...Living with 1 foot in each world...
Other China Resources:
Laowiseass - a China /Taiwan blog

California Modular Builders: Northern California Modular Homes - a friends site

a few silly pictures

12/30/2007: Drinking water in China

Since we were talking so much about water in my earlier posts, I thought I would mention some statistics I've learned recently:

China has over 20% of the world's population, but only 7% of the drinking water. In my time in China, from day 1 I was told to never drink the water from the tap. Instead, we would boil it regularly from an old beat-up aluminum pot instead. I'm not sure that was a great idea either.

Later, I would order bottled water from water companies. They would be delivered in large water jugs for about $1USD. However, i was always worried that there was no guarantee that this water, besides tasting better, was actually safer to drink. It was well known that Beijing was having serious water shortage problems, and in all of my travels in China, it was clear to me that water is an issue, no matter where you go.

The huge economic growth of cities like Beijing and Xi'an are fantastic, but both cities struck me as relatively "dry" when i visited / lived there. There are other boom cities in China with large economies, but for some reason, people are more concerned with finding a new apartment and job, than making sure they will have water to drink in 5 years:

"SHIJIAZHUANG, China — Hundreds of feet below ground, the primary water source for this provincial capital of more than two million people is steadily running dry. The underground water table is sinking about four feet a year. Municipal wells have already drained two-thirds of the local groundwater. Above ground, this city in the North China Plain is having a party. Economic growth topped 11 percent last year. Population is rising."
-Read the whole article from the New York Times:

12/30/2007: About Beijing

I had an interesting discussion with my father over Xmas. You see, many friends and family members travelled to Beijing, then to Guiyang to see my wedding. He had a horrible time with miscommunications, overcharging, and even someone working for the airport who stole their tickets when he asked for help!

All this feedback makes me feel for all the people who are going to Beijing / China in the coming years, with the mistaken idea that (for example) "Expedia told me the people in the hotel speak English, so I'll be OK", and "I booked my trip online and selected 5-star hotels" will ensure their trip will be OK.

"Speaks English" is a checkbox many mainland hotel managers and business owners know will drive more rich westerners to their location. Most people in China study English to pass exams (which are also written by non-native speakers who've never left the country for any significant period of time) - for 5-10 years. Never having held a conversation with a foriegner, they are typically only motivated to pass the written exams, not to develop true language skills. The Hotel Manager, wanting to expand his business, will quiz his subordinates in his broken English to see if they can respond (like he'd be the judge!), and if he hears something adequate, checks the checkbox on the form that allows him to list his location as "english speaking" on Expedia (or wherever). There's no money in checking to see if it's valid.

compounding this problem is the fact that "5-stars" are dramatically different from city to city in China, and there are many stories of people "buying an extra star" - and the like. The only way to be sure is to visit it yourself - but of course you can't do that, can you. That's why I mostly stayed in youth hostels while traveling in China (www.hostelz.com) -and generally had a much better experience than in Chinese Hotels.

Check this site in a few weeks. I'll have some more content for those of you considering a trip to China.

07/30/2007: Also about water

Woa, two posts in a row! This is a shock. I'd better not make it a habit. Anyway, I wanted to show you two things that I thought were worth seeing. This weekend I watched some pro kitesurfers at Crissy Field in San Francisco. Here's a little video and a picture.

(quicktime Movie)

These guys are pretty amazing, jumping and flying through the air. One young man broke the world record by staying in the air over 20 seconds! Here's the picture of the scene (click for a larger one):

07/29/2007: About Water

While living in China, I almost always drank bottled water. The tap water just isn't safe. Most Chinese boil their water before they drink it, but this won't help eliminate heavy metals and other non-organic toxins in the water.

There is a perception in China that bottled water is safer. There have been some scandals where companies are just re-packaging tap water, but generally most people feel it's safer. I can't really confirm that, but I did drink it, and it seemed no different than US bottled water.

We are fortunate in the US to have an amazing water system. When I returned and moved to San Francisco, I just drank the tap water at the sink the whole time. It comes from the Hetch Hetchy system (read a bit about it here). It tastes great and it really underscores one of the things I feel a government is responsible for providing to it's people - clean & drinkable tap water.

However, many of us in the US still choose to drink bottled water. This is nothing more than a scam.

You have been scammed!

See Pen & Teller's hilarious and education snippet about this on youtube.

08/19/2006: Life Got Busy

In August, I got Married to my longtime sweetheart. Although we had been legally married for a while, we had an official ceremony in her hometown. I wanted her and her family to feel that it was as special and complete as possible. Sometimes as a foreigner in China, people think there's some monster inside of you that will eventually show itself, so you have to go to great lengths to convince them that you put on your pants the same way they do every morning - one leg at a time..

The elephant

This picture was taken in Hainan a few years ago. I recently was a zoo with my nieces and told them that my wife had a ride on an elephant in China and they couldn't believe it. So much for animal protection. :)
I actually found the picture with the Ostritch much more entertaining! It tended to play around with the people a bit more. ;-)

08/06/2006:Random Pictures

This picture was taken in the university district in Beijing. There is virtually no Intellectual Property protection in China. This is not an officially endorsed Shrek-Bar.

The following picture is some of my staff in Beijing. Really nice folks who participated in a play I wrote. It was a great opportunity for them to learn some more English. We had a ton of fun, and the guy in the bottom, Alfred, turned out to be quite talented!

After I purchased these pants, the lady ran outside and got them sized up and adjusted on the spot. Quite fast and remarkable.

This link in the picture below is a movie. My friends Brent and Melanie came with us to my wife's hometown Guiyang to participate in our wedding. We took them out to a massage place for fun. It was late at night, and there was some silly music, so we took a video. Very funny. Click on the image to watch the silliness. You'll need realplayer.

Pretty self explanatory, the shedding of corn off the cob - done right on the street.

A quick haircut performed by your neighbor.

Ah, this is my new job - working for company specializing in biometric technology.

The building on the left was my office in Beijing. 10th floor. The Tsinghua Science Park.


There is no "24"th floor in many Chinese buildings. This is because it sounds like you are saying "twenty deaths", implying what? Perhaps you will die twenty times if you live on that floor? They have the same problem with 14 and 4th floors. Superstitious!

My Irish buddies. One had just come back from a sunburn scorching vacation - so I threw this picture up to show the contrast. Very funny. The burnt one apparently didn't learn his lesson, 'cause he started a solo trek across China, Tibet, Pakistan, Iran and back to Europe! He started on a chinese side-car, but had to drop that after only a few hundred miles and several breakdowns.

08/01/2006:Trip to US

I returned to San Francisco for two weeks in mid summer to go job hunting. The plan was that after the August wedding, my wife and I would return there to live. Two weeks of frantic interviews proved that there wasn't much demand for my Chinese experience (wtf!?), yet my existing job skills were still in high demand, thankfully.

05/20/2006:Trip to Europe

I was asked by my company to accompany a few employees to a conference in Spain, then travel on to Ireland to visit my boss and some other coworkers. I combined it with some vacation time and took my wife along. In the first picture, we are waiting at a bus stop in Villanova IL La Geltru, kind of lost, waiting a lont time for it to come. It was my fault 'cause I ran off to get an ice cream and the bus came while I was gone.

05/20/2006:Trip to Europe

This was a picture that my wife took while visiting a famous monastary on the top of a mountain near Barcelona - the name escapes me right now..

