Thursday, June 28, 2007

A Short Work Week

Having arrived back on Wednesday, I feel like the weekend is fast approaching. I have settled back into things at work. I am feeling a bit tired from traveling, so I am thinking of staying in town this weekend. I still have lots of things to see in Wuxi.

So, below is a quick summary of my time in Thailand. The pictures do a lot of the telling too, so take a gander at them. Videos take a bit longer, so I will get to it soon enough. I forgot the Singapore pics in a previous post, so I have put them here as well.





Thailand


Singapore

I arrived in Thailand and spent the night in Udon Thani. I immediately noticed the blue skies and clean air; at night it was the stars I noticed. These things are not found in China...although I think I saw a star one time. The next morning I headed out with some of the Peace Corp volunteers. We were going to the town of Dansai to join my friend Maeve and other for the festival. We stopped frequently for pics, bathroom breaks, and to pick up more volunteers heading to the festival. The four hour trip took about seven hours, but I got to see some very small villages and awesome scenery along the way.

In Dansai we stayed at "home-stays". We had a beautiful house with a very kind Thai family who provided us with sweet, white bread and coffee (since all foreigners like these things according to Thai people). We took "tuk-tuks" any where we needed to go.

Once the festival started the music, dancing, food, and beer would not stop till we left on Sunday. All day and night the streets and stage were filled with ghosts (the costumed men, women, and children). They performed traditional songs and dance on the stage. Others paraded around with the floats. At 4am the spiritual guide of the town jumped into the river to search for the spirit rock. Every time he would raise his head above water and hold up a rock and ask the crowd if this was it and the crowd would yell, "no." On the third try the crowd yelled, "yes," and he came out of the water and we followed him to the temple in a long, noisy procession. My favorite part of the festival was dancing in the streets with the ghosts and hanging out with all the Peace Corp volunteers.

On Sunday, we headed for the town of Phitsonulok and I checked out some of the sights around town. All three towns I visited were small and beautiful. The people always had a smile on their face and were very welcoming.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

36 Hours of Travel Completed

I left Phitsanulok, Thailand on Tuesday at 11:30pm. I took a bus back to Udon Thani, where I first landed in Thailand. The bus traveled back through Dansai, where the festival was held, and an awesome feeling came over me as I was reminded of the great time I had over the past few days in Thailand. The bus rumbled through the streets where just two days earlier were filled with people dancing, eating, drinking, and parading in colorful costumes. It was night time, but the moon allowed me to see the hills as we moved out of town. The remainder of the night included varies stops in small towns, which all looked the same to me. People got off and people got on and five minutes later we were moving again. By 5:30 am I had reached Udon and I headed out to the airport.

I took a flight to Singapore and headed out into town with a the same guy I met on the way to Udon Thani the week before. He took me to the downtown area filled with skyscrapers and colonial style government buildings separated by the Singapore River. We had lunch and departed ways. I spent the next hour walking around the area snapping photos.

My next flight dropped me off in southern China at 11pm. Shortly, afterwards I was informed that I was going to be kicked out of the airport, since it was closing. I was planning on waiting in the airport for my 8 am flight, but they said it could not be done. So, I got a taxi to take me to a local hotel. I slept about six hours, showered, and headed back to the airport. This morning I arrived in Wuxi, went home to put my things down, and came into work before noon.

Shenzhen, Singapore, and more
I have so much to say about the past weekend in Thailand. It was amazing to say the least. I am going to put together a video of some sort rather than trying to write out what I saw and experienced. Until then, click on the pic above to see some of Shenzhen (a city in southern China that I went sightseeing at before Thailand) and a little sneak peak at the festival. Enjoy!!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Ahhh...Singapore

I arrived in Singapore at 3:40am this morning and I am about to leave, since it is 6am now. I got some good work done in Shenzhen this week and was able to meet a guy at the hotel to hang out with an evening. He was from France and is completing an internship in China for his MBA. Sound familiar?

However, after talking with him it was clear that we had received different training before coming to China. He has been in China two weeks longer than me and still knows nothing of the language. He actually stated that he was frustrated because the workers and other people didn't make more of an effort to communicate with him in English. I couldn't believe that! I tried to tell him a few things about the culture and imply that he was going about things in the wrong way, but it was clear he was not listening. Oh well. At least it made me feel good about my training before coming to China and that at least there is one person in the country who knows less than me. I think he might be the first person who fits that bill.

