesting and nothing like the banquets I have attended in the US - in the US, you basically go to a restaurant and you might have a private function room, but most likely that is not the case.
In China, you go to a hotel and are whisked away - sent up the elevator ("lift" here) to one of multiple floors. There are service people (mainly women) everywhere - someone in the elevator to push the floor buttons and announce what floor it is ("Level 4 - Ladies lingerie", anyone?), someone to meet you as you leave the elevator to bring you to your own private suite. It is like walking to your hotel room, except that all of the rooms are banquet rooms. No screaming babies from another table. The atmosphere screams "hotel", but it is really a restaurant hidden beneath the hotel facade.
Last night's dinner was OK - I was very tired and really not into the unusual looking food. And if anyone should be accustomed to Chinese food, it should be me! But once I got over the look of the dish and ate a bit, things were OK. The food is brought by a guy on roller skates to the door of the banquet suite. You don't ever hear the kitchen - the food just shows up, served discretely by your own personal server (again, a woman). I didn't count the number of dishes, but I am sure it was over 15.
Tonight, we experienced another banquet - this one was a little more enjoyable for me, for some reason. Maybe I am finally over my jet lag or maybe I am now used to the unusual smells and looks of the city and the food. After dinner (and after I talked to Erica and Brian), I ventured out into the streets of Nanchang "after dark". I walked quite a bit - almost 30 minutes (and I was sweating buckets by the time I got back), and through my wandering and observing all of the people out in the streets, I was brought back to the time we spent the summer in Taiwan. I had just finished 3rd grade and nine years old. I remember walking the streets of Taipei with my older cousin - it was just as hot and humid then, I recall. Down one of the streets, there were street food vendors - cooking right there, over an outdoor fire pit, selling food. People around eating, kids playing, cars and bikes manuvering inbetween. That's when I recalled my experiences in Taiwan. Interesting how the experiences trigger memories.
Tomorrow is our hump day for the training session - we will also ride into the JiangXi plant to get a tour. Hoping for a restful sleep tonight................
Sunday, July 09, 2006
Day 2 in Nanchang (which is pronounced "Nan-chung" - don't ask me why) - another hot, sultry day. Walking outside from the hotel, the heat hits you like an oven door being open, except that instead of dry heat, it is a stiffling, humid heat.
A couple of blocks from the hotel is a Chinese pavillion. We pay the 50 yuan (about $6.50) to enter the grounds and another 10 yuan to enter the pavillion.
Here is the view of the Pavillion from the side and the view of the gardens next to the major highway from the top of the Pavillion (6 stories up).
The Pavillion is guarded by two stone dragons:
Coming in from the airport last night, we noticed a big ferris wheel in the distance. A cab driver took us there, but it was closed! Due to open back up at 6:30pm. I think we'll try another night. But this is the tallest Ferris wheel in the world - it looks a lot like the one in Navy Pier.
Also walked around the streets of Nanchang - people basically hanging out in the street - it is SO hot and humid that all folks do is play cards or Mah-Jognh.
After 7 hours of walking around in the sweltering heat, decided it was time for a massage at the Foot massage place across from the hotel. Normally, I would not venture into a massage parlor, but this one came highly recommended by my coworkers who have visited Nanchang. So 60 minutes and 45 Yuan later, I am relaxed and ready to retire. The training class starts tomorrow....
Saturday, July 08, 2006
Trip to JiangXi – Part 1:Chicago to Beijing and onto JiangXi
Thus starts the first leg of my trip to the JiangXi province for a two week work related visit. I didn’t count the puddle jumper into Chicago’s O’Hare, well, because it is a pretty "ordinary" flight that we always have to take when traveling. Because this is work related, I get to fly Business class – I haven’t even looked into the coach cabin and really feel for the folks back there. But then again, my roundtrip flight cost a whopping $11,000, and I am sure that theirs don’t come even close. And from what I can tell, business class is pretty full on today’s non-stop, 13 hour flight. Heaven knows how normal people can afford the airfare – they must use frequent flier mileage upgrades. Crazy.