05/20/2006:Trip to Europe

Driving in Ireland means driving on the "wrong" side of the car and the "wrong" side of the road, at relatively high rates of speed on extremely narrow roads. It turned out OK, and kind of fun, even though every time I went to shift, I'd bang my right hand against the door and coast along with the clutch in for a few seconds until I came to my senses.

05/20/2006:Trip to Europe

Here we are in southern ireland, relaxing. We were fortunate to have 10 days of beautiful weather. When my Irish coworkers in Beijing heard about the weather, they were almost in fits.

05/19/2006 (out of date): Signalling the end of the journey..

This picture was taken shortly after my wife and I received an immigration visa. With mixed feelings we had to start preparing for a new life overseas.

05/11/2006: Weather & life update

The weather in Beijing is becoming nicer now that we are getting into the spring. It's been raining occasionally and that's doing a good job at clearing the air up. Thankfully, the biting cold of the winter is gone too, although it can still be cold.

There was a national holiday on the week of May 1st. I smartly chose to NOT travel in China, because after my first trip, I learned that travelling during national holidays is a bad idea here. There are traffic jams in the middle of nowhere! Many many Chinese travel during those holidays: First week of May, first week of October. So remember that if you want to come to China- don't come during those times! :)

I recently moved to a new apartment. I am trying to rent out the place we have - you can see the advertisement here: http://fangzi.mepatrick.com - so if you know anyone who is interested, just have them send me a note - there's an address on the web page. It's a nice place and decorated well. Since I teach english here a lot, I wanted to have a larger apartment, and I happened to find one close to my work too, so that's why I moved.

My classmates who study chinese with me are all Korean mothers. They are really funny and nice - they are here to help their children learn Chinese and even English (it's cheaper to study English here than in Korea), but their husbands are back in Korea working hard to pay for it all. It seems a little sad and lonely to me, but it seems the mothers keep each other company and aren't in that bad shape. After I told them I was moving, they said I no longer had an excuse for being 10minutes late to every class. So, now I'm only 5 minutes late. :-p

In other news, the Korean-owned real estate company that helped me find this apartment has been calling me. The manager - a Korean woman wants me to teach a small english class for her child and several chinese children in a mixed class. So, tonight, I need to quickly clean up this new apartent and figure out how to get my white-board from the old place to the new one before I meet all the parents tomorrow morning!

If any of you are in Beijing and have some teaching experience, let me know because I may have a few business trips coming up and will need some help. :)

03/11/2006: 5 Kilometors OF HELL

My coworkers asked me to join them in the 2006 Beijing Relay marathon. It sounded like fun, and I used to run a lot, so I agreed. Having had trouble with the polluted Beijing Air causing me to get sick before, I decided I should do the bulk of my preparation in the gym.

Before I knew it, the two months I had to prepare were almost up, and I had little time left to really train myself up, to make matters worse, I had a vacation planned with only two weeks to go that resulted in no excercise at all (unless you call being terrified of death on an overnight bus ride through the twisty-turny mountain roads of southern China by a driver behaving as if the minions of hell were storming down the road behind us).

So, when the final day came, the best I had done was to finish 5km in 30 minutes on a treadmill, only once running outside. To add to the pressure, we had to finish each leg of the run pretty quick because the organizers were not going to keep traffic off the roads for too long. Yikes.

The day of the race was a notably polluted grey Beijing morning. I warmed up as best I could by walking with a nice South African guy I met to McDonalds and gobbling down some hotcakes and sausage (stupid). An hour and a half later, I was warmed up and grabbing the sash from Alfred, my coworker who had just completed the longer 10KM leg, and running off, wishing those hotcakes weren't so heavy in my tummy.

I knew I had to beat 30 minutes, and the South African guy, Grant had taken off about 20 seconds ahead of me. Figuring that I was probably about the same level as him, I tried to match his pace, and even catch up, but I failed. Very quickly my legs started to get sore, and i was having trouble regulating my breathing and maintaining what I thought was a reasonable pace. It occurred to me that training on a treadmill was probably a really stupid idea because I didn't have much muscle memory of what my pace really should be - and wearing that MP3 player and listening to tunes while training also hurt my ability to hear my breathing and use that to help my pace.

Well it didn't matter. Pretty soon, I knew I was in trouble when a knarled oak-root of an elderly chinese guy started to pass me at around the 2km mark. Sheesh, I really was in bad shape. To top it off, all the jammed up traffic around us had bored people shouting out of their windows "Go Foriegner! Go!", clearly surprised that I could be so slow.

Fortunately, I beared down and managed to pick things up again, but my pace parnter, Grant, had already gotten far ahead, as well as several other people who passed me, whom I had also attempted (and failed) to pace. sheesh.

By the 4th KM, I was pretty much gasping, and as I passed the police who were keeping the traffic off the road (and smoking), I was wondering if my heart was going to burst from the pumping of oxygen through my inflammed lungs. I kept thinking of how my brother had told me that walking around outside in Beijing for 2 hours was like smoking 2 packs of ciggarettes - and getting freaked out by knowing that here I was gasping! Panting! sucking it all in as deeply as I could.

Somehow I kept my pace from sliding down too far. I even managed to pass two old guys. I wasn't sure any more if they were the same people who had already passed me or not.

As I approached my relay point, i saw Aaron in front of me. As I handed him the sash, i tried to gasp to warn him to start slower and not to breathe too deep, but nothing really came out. Stumbling to a stop, I put my hands on my knees to keep from falling over, and when I looked up, I saw a smiling coworker with a video camera (Erwinn) making a video of me. "Are you OK?" he said, looking slightly worried. "I'm OK... I gasped"(but I may throw up my lungs).

The result? 25minutes and change. It seems that there was a reason for the pain after all. I only spent the next two days coughing - far less than i expected. :)

Video will be coming...

03/7/2006: Some Technology is Revolutionary...and you can try it for FREE!

This article is about some new technology I think is very cool. I work for Sun Microsystems, so perhaps I am biased, but after working in Silicon Valley for 15 years, this is one technology I can really see a value for, so that's why I want to talk about it.

Many companies are having problem with power. Electricity. They have many computers running, each of them using 300-450watts of energy, creating lots of heat. The companies have to power these systems, as well as provide air conditioning for the rooms that hold them. Big Electric bills!

Some companies have been told that if they want to put more servers in their offices, they have to pay the electric company a whole ton of money to upgrade the local electrical substation. What about any company that has a massive database system? This is becoming a big problem in the industry because as the data set grows and data analysis tools grow, these systems need to be upgraded regularly and most modern chips are drawing more and more wattage with every release. Don't you remember the good old days when a 100watt power supply was more than adequate? Now it seems that 300-450 watts are standard now.

Sun has a new CPU call "Niagra" and just like Niagra Falls, it has "Massive Throughput". They took several low-power CPU "cores" and put them on the same chip. I haven't read all the docs, but I believe the chips only require 175watts. Since the CPUs have multiple cores, they can run many simultaneous instructions and commands - just what applications like databases, websites, etc need. The emphasis is on THROUGHPUT, not necessarily blazing speed.

The tests they have done are impressive: 1/5 the power usage, 1/4size (for the rack space in the server room), 5x the speed/throughput.. Companies can now fill out their server rooms, get higher performance and reduce their A/C and electric bills at the same time.