I went sightseeing yesterday before catching my plane. It was very hot and I was pouring sweat all day, but at least I have seen something in the city besides the shopping areas:)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Anji films and pics

Rather than go into to much painful details of my trip this past weekend, I am going to offer some videos clips and let the pictures do most of the story telling. Needless to say, this was one of the most unique, fun, and educational experiences I have had in China. The people on the trip were a blast and very accepting of the waiguoren (foreigner).

Right now, I am in Shenzhen. The city is located on the border of China and Hong Kong. I visited here a few weeks ago and now I have returned for a little bit more work. I will be leaving tomorrow evening for Thailand and will not return to Wuxi till the following Wednesday. Updating the blog will be difficult, but I will try to get an update in here and there. While in Thailand, I will be attending a festival. It is called The Phi Ta Kohn Festival. I am meeting up with my good friend Maeve, who I biked across America with, and about thirty other Peace Corp volunteers who are all living and working in Thailand and other nearby countries.

And now for the good stuff...
The first video will make you laugh! Once we were on the small, smelly bus a mic was passed around so that we all could introduce ourselves. When the mic came to me, I was forced to go to the front of the bus and I proceeded to say my three lines in Chinese that I feel confident saying. But it did not stop there. I was then asked to sing and this is what came out...



I had a great time singing that tune. I think I let it wipe out all the remarks people frequently make about me as I walk down the street, such as..."Look at the foreigner!" or "Ha-Loooo!" I love the sweet smell of justice;)

The next video is a traditional dance from Anji. The girl closest to the camera at the start of the video is the one I ended up getting married too (see two videos down and the pics for more on that).



This video was shout in downtown Anji at the McDonald's I walked past. No words can describe the Empire that is McDonald's.



The last video is a short "shout out" to my parents with my new wife. Doesn't she look happy!



Finally, to fill you in on the remainder of the weekend, check out the pictures by clicking on the picture box below.

Anji, China

Monday, June 18, 2007

I am married!

I am sorry to my family and friends who were expecting to be present at my wedding and even meet my wife before I got hitched, however, I didn't even get a chance to meet my wife but just two minutes before I was standing with her at the alter. This was not the traditional American wedding, but a Zhejiang Province marriage. This picture is a sneak peak of the ceremony.


I will have much more about my trip to Anji this past weekend and only a little bit more about my wife, since I don't speak Chinese and she doesn't speak English. However, I can say that the weekend was great and I don't feel a bit different after getting married.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon

Goodbye everyone! I am off to a place where I will imagine Chow Yun Fat and Michelle Yeoh jumping, fighting, and twirling through the bamboo forests as they fight their way through the enemy to reclaim a stolen sword. No, I did not score tickets to the10th Shanghai International Film Festival and I am not going to a re-screening of the movie Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Nor am I going to be taking hallucinatory drugs. Instead, I am going to get on a bus and go to Anji, China. This is the site of the largest Bamboo Forest in the World.

I will be traveling with a local Chinese travel agency. One of my co-workers, Carl, invited me along. We will be hiking through the forest, floating on a nearby river, and checking out a waterfall the following day. The place looks beautiful from a few pictures I have seen. The agency has booked about thirty young adults for this trip. I am not sure if this is a singles type of trip or if it is open to anyone. from what I have learned about the culture here, I would suspect this is not the case. However, I think I would do really well at speed dating in China sense I could say all the words I know in less than a minute:)

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

China vs. USA, part 1 and the GFC

As much as we know or don't know about China, I know I am learning a lot. I am learning so many little things that I don't even know where to begin. However, there are a few big things that make China a different place compared to Western life. Below are a couple of items that I will begin to add on to over the remainder of this summer.

#1: Chinese businesses have not learned the "lifetime value of a customer." As a business in China, you are most likely operating in the moment. Their is no thought for the future. The business is used to working hard for a quick sale and then they do not expect that person to return.

A personal example...I went to a place to eat near my building. I made it a point to try most of the places nearby that had crowds, so that I would be familiar with them and know if I would like to eat there regularly. Anyway, I had a hard time ordering (this was my second week in town and I knew nothing), but they brought out some things for me to eat and a warm beer (one of the first words I learned...I later learned to ask for a cold one). When I was ready to pay, they brought me out a total that seemed very high for the amount of food I was given. I knew I was being charged more than I should have been, but didn't know how to tell them that in Chinese. So, I paid the bill and left. I have yet to return. The food was decent, but I was mistreated. They couldn't understand that I was not a one time sell, but that I would return over and over again and possibly bring friends along. So, they made a quick buck and lost out on a repeat customer. Most people already know it is easier to keep a customer than to get a new one, but we learn to quantify this in grad school. It is quite powerful to learn how much a customer may give to you over time. If this seems very logical to you, it is. However, I have learned that most businesses in China and most tourist areas subscribe to the policy of getting as much as they can with no regard to the future. There are cultural reasons for this in China, such as the tradition of haggling over goods and just being skeptical or disapproving of foreigners. However, I don't know if these reasons are true...I will ask and confirm them. Whatever the reasons, this same problem of being charged more, because I am foreign to this country, happens almost daily.