I got into O’Hare a little after 9am this morning, and walked over to the United concourse. Another perk of flying business class is the use of the airline’s special "red carpet room", where you can check into your flight without waiting in a long and crowded line. I was able to get online for a bit and log into work – some last minute details for the upcoming week’s activities.
It’s almost 4 hours into the flight, and so far I have had a nice lunch – smoked salmon, sea bass and some cabernet wine. The funny thing about the meal was the silverware – everything is nicely presented, we get ceramic plates and real glasses and two forks and a spoon (no spoon-fork combo here in Business class). But the two knives are plastic – a gray plastic, so it blends in with the rest of the silverware. I guess since 9/11, real knives have been banned. I will have to say, though, those plastic knives really don’t cut through proscuitto, but it was fine with the salmon.
I watched the movie, Seabiscuit, just for Erica. Oh, and maybe I’ll get to catch 8 Below later on (but hopefully I’ll get to sleep here soon). I also finished the Suduko puzzle in the airline magazine – that killed about an hour of time.
Our flight path takes us over the Arctic circle, down through Siberia, through Mongolia and down to Beijing. Over Mongolia, I caught a glimpse of the mountains below – it was a totally clear day, and I could see the vast mountain range, with waterways cutting through the gorges.
Nine long hours later, we are approaching Beijing. I didn’t get much sleep – just dozed on and off. Even the sleeping pill didn’t help much. It is completely cloudy in the Capital city and breaking through the cloud cover revealed my first glimpse of the Chinese landscape – and it looked just like Illinois – flat plots of farmland, basically rectangular. If not for the Chinese characters in the plane hangars, I would have thought I landed back in central Illinois or any other mid-western city.
Once off the plane, we had to maneuver our way through Customs, get luggage, exchange money, etc. I am travelling with a co-worker from the Boston area, Anthony. He at least has been here before, because after not much sleep, with my body clock at 1:00 am, I am not too alert. Then some fun starts – since I am Chinese, and, well, look the part, all of the other Chinese people automatically assume that I understand and speak fluent Mandarin. Granted, I have been trying to brush up on my Chinese, but really, it is basically poor The funniest exchange occurred with one woman at the Airline counter – both Anthony and I approach the desk to ask a question. Anthony is clearly up in front and starts to ask the question. The woman ignores him and starts to address me in Mandarin. I then have to explain that my Chinese isn’t so good (wo de zhong-wen bu tai hao), and muddle through the conversation in my broken Chinese. Ai-yah! I am hoping that things will get a bit better.
In the Beijing airport, there are people everywhere – I thought O’Hare was busy – this place is teaming with people. I guess all this flying is good for the economy. The layover in Beijing was pretty long – 5 hours is a long time anywhere, and we are happy to get on the plane to Nanchang. Our light snack is shrimp dumplings, a pork shao mai and a pork bun. And Almond jelly with fruit. Yum.
In Nanchang, it is a sultry 81 degF and the air is pretty well stagnant. The hotel is very nice – I am on the 17th floor. I tried to call home but no one is answering the phone! OK, it is now 11pm, China time, which is 13 hours ahead of Central Daylight savings time. I have been up for 30 hours straight now, and I am signing out – hope to see you tomorrow!!
Tuesday, July 04, 2006
We spent Sunday and Monday in Springfield, IL and visited several of the Abraham Lincoln sites. First, the Lincoln Home National Historic site , where he lived with his family, from 1844 - 1861. It was an interesting visit - we were able to take a tour of the house, which started out as a one story home and was expanded to 2 stories. The home is restored to its 1860 state, just prior to Lincoln's departure to Washington as the 16th President.
Here are the Scott and the kids in Lincoln's bedroom (he and Mary had separate rooms, as was the custom at that time):
And in front of the home:
Then we walked to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum - this is a fairly new museum with lots of high tech exhibits.
Erica at the entrance:
Posing with the "Lincolns":
It was quite fitting to spend the 4th of July weekend learning more about this great president. It really was a very tumultuous time in American History and Lincoln's presidency was certainly a turning point America.