Don't believe me, try it for yourself. Sun has a new program - they are so convinced people will like it, they let you try it for free.

Here's what a customer said after trying it:
"We recently put 7 8-Core 1.0 GHz T2000 Niagara servers on site at a local company via the 60day [TryCoolThreads] program for an application server POC shootout between Sun and HP.
On the V240 he (sys admin) started 256 stress processes and was not able to log in and had to power cycle the system.
On the Niagara he ran 2690 stress processes and was still able to log in and run commands.
In customer's own words "T2000 - this is crazy... I think this is awesome!".

03/6/2006: You have no idea how important English is...

Today I heard that a young man in Cheng Du jumped out of his window to kill himself today. He did it because he failed his English language exam - a requirement for his graduation. He had a job waiting for him, but the job required him to graduate. You must to have that language exam certificate to graduate.

Unfortunately, he is not alone - this happens often.

If you are interested in taking a break in your career, or taking an longer, culturally enriching vacation, or just feel like changing your life, consider coming to China and help make a BIG DIFFERENCE in people's lives.

There is an article about it - and a picture (brace yourself):

03/5/2006: New English Class

Since my pay here in China is less than 50% of what I made in the US, I often have to suppliment my income teaching English. Since Ping is not working right now, she's helping me to set up these classes. We spend a lot of time strategizing on how we can make these classes successful.

This time, we will be teaching out of our small apartment again, and we've come up with two kinds of classes. One focused on business, and one focused on Culture and listening skills using movies and video.

Ping did all the webpages herself - I helped a little with the English side, but she did the Chinese side, and organized the format and everything. Not bad:

P&P English Class Information

03/4/2006: Honesty Gamble

I recently bought a Creative Zen Microphoto. I got it because I was listening to some audio books while working out - my new fun thing to do. I had bought the device after 12 hrs of hard bargaining with a vendor (slight exageration) at "zhong guan cun" - the "IT capital" of Beijing. When I bought it, I asked the seller if I could return it if I had a problem, she said yes, so I made sure to keep the receipt and box.

About two weeks later, it locked up and crashed. I think the hard-drive didn't like me shuffling so far into the long 2hr tracks that these audio books have. I brought it back to vendor all packaged up again and asked if I could return it for a simpler model that uses flash memory (no hard drive). She said no. I complained. Her manager came over, we argued some more. I said OK, I'll just take another one of the same type. Still no. Apparently I couldn't get my money back or trade for a different kind because it wasn't within 7 days of the purchase period (they never told me that). Instead they said I could take it to the service center (another building, somewhere else in Beijing) and argue with them about it.

While this was going on, some stranger standing there started arguing for me - trying to help me out. He was pretty cool. When it was clear that they weren't going to budge, I told them I was very upset, that service in China was really poor and they were giving a bad name to Chinese businessmen. I told them that I had a meeting in 20 minutes and I couldn't make it to the service center during the week either because of my meeting schedule. The stranger then started to say that maybe he could help me. I told him I would be happy for his help and take him out to dinner.

He gave me his card, I told him I trusted him, gave him the MP3 player. He said "you can trust me", and went off. The manager of the little store said "we don't know him, are you sure?". I said "it's a risk I'll take". So, the result is that he took the old MP3 player to the service center for me, but they didn't have any ones to replace it, so he has to go back on Tuesday. So far so good! We will see what the result is!

02/7/2006: News from the web

Some compelling snippets from China Daily:

By Su Bei (from China Daily)
Updated: 2006-02-07 06:20

Bank of China said yesterday it would improve internal controls after former heads at one of its local branches were charged with a scheme to defraud US$485 million.

A US grand jury charged Xu Chaofan and Xu Guojun, former bosses at the Kaiping branch in South China's Guangdong Province, and their wives on January 31 with 15 counts of money laundering, racketeering and fraud.


The SDRC said China's income gap is continually expanding. At present, China's Gini Coefficient (an internationally accepted measurement of income equality) is 0.4, the international benchmark for alarm.

And the SDRC warns the actual figure may be even higher as a number of incomes may have been underestimated.

Statistics show that the 20 percent low-income group in China's cities only get 2.75 percent of the country's total urban income, or equivalent to only 4.6 percent of the income of China's 20 percent top-level rich group.

02/4/2006: Sad New Year after all

.As I mentioned in my last entry, I expected that after a 12 year ban, there would be not a few injuries due to fireworks. After reading this page on the China State Environmental Protection Admin, it appears I was not incorrect:

"Fireworks explosions killed 36 people and injured hundreds more in China as traditional Lunar New Year celebrations led to much mayhem as well as joy across the nation, officials and state media said.

In the most serious accident, 36 people at a temple fair in the central province of Henan were killed on New Year's Day Sunday when a nearby store room full of fireworks exploded, Xinhua news agency said.

The accident, in a mountainous area of Anyang city, injured up to 48 other people, it said, quoting sources with the local government. Sixteen were initially reported to have been killed but the death toll rose after more bodies were discovered during clear-up operations and some victims died of their injuries, the news agency said.

In the capital Beijing, where a 12-year ban on Lunar New Year fireworks had just been lifted, the government reported 112 people were treated at hospital emergency rooms over the weekend for fireworks-related injuries.

Seventeen people suffered serious eye injuries, the State Administration of Work Safety said in a statement. Another 26 were admitted to hospitals with various types of other wounds, it said. "

Read the rest of the article here

02/3/2006: Happy New Year

This is what my new years was like:









It goes on like ths for days continuously. I was in a small community on the outskirts of a city - very remote, and still thought it was completely insane. If you didn't know any better, you would think you were at war. Really, this must have been what it was like in Iraq or something. The Gov't is very lenient on fireworks usage during this time since it is such a tradition. I am SURE, many lives are lost, along with fingers, eardrums, and hair. It is crazyness. Outside the apartment I was in, the next morning, the street was covered in exploded red-wrappers from all the fireworks - like leaves falling from trees. It was at least an inch deep for 50 meters in every direction. Occasionally cars would try to drive down the street, and they would have to navigate around exploding things, etc - and gosh the bicycles were very nearly blown out of their seats on occasion if they weren't careful.

The rockets and bombs were bouncing off of cement buildings regularly, and people would hang strings of super-firecrackers (big "bang") 20-30 feet long out of their windows and set them alight. If the buildings were made of wood, the whole place would not have made it through the night.

Even now as I type, there are explosions going off all around in Beijing. Last night, we were unable to watch a movie because the sound outside was continuous explosions. As many know, in the west, the cities coordinate public displays of fireworks, but here there is none of that. Just walk outside and you'll see all you want, and someone will probably walk up to you and hand you something to light. "A large part of people's salaries are spent on fireworks every year" someone told me.

01/01/2006: New Years in Thailand

The Throw-up Bus.

This was a "VIP" bus on our trip to thailand. We were supposed to fly to the south, but we couldn't get a ticket. I was worried about the bus because we had a vomit-filled roller-coaster plane ride to thailand only days before (1/3rd of the plane got sick). hwoever, the travel agent assured us we could sleep on this bus and it had beds and was very nice. Unfortunately, we were fooled. It had reclining seats, a spilled-beer smell, and some really annoying young western tourists who would not stop smoking or discussing thing loudly until about 4am.