#2: The Chinese that speak English think they understand Westerners. However, I beg to differ. In most respects they get it all wrong. I am not eating at McD's, Pizza Hut, or KFC. I am not wanting to but "sexy DVDs" or pretty girls. But when I walk down the street i am targeted by all the hawkers and one by one they hunt me down and offer these items. How many foreigners are taking them up on their offers? I do not drive my car everywhere or want to take a taxi where ever I go, and I don't sit in an ex-pat bar every night drinking over-priced beer. Chinese people come up to me and ask for American dollars, when they wouldn't dare ask their fellow Chinese citizens for money. If they knew the exchange rates they would be asking for Yuan and not the Dollar, but that doesn't excuse their perception of me as Mr. Money Bags.

The point of that is that whenever I say or do things it usually is a surprise to them. All day long it is, "Don't you want to do _____?" or "Don't you want ______?" But the reality is that I don't want or do those things. Like the Chinese, we all do different things and often want different things to, beyond the absolute necessities of life (water, clothes, shelter, etc.).

In all fairness, most people in the US don't understand China. I came here with many stereotypes and most of them are proving false. So, it works both ways.

Since the government has blocked Blogger.com again I am unable to reply to comments. I use a website that allows me to see my blog, but it won't let me see every page. I assume this blocking is temporary, like the last time, but who knows when they will let us access the site again. The people here call it the Great Firewall of China (GFC). I don't run across it to often, but the government does restrict a lot. The main sites I have seen restricted are Wiki, Flickr, & Blogger. The government might have good reason to. With web access becoming increasingly popular, things such as what this article refers to are becoming increasingly common. In China people also organize together through mass text (SMS) messaging. A protest halted construction last week using this method.

So, in reference to the comment made on yesterday's post...
Welcome to the IMBA program. Thanks for stopping by and reading. I look forward to meeting you this Fall. I am familiar with the Express paper in DC, because I was living in Silver Spring before I started the program last year. I am glad that Wuxi is getting some exposure in the US. It seems, from the online news and TV, that this disaster has really pushed the Chinese government's efforts to acknowledge the environment and its responsibility to it. Hopefully, their efforts won't die down once this issue is out of the papers.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Clean Water...An Elusive Dream?

An article that was brought to my attention this week clearly states that Wuxi's water problems will not go away any time soon. The article was written in 2004, about two and half years before the current disaster. It is neat to be at the center of a huge problem that would be publicized around the World in any Western country. However, news in China tends to stay in China and I think that is what the government likes.

As of now, I am using the water for everything but cooking and brushing my teeth. I am eating out again, but I try to avoid most soups (although last night I had some Miso soup). This is the way it will be all summer according to my co-workers. One thing you won't see me complain upon my return to the States is the water out of the tap.

Last night I said farewell to two people I met here and quickly became friends with. China has reminded me of Colorado (CO), in the sense that the people I meet here tend to be transient. In CO people entered and exited your life almost on a weekly basis. There was always someone leaving to go to a new state, new city, new school, but rarely a new job. As some of my Memphis friends would remind me, "Hippies don't work, you hippy." Well, the people in China work. No one can refute that fact. Even the little kids that are sent out by their moms, whom are usually watching from a few meters away, to come pull at my leg and hold a cup to me is working. Yes, it is sad and the child is being exploited by his family, but I will not encourage this behavior by giving the kid anything. If I was approached in a different manner or if I understood the laws that the government has in place to help the poor, I might think differently. Doesn't a communist government take care of everyone? Does anyone know what type of social programs exist for the poor in China? I do not see very many beggars, at least compared to the US and Europe. However, the beggars and the hawkers here are very persistent and do not know what "personal boundaries" are.

Alright, enough bickering. I am enjoying China so much and will be missing it upon my return to the States.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Shanghai and Wuxi Weekend

Peoples' Park, Pudong, Softball, & Chicken Street
This is a long post, but a lot happened over the weekend. Don't miss the videos at the end!