It was how we spent our new years eve, welcoming 2006 in. We did have a brief stop at a roadside stand to eat poor quality phad thai and wierd thai beer. We chatted with some diplomats who worked at the French embassy in Malasia.

Fortunately, the getting sick didn't start until the end of the ride. I guess that's what you get for a $35 overnight bus trip.

Fortunately, a few days later, things were more peaceful...

01/21/2006: Beijing Lung

It's construction, almost 24x7 here in Beijing. Last week while trying to sleep, we were kept awake by constant banging noises over our head. After investigating, we discovered that the guy 4 floors above us had hired some workers to come in and put in flooring. The annoying detail is that he wanted them to start at 10pm and finish by the morning, working straight through the night. The banging and racket they were making was, thanks to these buildings all being made from concrete, echoing through the entire top half of the building. The workers refused to stop, so we got serious: We got the building manager to turn off the electricity to that apartment. :)

The construction is going, and now that it is winter, there are many coal-fired heating systems for universities and special districts of Beijing. This produces a lot of air pollution - you can see an example of it in the picture above. This is, obviously causing a lot of pollution. In early November, I was riding my bicycle a lot, and quite fast (since I like to ride faster than most Beijingers), and in my deep-breathing, I somehow inhaled something that gave me bronchitis. After a while it turned to pnumonia. It took 4 trips to the hospital, and 4 different treatments of IV antibiotics over two months to get rid of it. I was out of work for almost 2 weeks.

So, I think I'll be riding slower now.

I don't know what the local authorities here are going to do. The air quality in Beijing has been so poor recently, you can barely see the next builing 100-200 meters away. I don't know what they will do for the olympics, they have a long way to go.

12/12/2005: Construction picture

It's construction madness in Beijing. Buildings are going up everywhere, and they are being worked on 12-15 hours a day by an army of laborers brought in from the poorer areas of China. Besides 10-6am, the quietest time of day is 11:30-1:30 where the Chinese here seem to all take lunch at the same time.

This picture was taken from my apartment window on the 13th floor, and it's freezing cold outside. I've included the super-large version once you click on this picture, so you can see some interesting details like: -everyone wears dark clothes because there is so much dust everything else gets dirty easy, -the piles of green tarping which usually are draped outside the building have been tossed down - no machines to help with the construction.

12/9/2005: Coldest Year

I was riding up the elevator this morning to the office when one of my coworkers started talking with me. I was still wearing my motorcycle helmet and shivering from the cold. I hadn't even taken my gloves off yet. I had decided that since people already look at me all the time (because I don't look Chinese), wearing a big red motorcycle helmet and walking around the building won't make much difference either - and it will keep my head warm until I get to my office and take it off.

Anyway, he told me that this year is the coldest it has been for over 30 years in Beijing. Wow. Now, aside from all the alleged temperature-number doctoring that the local authorities sometimes do, that still says a lot - and it explains a lot. It's been bitter cold - and damned windy recently.

So as I'm freezing my butt off riding my scooter home, I can't help but think, in a "I know I'm being childish", frozen brain way, but if Global warming is a fact (and it definitely is), why the hell is it so cold and windy in Beijing this year?

Next up: Tips for driving a Scooter in Beijing - AND LIVING TO TELL!

11/16/2005: Phoenix Mountain

Recently we went on a hike to a place called Phoenix Mountain. It is the first hike I've been on in China where the air was actually relatively clear and clean. We actually had a "view" like you can see below. I was very happy about this.

Actaully my eyes are closed in the picture above - if you look closely you can see. This second picture is of my friend Gibson on the left and another friend of his (whose name I've forgotton). I thought this picture was cool.

11/15/2005: Legal, like Smegal

Every since coming to China I've realized some of the brighter things about the place I came from. Ever since nearly falling on my face after tripping over an unmarked, uneven step going into the student library at the university (every new foreign student does) the first time, I realized the value of those little yellow and black striped markers they use in the west to warn people of things.

You have to watch out for yourself in China. The gov't won't do it for you. I remember my old roomate in the US getting upset that she tripped over an uneven section of sidewalk in San Francisco and sprained her ankle. Ha! She should come here! Well, better yet - no. She was so mad, she threatened to sue the city.

Now that is where we can tie things together: sue the city. It's actually something you could do in the US. According to the rules, you could technically do it here too, but the legal system is so screwed up and intermarried with everything else, you'd never get anywhere or any enforcement for that matter. Although, things are changing at a slow pace.

I never realized how a powerful legal system can affect a society though. I suspect a large part about what makes the cars, the roads, the sidewalks, the food, and everything else safe in the US, isn't just because of a legal requirement, but out of fear of being sued. This factor keeps things safe for us, protects us, and sometimes overprotects us. Well, the last part we certainly have a long way to go here in China before we have to worry about that.

One interesting thing China has is a petition system. In the ancient times, you could wait outside the emporer's compound for him to come out, and kowtow down in front of him with your story written out on some paper or something. He would (if you were lucky) look at your material and make a ruling. This strange China-only system still exists in one way or another today. In a squalid section of Beijing lives hundreds of travelers from far-away provinces waiting to petition the gov't for various injustices like local gov't land siezures to imbezzlement of local city funds for people displaced by Dam projects.

The system doesn't work too well, but it works a tiny bit. The gov't hasn't abolished it because they know the proper recourse - the official legal system - is completely unready for that. In fact, in the Beijing Review, they wrote: "They claim that the legal system cannot withstand the high levels of discontent in the population.". Wow, that's about as strong a statement you will see in an english language Chinese newspaper.

So, the next time you are in the US, and you are upset about somone suing McDonalds because the coffee was too hot or had a hair in it, don't get too upset about it. For all the disadvantages of the US legal system, we owe it a lot. I know because every day here in China, I WISH here we had such an effective system.

11/13/2005: Child attempts to feed Kitty rocks. Kitty not interested


11/12/2005: Fat Burning device

My new bike - it folds up pretty small, so it's theif-resistant too...


11/11/2005: Follow up

The following day, this message came into my mailbox:

"The Chinese Ministry of Public Security informed the U.S. Embassy in Beijing on November 10 that Chinese security authorities have determined that the source of a reported threat against four and five star hotels in China is not credible. The United States Government is not aware of any other information of any threat against hotels in China, including Hong Kong. Our warden message of November 9 on threats to hotels is therefore retracted."

11/9/2005: Safer in China?

This came into my mailbox today:

"The Embassy has learned that Chinese police advised hotels that Islamic extremist elements could be planning to attack four and five star hotels in China sometime over the course of the next week. Chinese authorities have assured the Embassy that they are taking appropriate security measures and investigating the possible threat thoroughly. American citizens visiting Chinese four and five star hotels should review their plans carefully, remain vigilant with regard to their personal security, and exercise caution. Reports should be made to local police if one notices unusual activities in or around these areas. "

Let's see. We've got that birdie sickness problem, that respiratory thingy, an anarchistic traffic situation, and now this...

11/8/2005: A chance encounter?

So there I was, unlocking my scooter, at night, in the university district in Beijing. A lone Chinese man, respectable looking, in his early 50s approached me and wanted to know where I was from. After learning I was from the US, he asked if I could hand-deliver a letter to the US embassador at the embassy in Beijing.

"No" I replied.

"Why?" he asked, taken aback (at this point I should mention that Chinese people are often quite accomodating and helpful to complete strangers - a nice quality that all of us should emulate more.)

"I don't know you",I answered, providing no other explanation.

He then started to explain in more detail why he wanted me to do such a thing. He said that he wanted to warn the United States of impending disaster. He said that the US needed to be careful because it had been attacking too many countries and was weakening itself. He didn't say of course, who was a threat. He also said he had proof of why the US economy has been weakening over the last 5 years. It was important that I deliver this sealed envelope, unopened to the hands of the embassador - for my country!

"No, sorry" I replied.

Finally I started feeling bad - maybe this guy really was trying to help. I suggested that he use the internet to send an email. "I don't know how to use a computer" he replied. Maybe you can call them on the phone? "I don't trust the phone system", etc, etc. So finally I told him I had my own business with the embassy and I wasn't going to risk associating myself with any problems created by him. Sorry.

Tell me what you think!

8/23-c/2005: Official Numbers

Speaking of "official numbers" like the earlier 15 million I quoted. For those of you who don't know, that number refers to the official city limits (boundaries) of the city. the capital has a series of concentric "ring" roads moving out from the center of the city (Tianamen square). They are 2nd ring through 6th ring. However, the official city limits are 5th ring and inwards. So that number is really something I have a hard time accepting.. There are whole bunches of people who live (esp. up north) outside of 5th ring road who drive or take a buss into the city every day. The busses are already crowded before they get inside 5th ring road, and on some main roads, there are even BUS traffic jams -just too many busses even. I think the real number is quite larger. It really is huge - when you go outside of the 5th ring road, it doesn't feel much less like a city than between 3rd and 4th ring road. There are a lot of people.

Another point about numbers: My tutor told me that during hot days in the summer, and cold day in the winter, the numbers you hear on the weather reports are wrong. They intentionally lower them to keep people from freaking. I think this is backwards logic...

Oh yes, btw, China is growing rapidly, but the numbers you are a little fishy.. Apparently there is a reward-system for provinces that report good numbers, and no real enforcement system in place to penalize if they are wrong (or even to find out). So naturally, things look great, but in some ways it could be like a fish-flavor M&M, where it looks great on the outside but...

8/23-b/2005: Fence-Straddler

Recently some coworkers visited from the US and Ireland office. The hotel they were staying at was a deluxe $100/night deal. They were thrilled at the possibility of "cheap" foot massages at 250 RMB for 40 minutes. I told them that they had no idea what they were talking about. They could comfortably stay at a very nice 4/5 star hotel near the office for $40/night no problem, but the knockout-punch came when I took them out for a 75 minute foot massage for 45RMB (I don't think the cute girls with miniskirts hurt either!) - they were in heaven (one of them fell asleep). I told them if they really wanted to see Beijing, they should stick with me. ;-)

Later we all went out to dinner. A Chinese coworker, who had lived in the US for 2 years a while back, was sure she could find us a nice place. I've been joking with my coworkers that it seems the Chinese food I like the most is the stuff that is also the cheapest and the nicer restaurants' food is usually too strange for me really to enjoy. So, I knew we might be in trouble when she took me and the Irish guys to this totally swank establishment in downtown BJ. It had a river inside, marble everywhere, English speaking staff, and even a pianist with singer.

She was going through the menu with me saying things like "I think they will really like this one- it's very good", and I would usually reply with "I don't think so" - we ended up splitting the difference getting half of the items she suggested and half the ones I did. Later, we were both smirking to one another when they all shied away from the dishes she selected, and gobbled up the ones I did (with an exception or two). It was quite funny - and it even surprised me a little.

I guess she had thought after spending a few years in the west she'd have a good notion of what they would like, but I guess in the years she's been back she forgot some of those details. She definitely is very open-minded and western in many ways, but I think she's really a "fence-straddler": someone who's been influenced quite a bit by both places, and has changed quite a bit.

There are a lot of people like her in Beijing now. Many are trouble finding a comfortable spot to live in. There is really not much "western" about Beijing, yet in some ways, people like her also find some of the traditions and expectations of Chinese culture less appealing now. The pressure to get married fast, buy a house, have a child are 10x what they are in the west. It's turning more of the young generation off. But, if you to want privacy, independence, or go against the norm, you are labeled selfish.

For her, I don't think it helps that her husband is a very traditional man who's never been out of China. I think she's been feeling a bit lonely because of all this - even in a crowded city of 15+million people.



8/23/2005: Dustbowl

I get a lot of post-nasal-drip here in Beijing. It's a dusty city. From what I hear, it was much worse before. Many more roads are paved and have sidewalks and such now, so the dry dirt doesn't get kicked up as easily. However, near the place I used to live, there was a section of road with no sidewalk, and every car that wanted to take a right turn, would make it's own lane and drive off road, and create a little cloud of billowing, windy, sandy dust out of the dry dirt. The next car would pick it up and push it into the intersection, and pretty soon any poor slob on a bicycle or scooter (me) will get covered in it driving through the intersection.

I've discovered that usually I'll get a little sore throat or post-nasal drip from this. If I stay up too late, or don't take care of myself, this can turn into a bad cold or worse. So now, I'm more aware of this, and I frequently will drink some ginger tea when I get that feeling. It really helps! In the US I used to drink Lemon Ginger Echinacea from Trader Joes - and that works too.

Now that I'm moving to a new place, I've decided to get a bicycle again and start riding to work. Since the new Starbucks opened up, I've been drinking too many Mocha's there, and I’m starting to put on weight. I'm sure that if I can hop on the bike a bit more, that will help a lot.

China is developing, so it's getting better, but Beijing and the northern area it is in is quite close to a large and growing desert. 30% of China is "Desertified" and it's growing. The gov't is scrambling to stem the tide, but it's going to take a lot.


8/22/2005: Learning a language

I'll start by saying I am not a language expert by any means. However, I've been aggressively studying Chinese for almost 2 years (and for almost a year it was 10hrs a day), so I have some interest in figuring out how to learn as fast as possible. (Well, after I got to Beijing, it was very important to know Chinese unless I wanted to eat and shop at all the western places and blow through all my money real fast).

So, again, I'm not an expert, but many students and foreigners ask me what I think is a good method for studying.

I think that the more "senses" you involve in your studying, it helps your retention. I say "senses" because I'm not sure what sense writing is, and of course, you can't really "taste" language in a literal sense either. My point is that you need to combine listening, speaking, writing and as much interaction as possible into language learning.

I'd say 50% of my language learning comes from having a native speaker record words (and better yet, simple sentences), using the words I'm studying into an MP3 player. I think listen back and loop on one or two sentences over and over. While listening, I'm writing them out and speaking them out loud. Usually, if I do this, I'm studying about 10-15 words/sentences, and it will take me 1-2 hrs because the writing really slows things down. I usually will loop it on the first 3-4 words until I can write them smoothly (I leave 10 seconds between the words, longer for sentences), then I move on to the next set, and finally loop on the whole group a few times.

Another key is to review the new material from your class for at least 15 minutes at night, after every class. If you don't review the same day - or within 10hrs or so, it will make it harder to bring it back. Don’t just review once; you will need to review the same set of words at least twice if you want to retain around 50%.