The past weekend was filled with awesome fun and great sights. I spent Thursday night meeting several classmates and alumni. This was a real treat since I had not gone out to eat in a week (due to the water). Afterward, I headed back to Shaun's place since he had to be up early for work. However, on the cab ride home he got the best news of the night, which went something like this...

Shaun's boss: Hey Shaun! I think you are not feeling well.
Shaun: I am doing great! It was nice to meet your family at dinner and chat with you.
Shaun's boss: Thanks, but I really think you are not feeling well and you should not show up to work tomorrow.
Shaun: What do you mean? I feel great! I have a presentation to give tomorrow.
Shaun's boss: Screw the presentation! Your sick! I don't want to see you at work tomorrow! Have fun with your friend, Dave.

So, it was "out" we went for Shaun's first weekday off of work. We were joined by a couple of classmates I met that night. They took me to a street lined with shady bars, street vendors, and pretty (and some not so pretty) girls calling you into the bars. I have never seen such a scene. The bars were filled with women! An 80/20 ratio at least. However, after we gr abed our drinks and headed over to a table I quickly learned why there were so many girls. It was great how the staff got you to buy more drinks. I played "Connect 4" with one of the staff and was beaten most of the time. I think she had had plenty of practice. These bars had all kinds of rooms that had all kinds of things going on there. I could go on and on about what I witnessed, but I will just say, "it was an education! "

Friday started with breakfast at 5am as we were headed home from the bars. We woke up a little later and headed out for sight seeing. We checked out People's Park first. It was smaller than I imagined, but had a great museum full of art and artifacts. Afterwards we stopped by the Shanghai 2012 building, but we could see the model of Shanghai from the doorway and decided that it was not worth the price of admission to see it up close.

Soon we were walking down Nanjing Rd. I went there on my first night in China, back in April. It is not much different during the day time, except the hawkers are trying to sell you "watchbagDVD", instead of "pretty girl." We looked at a few shops and walked to the Bund. That night we met David Hudgens, our internship advisor for dinner. It was great to have some one-on-one time with David. He has spent a great deal of time in China and knows the area well.

Saturday, the fun continued after we grabbed a train ticket for my Sunday morning departure. We went to Pudong (on the other side of the river). Pudong is an area that virtually did not exist 10 years ago except as swamp land. Now it is an economic free trade zone and thriving with tons of businesses setting up enormous buildings there. We went up the Mao Tower for a nice view 87th floor view of Shanghai. It reminded me quite a bit of sitting up at the top of the John Hancock building in Chicago. We had a coffee and soaked up the view.

After a river-side lunch, we headed to the knock-off market. This is the largest I have seen. It was quite amazing. They had everything you could want, except I didn't see much jewelry, but it could be located in another section of the market that I never discovered. I am constantly amazed at the people and how they have learned to handle rejection. They approach you and you ignore them as best you can, but they just keep trying. They don't care that dozens of other people offered you the same things ten seconds before you got to them. The best was two guys wrestling each other as they went down the hallway. As they held each other in headlocks, they stopped in front of me and ask, "watchbagDVD." The day ended with a great dinner at a Sichuan Chinese restaurant. We ate several spicy dishes until our bellies ached.

Sunday I returned to Wuxi and played one last game of softball. The night was spent eating on Chicken Street with some friends that are leaving this week. They even had a friend visiting that grew up in Memphis! My first Memphian in China. Good times were had by all.

Now for some videos to compliment the photos up above...

A video I shot while walking to the metro station this past Sunday morning. I was amazed at the stamina of these ladies. It is great to see some of the Chinese culture performed for you in the public. These type of events occur every weekend all over China and are really fun to watch.

This video shows Chicken Street in Wuxi. What a place!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Are you going nuTsie?

A new service I learned about recently might affect which cell phone you purchase. NuTsie allows you to upload your iTunes play lists to its website and stream them to your cell phone for free.

What I like most about the service, besides that it is free, is that it pays the artist a commission every time their song is played. Of course, their are some drawbacks. Your play list will play on shuffle and you can't go backwards or skip ahead to a different part of the song. Also, who knows how long it will take to load your music on to their website. However, if you can't afford the $600 Iphone, then this might be an alternative.

How does this company make money? They don't...yet. The company is talking about ways to charge for this service. Will they flash ads on the screen, charge the user, or some other method. Time will tell. I am sure the artists are happy that all the illegal downloads of their songs will bring in a little revenue.

Can you tell how they came up with their name? You will have to ask me to tell you the answer.

Also, check out LaLa.com for a new way to bring your music along with you. LaLa.com let's upload your iTunes library and listen to whole CDs for free!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Meet my co-workers


The video above shows some of the people I work with. Enjoy!