Yes, I said 50%. Just accept the fact that with Chinese (and probably English), most of the words you study you will forget again, and then later you will have to review it and re-learn it. It's just a fact of life. :(

Another important step is to give a little more attention to verbs. Verbs are darned useful! You can often get around not knowing the objects name as long as you can describe it in a basic way (e.g.: "that new, square green thing you just bought - I forgot it's name"), but if you don't have the verb, you are kind of stuck. I do a lot of that in Chinese "that thing you hold in your hand when you use the Internet, and it has a wire"=mouse. If you are pretty creative by nature, I think this can help you here.

It's almost like that game we play in the US: "Taboo" where you are trying to get your team to say the correct word, but you can only describe things about it - you can't say the actual word. Yes, exactly - I play a kind of TABOO EVERY DAY in China! haha!


8/21/2005: Studying English is hard

Right now I'm teaching some English classes on the weekend to make a little extra money. The students are great (Hi students!). The best part is that none of them have fallen asleep in my class yet. :)

I get up at 8am on Saturday and Sunday morning, hop on my scooter and ride down to the school near xi zhi men subway station. I usually buy a cup of "ba bao zhou" which is an interesting semi-sweet bean breakfast drink that is popular here (it costs 1yuan, or .13 cents), and finish it off before the class. The 16 or so students that I teach from 9-11:30am straggle in looking a little less tired than I, and take their places while chit-chatting occasionally in Chinese.

This is an English school, but the whole staff speak in Chinese all the time, which I think sets a bad example.

The students are all great people, and I like all of them. When I have them do exercises with one another though, they have one problem. Anytime they have a problem with English - even if it's a small problem - they switch to Chinese to figure it out. Naturally, I'm a good teacher and I bark at them (with a smile) to switch back to English, but sure enough, 10 minutes later on the next exercise, someone else does it.

I really can't blame them too much - when I study Chinese, I also want to use English to figure things out - it feels faster and easier.

But that's a mistake, and it's a mistake to use Chinese when you are trying to study English in China.

If you are in China (and you are studying English), the only time you WON'T feel strange speaking English is at English School or in English class. So, you MUST use that opportunity to speak English. If, while in class you switch to Chinese, you get the answer quickly, and you also forget it just as quickly. This is the problem. When you force yourself to use English when talking with other students, it is hard, difficult to understand, and you need to try many different ways of expressing an idea to successfully communicate - JUST LIKE ME IN CHINESE. The difference is that I'm in China and I have no choice. If I want to eat, I have to use Chinese. I can't "bail-out" and switch back to English -I have no choice. Therefore, I learn faster.

I blew up at my second class today (from 12:30-3pm) because I was getting tired of people switching to Chinese over simple things. It really is silly because they will often say "zenme shuo" (how do you say...), which all of them can say in English just fine -it's just being lazy.

So I got mad at them and I said that in this room is their only chance to practice communicating in English. Out there (I pointed out the window, meaning the streets of Beijing), you have no opportunity to practice. I told them that the reason I can speak conversational-level Chinese after only studying 1.5 years and they can't speak English after studying 5-10 years is just because of this fact. When I go outside, I have no choice -I must speak Chinese and try to communicate -I cannot switch to English. I told them that the pain and difficulty, and suffering of trying to learn by not using Chinese is the key to learning quickly. We can make this our own little place where nobody can understand Chinese and you have to use English.

I think about 50% of them got my message. If I'm lucky, they will remember next week. There was still the young guy in the back who couldn't stop saying "na ge" in between every word though... haha.

8/20/2005: The bed has ants

I'm in the process of moving to a new place. Unfortunately, the new place is not ready yet, so I've been forced to sprinkle my stuff in both my office and my friend Alex's place. He's out of town and was generous to offer it to me. The best thing about the place is that it's much more quiet than my existing place -the only bad part is the ants.

Lots of ants - small ones.

Really small - and they quite easily blend in with things.

They are in the bathroom, on the couch, in the sink, AND ON THE BED.

Everytime I shake out the sheets, they start coming back a while later. Today I took a nap and I was woken to the annoying feeling of ants crawling on me. Yes, they were in my pants.

Moving is not fun.

8/18/2005: Popular Patience

The new Starbucks that opened up nearby played the same 3 Rolling Stones songs over and over for 3 days when they opened. I finally asked the manager if she could change it.

When I went to the store recently to buy an appliance, I spent a long time discussing features with the staff. In the two hours I was there, I really started to be bothered by the fact that it was the same Musak song being played over and over, continuously. I asked the staff if they liked it, "we don't hear it" they said. Yeah, I think if they did notice it, they would have all killed each other by now.

Today I heard the same Whitney Houston song being blasted over a PA system outside - I could hear it even up on the 10th floor of the massive concrete office building where i work. I hope everyone around likes Whitney.

On the buses, you will see them overcrowded by 50%, with arms, and even sometimes briefcases sticking out of windows - nobody really complains much.

The roads are crowded, and I have seen the most amazing, stunning and shocking stupidity on the them - but nobody seems to get road rage.

Many Chinese students live 4-6 to a room -and it's a very small room. People will often sleep in a small room in the same place they work. They share bathrooms with hundreds of others in the area (esp. in Hutongs).

(I remember my old US roomate once complaining about how difficult it was to share a bathroom with her boyfriend. Ha, she shouldn't complain!)

The Chinese are used to living in crowded areas. They are used to dealing with people and situations which they cannot control. They learn to deal with things that would make most westerners heads pop off in anger or frustration.

It's a nice quality - I need to learn from it. Maybe you do to? :)

8/12/2005: Interesting Job

Someone showed me a resume recently and it had this funny job on it:

Digital Media Lab, Institute of Computing Technology.
Guest researcher, engage in '863 Hi-Tech' project "Real-time
Pornographic Image Filtering". Focus on research on image texture
feature.Implement many texture analyse algorithms with C.

Wow, I wonder what that job was like. I bet there were a lot of guys who wanted to work in that lab. ahem.

8/10/2005: Good coffee can make up for a lot

It was a sunny day a few weeks back as I left the exit of the newly opened Starbucks in my area of Beijing. The workers were out next door working on the new building that is next door.

As I walked out of the building to go back to the office, I stepped off the curb into the mud from the water they were pumping out from who-knows-where. A fresh blast of sand and dust blew into my face and made me cough. I had to stop a moment to let some sort of diesel tractor abomination-to-all-things-environmental, go by, vomiting out black clouds of smoke.

I cautiously stepped through the pounded dirt and mud alley towards my office, carefully avoiding rocks and stones, and building mortar scattered around the various depressions and man-holes (some of which had no covers - no orange cones either). At that moment, the smell of raw sewerage almost overpowered me. It was a clear, horrible and potent smell, as if I was standing IN the sewer with my nose an inch from the froth.

I took a sip of the hot Mocha, fresh from Starbucks, and suddenly I could deal.

With my local pay-rate, it costs me about $20 a cup (comparitively) - but it's worth every penny (or "fen").

7/22/2005: National Hockey Tournament: Day 5-6

The next day we played a team from the Beijing Sports University. I was told they were going to kick our butts, and they pretty much did. I battled the best I could and I'd like to think I put up a good fight, but they had too many good players, and we had a few too many weaknesses. Another bonus was that their goalie was stellar - I hit him with about 5 solid shots, including a fast outside slapshot through a screen and he stopped that as well. We lost 13-4.

The other guys on the team were pretty happy though, because apparently last year, they lost 24-2 or something. Ha!

The next and final day we played a young team from southern China. After the first goal which I scored in about 30 seconds, I realized that this team was really young (literally), and their skill was not anywhere near our team. I probably should have left and saved myself all the stinky sweating, but I stuck it out thinking I could still have fun passing around with my teammates. Unfortunately, one of the younger guys didn't have a sense of manners and just kept scoring over and over, and I really started to feel bad for the other team.

The final part was the ceremony. And, wow! What medal ceremony it was - they even had beautiful girls putting the medals on the stinky hockey players! My Chinese buddy video taped it, and he ended up doing a bunch of close ups on the girls -haha.

My team came in 3rd, behind the Harbin Police Team, and the Beijing Sports University team, so I was quite stoked to discover we all won Bronze medals! woohoo (i'll put up a picture later)! The medals are in Chinese of course, so I think this will be a great memory for me.

Afterwards, I went out to dinner with the team. It was really a challenge to understand everything they were saying in Chinese, but it was a good time. I toasted the coach and thanked him for giving me the opportunity to play and giving me the great memory of playing on a good hockey team, with a great bunch of guys in China.

Here is another movie:

Here's a goal and some footage of our team just controlling the game a lot. I don't know why the camera is tipped at such a crazy angle! ControlGame

7/21/2005: National Hockey Tournament: Day 4

This day we played at 4pm. I was told it was an important game, so I had to get out of a few meetings - including one that would have meant free coffee at Starbucks (bummer!). We were playing the other Beijing team, among which were several guys who often played with us at the rink we practice at. They were nice guys, but they were tired because the previous day they had lost 27 - 3 to the Harbin Police Force team.

Just to give you some background, Harbin is the northern hockey capitol of China. It's cold there a lot and a lot of people play hockey. Hockey is not a big sport in China, and generally the skill level is not the same as what you would get in Canada or the US, but these guys are still top players - there are just not as many of them, and maybe their skills are a little lower than what you may see for top players in other countries - but not by much, really.

Our team was made up of a few advanced amateur players, but our goalie was an "almost pro" kind of guy. We were not the same level as the team I played with regularly in the US (see E People in the list****. In Chinese, they say "zhuan ye" 专业 to mean professional, but it is a little vague. It can mean someone who did it at the olympic level and was supported by the gov't, but it seems to me that in the west, a professional means a little more - someone who can support themselves completely (and well) by their profession. Here maybe it just means "top player".

look for the big white shin-pads and the white helmet and that's me, #5

I got an assist here video
The other team is out of position a lot. video
I was lucky to get this goal on video Trapshot

Overall the biggest problem was the temperature (too hot) and the rink surface (too slippery). We beat the team 15 to 5. Our goalie didn't break a sweat.

****The irony here is that epeople was the name of the startup company I worked at for 5 years in Silicon Valley from 1998-2003. I got them to sponsor this hockey team right around 2000 when everything looked great in Silicon Valley and it seemed we were all going to be millionairres. However, reality is that the company is dead now - out of business from an inability to sell product - and yet the team lives on. I think that's funny that a roller-hockey team with no budget has more staying power than a 55million dollar VC-backed startup company!

7/21/2005: National Hockey Tournament: Day 3

The game time was 7pm, and we were told to show up at 6pm. We were given game jerseys and T-shirts, but honestly I don't know where the money came from for all of this. I think that perhaps the Chinese gov't actually paid for my participation in this event!

For the first part of the week, I had been telling friends and people at work about the competition, so I was fortunate to have several friends show up to watch. I also thought that they probably had never seen this kind of competition before, and it turned out to be pretty fun for them too. You can see us from the picture on the right - we all look sweaty because that place had no air conditioning and the temperature in Beijing is quite high right now. The two guys next to me are two of my coworkers - they are very tall. You can see that I am on skates and yet they are still as tall as I am!

We easily beat this team from Tianjin on the first day. I scored 4 goals in the process. I've got a few videos here you can see here - look for the big white shin-pads and the white helmet and that's me, #5:

a guy on my team scores video
I score a goal. video

Overall the biggest problem was the temperature (too hot) and the rink surface (too slippery). We beat the team 15 to 5.

7/20/2005: A break in the Action for some pics...

I finally got around

This was a picture taken outside of the "odor many beautiful - 味多美bakery. The character on the left is "xi" or "West", meaning western bakery. But,, you aren't going to find German Chocolate cake there...

to downloading some pictures from my cellphone. I always prefer to use a real camera whenever possible, but in daily life in Beijing, carrying around a camera isn't always practical all the time - it's not like I can leave it in my car or anything (I don't have a car).

Anyway, the phone camera basically sucks, but for "emergencies" - pictures I just have to try and capture, it comes in handy. The movie in the article below was also taken with my camera - not great, but it works.

Giant Naked Babies are floating outside the front of this appliance store in Beijing. Click on the picture to see the smog, and how a crafty appliance marketing person for Haier capitalized on the Chinese people's great love of naked babies to sell their stuff.

I would much prefer it if someone could send me one of those new Sony Cybershot DSC-H1's or Canon Powershot S2 IS's - then

I think I could improve on the picture quality a bit. ;-) I'll be waiting for your email announcing you've mailed me one, ok?

The next picture is about construction. In China, pretty much 100% of all buildings are made from reinforced concrete. They can build 16+ stories and up with concrete. It's quite amazing. Apartments are big concrete blocks when you buy them - they are undecorated and unfurnished. You get 2 light switches, some piping, and a few holes in the floor and that's all. You have to do everything after that - so there is a whole cottage industry around home decoration.

In the US when you want to do wiring, you poke a hole in the drywall, and run the wire through the back and pop it out again - or you just make sure the wiring is good in the first place. As you can see in this picture, my friend was having some new wiring done on his house. This meant that the workers had to chip and carve a pathway into the cement and then set the piping and wire into it. This also explains why 90% of all the buildings in Beijing are echoing with the sounds of these dull drill bits chipping away cement 10 floors above you. Very irritating!
The final picture is a little blurry, but quite surprising to see what was on this resume recently. Perhaps this young student didn't edit his resume well enough, or consider the ramifications of sharing this information with a popular western IT company he wanted to work for.

7/20/2005: China Inline Hockey National Championships: Day 2

On Day 2, I was told to show up at 4pm at the hockey rink. I happily cut out of work early and hopped on my little motor scooter and braved the streets of Beijing. I showed up about 15 minutes late because Beijing's traffic was quite heavy.

Arriving at the rink, I found our locker room without any problems, went in, took off my shoes, shorts, and put on my very important genital protection device ("cup" - very important in hockey, where pretty weighty pucks fly around at 70+ mph), then picked up my old, beat-up and worn out hockey shorts. When I picked them up, out of the corner of my eye, I saw some debris fall out - a black thing. "Wow, these hockey shorts are old, they are falling apart!" I thought.

However, it wasn't a piece of fabric. When I, moments later went to move my bag, the largest and most powerful cockroach I've ever seen sprinted across the floor to the corner almost as fast as I could track it with my eye! Woah! After that, I shook out all of my gear piece by piece. Fortunately, I had no more surprises in my pants! haha!

The second day was a practice session designed to let us get familiar with the wood floor. I had bought new wheels (another reason why i was late), in the hopes that it would give me more I'm wearing the white helmet in this picturetraction on the rink for turning. Unfortunately, it did not make much difference. You could more or less pick up good speed going forward, but when it came to turning, you were like a big truck going a little too fast for a sharp turn on a mountain road - you'd grit your teeth, hoping that your wheels your don't slip off the mountain. Many people fell down.