Below is some pics I took of some food a friend gave me. The dark stuff feels like Laffy-Taffy and is very spicy. The balls are filled with spices and some type of meat. They are really good snacks!




Finally, This last pic show my town yesterday morning. It was taken from my building. You might say it was a "little hazy." If you compare it to this picture I took last month you can really see the difference.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

I am off to do laundry in another city...again

Tomorrow I am having dinner with an advisor from my school. I will get to meet some 3-yr classmates that will join me in class this Fall, some alumni working in China, and other business people from the area. I think I am most excited about getting to eat out and not having to cook or eat ramen noodles. However, I will hold back my excitement and pretend that Georgia, from the career management office, is looking over my shoulder and saying, "It is not about the food."

I have started a Chinese tutor and it seems to be helping. I am getting more phrases and words down. I won't come back speaking Mandarin, but if you want me to order you some rice or noodles, fried or un-fried, with meat, chicken, and/or vegetables thrown in, I am your man. However, my vegetables are limited, so I hope you like broccoli, bamboo, and eggplant.

This weekend I am hoping to stay in Shanghai and get my laundry done and perhaps see a few things in the city. Shaun and I have been sightseeing just about everywhere, but our own towns. Pictures are sure to follow.

Monday, June 04, 2007

I am salivating


No, the water in Wuxi is not tasting (or smelling) better. But, Apple has releaased some of the first iPhone commercials. You can check them out here. Unfortunately, Apple has signed an exclusive agreement with AT&T for the next five years. I used to have an account with them in CO, but the coverage was terrible. Perhaps they have improved. However, with a $600 price tag, I will play the wait and see game on this phone. Hopefully I won't be waiting five years.

Weekend Update...not from SNL

Instead of sightseeing this weekend, I traveled to Suzhou. This town is about thirty minutes by train from me. A co-worker invited me there to wash my clothes and take a shower. So, that is how I spent my Saturday. His brother-in-law took us to lunch and ordered entirely too much food. Feeling obligated to continue eating after I was full, by the repeated phrase, "keep eating, keep eating," I was fairly sick afterwards. I made it back to the apartment to finish the laundry and immediately had to lay down. My stomach hurt and I didn't want to waste the food by "praying to the porcelain g-d."

After returning to Wuxi, I went to a BBQ at a friends place. They had a fun crowd and incredibly diverse. This is not too uncommon in China, but it always cool to see people from the US, Canada, China, Netherlands, UK, Germany, and several other countries I can't remember all hanging out together. The hamburgers with cheese looked awesome and I was sorry I was unable to eat one because of my belly ache. (If you don't know, cheese is a rarity in China and "real" hamburger meat is even rarer.)

Sunday I spent the day riding my bike and playing softball. I was pretty tired by the end of it all, so I ate some dinner and retired early.

While I am now taking showers at home again, the water crisis continues. The water still smells (but not as bad) and I will not brush my teeth, cook, or do the dishes with it, but I can't continue to skip on the showers. Hopefully this will not come back to haunt me. I have read up on the blue algae and it can cause problems when you come in contact with it or ingest it. I am showering based on the fact that everyone else in town is doing it. When we all start itching and breaking out in rashes, I will know it is time to stop using the water.

Below are a couple of videos to show you what the city's water source looks like. The first video is a newscast about the problem and what the officials are doing about it.


This next one is in Chinese, but the pictures are more than enough to get the point across.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Need a kidney? Now you can win one!

One of the newest ideas to hit Dutch TV is a reality show containing three people who are on a waiting list for a kidney replacement. The show allows one woman to choose who will get her kidney with the audience influencing the decision. Here is a link to an article on CNN's website.

I say, "Why not?" The show is a bit absurd and cruel, but it already has brought attention to a subject that is largely misunderstood. It is hard to imagine what I would do if I need an organ transplant. However, I would not just sit idly by and wait for something to happen. I would hire people to canvas the streets, offering anything the person may want, to find someone to donate their organ. I would hang out in hospitals, just in case I may get lucky. I would go on reality TV.

If you can't tell, I am fairly clueless about the process for getting an organ transplant, except that it can take a long time and may never happen. I am sure that I am not that much different than the average person. Therefore a show that will educate and inform us of the process is a good thing and should be allowed to be aired. Why censor it when viewers can make the decision to watch it or not. Then I can stop making ridiculous comments like the ones above.

This is a short clip by the American Comedy Network about the show.

Right now, I am in need of a water transplant. If you know where I can find any clean water, send it over to Wuxi.