The rink was olympic size, which was interesting because in the US I always played on smaller NHL sized rinks. With Roller hockey, you have 4 players, so there was a lot of space on the rink. I realized later that because of the extra width, I my shots often went wide of the 'net because my "feeling" about where I was on the rink when it came time to shoot, hadn't adjusted for the extra width.(click this link for a small movie which shows you the rink).

7/19/2005: 2005 China Inline Hockey National Championships: Day 1

I play hockey at a place called "Hong Feng bing qiu" which is an outdoor cement rink where they play roller hockey in the summer, and they spray down with water during the winter to make it ice for ice hockey. Not very scientific, but it works.

The guy who runs the place (as you can see from their website here) is a member of the former national Olympic team - and although he's a little out of shape, he's a nice guy with a great attitude, and still has the skills to smoke most decent players (including me). He runs the place in a very relaxed and friendly atmosphere and there are guys who show up consistently 3 days a week when we play. It's a nice crowd, but very mixed in skill level. For a guy like me who's used to having everyone about the same skill level (even if that level is "not very good"), playing with a mixed level can be very frustrating sometimes. However, the guys are all friendly and it's a great way to get some exercise, sweat, breath that fresh, clean Beijing air ;-), and play a little pickup hockey.

Recently, when I showed up, the coach and many of the players were talking about a competition. My chinese is not good enough (and he speaks a little sloppy), so all I really heard was the word "competition" and the fact that he was asking me a question, so I took a guess and said "Yes! I really love to play in competitions, I can do it" - and he signed me up. I later asked someone else if it was on ice or roller 'cause I didn't know. I also didn't know where it was, what time it was, or who we were playing, but in proper "do as the Romans do" spirit, I just rolled with it (pun intended).

In the US, most hockey competitions are at night or over the weekend so that nobody has to miss work, but it's not that way in China, although since this was the national championships, the theory is that people who play at "this" level don't have to worry about work - haha. So the coach did sign me up after checking to see if it was OK to have a foreigner on their team (I was the only one in the whole tournament it turned out).

In typical local fashion, I got the schedule quite late - actually I found out when to show up only two days before. Fortunately, it was 7pm on a Monday night, so I was ok with my job. I showed up at our usual practice rink and discovered most of the team was actually walking over because it was so close. It was at the Beijing Competition arena - a big building with lots of space, no air conditioning, official locker rooms (with showers even), and even bigger cockroaches (I'll get to that later).

I showed up to compete. I even had my special game-socks ready to go. But, it turned out that it was just a practice game so we could get used to the surface, which was not a typical professional level rollerhockey floor (plastic tiles), but just a wood floor. Wood floors are not good for hockey because when you turn, you fall usually, and since not many people had changed their wheels from out doors to indoor ones, there was a lot of falling. Oh, and sweating - no air conditioning and with an average outside temperature of 90+ degrees and much humidity - lots of sweat.

The nice thing was that the locker room had Air conditioning and it looked pretty clean, so we were able to leave our gear there overnight for the whole tournament - which seemed was going to last a few days. I was happy about that because bringing home heavy sweaty hockey gear in a big back, on a small scooter through the streets of Beijing is not easy!

Stay tuned for Day two...

6/28/2005: Technology produts sold in China?

As you may have been reading in the newspapers, the magazines, on the websites, and everywhere you possibly can get information - China has a booming economy. Things are growing rapidly. The country has a huge appetite for coal, steel, cement, and all the raw materials for building infrastructure, buildings, and of course technology products.

When I first joined my job, there was an email thread about someone who was having a problem with a Sony laptop they bought in China. One person finally said "It just proves that the products Sony sells in China are just crap". I thought that was more nationalistic blah-blah and dismissed it. Later, I noticed some other things... For example, up until this year or two, it seems most of the Volkswagons sold in China as "new" were actually early to mid-90's designs (some almost 10 year old designs!). (I know this because I kept seeing early '90's Jetta's & Santanas and I'd ask the driver when they bought the car as new and they'd always say 3-5 years ago). The final data point occurred when I bought a new computer monitor for my home. I chose to buy a Viewsonic 17" LCD similar to one I had in the US - and when I got it home, it had a stuck pixel.

Now, I've worked in the IT industry for over 13 years, and between myself and my many coworkers and friends, we've had hundreds of LCD monitors between us. In fact, I'm typing on one now - all with no problems. I hear occasionaly rumors of something called "stuck pixels" where some pixels on the monitor would light, but then get stuck on whatever color they desired, but I never saw it or discovered it myself.

So naturally I was surprised to see a big fat blue stuck pixel in the middle of my brand new Viewsonic monitor after I brought it home. I promptly brought it back to the place I bought it and asked for a new one. At which point they said: "80% of all LCD monitors sold in China have stuck pixels. If you want us to switch it, you have to have no fewer than 3 stuck pixels on your monitor"

Ahem. So much for customer service.

I called my friend who referred me to this place, and he had me pass them the phone, and proceeded to chew them out any way he could, resulting in them asking me to leave the monitor for another day and they would try to convince their boss tomorrow to swap it.

It immediately reminded me of some of the realities of living here in China. Brand name is still important because those big names still often have better quality than what you get otherwise, but it's at a bit lower of a level. 80% of all LCD's sold in China have stuck pixels!? What sort of crap is that?? I've never seen or known anyone who had a stuck pixel on their monitor back in Silicon Valley, and now i hear that 80% of them have them here?

So, why does this happen? I suspect it is because the govornment puts huge import taxes on goods, and strong-arms international companies to setup local partnerships and manufacturing here in China. These plants or factories perhaps just don't have the quality standards that the regular ones do, so the products are crap.

Buyer beware - especially in China.

6/16/2005: Why come to China?

What are the reasons why people want to come to China? Let's talk about it:

What are the 3 main worries western people have when they consider coming to China?

  1. Language: Since Chinese is not an Arabic based language, it's not as easy to learn, impossible to read, and you evencan't hunt for those Latin root words to help you guess the meaning.
  2. Culture: Chinese culture was isolated from the rest of the world for several thousand years, so yes, it's quite a bit different from going to the next European country, or American (continental) country.
  3. Economic & Healthcare Systems: The economic system and the standards of living are different than the US and many European countries, so this brings some concern for people in the areas of economic standards, etc. Linked to this are concerns about healthcare since China doesn't have quite as advanced western healthcare as the west.

How do you get around these issues?

When I was first considering coming to China, of course I also had these concerns. One of the key things I did to help was to establish a network of friends in Beijing, so that when I arrived I had some people who could help me translate, get around, buy a phone, etc. Since I had a lot of Chinese friends in California, I was able to get a few connections, but the best help came from my friend Amanda.

Because I was conerned about not having any local contacts, I joined www.asianfriendfinder.com which allowed me to find people in Beijing to meet. This is how I met my friend Amanda who helped me quite a bit in Beijing after I arrived. Her English was excellent, and she really understood what issues I may face because during her studies of English, she studied a lot of western culture. Joining the service was a very good decision for me because it gave me a safety net and a connection with a number of very nice people in Beijing who are willing to help a "new arrival" like I was.

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