Going West by Mark Powers

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Leaving China

I am going back to the states. I was able to find a reasonable Chinese travel agent and get the ticket. It's funny, in China, the travel agent sends someone to you door to deliver the ticket. You give cash directly to the agent upon checking the ticket and making sure the information is correct.

Of course I felt a little bit uncomfortable using this method, but the travel agent, named E-long ("Long" means Dragon) is very big and reputable, so I was willing to trust them.

I much prefer the method common in the US where I can pay with my credit card and pick up the ticket at the airport. But it seems that was not an option.

I'll be going back next week. So that gives me only a little time to prepare. I visited the office of Powers Translation and looked things over. It's really amazing how the office has come along. There are two sales girls making sales calls. There is a project manager and office secretary as well as my Chinese partners. It's great to hear them talk with customers or potential customers and hear them say "Powers Translation....spelled... P O W E R S". Though, I feel sorry for them everytime they have to spell out the word Powers, because some people have some difficultly understanding it or hearing it clearly. But English is commonly used in business in China, so it's plausible. This company may partly be my inspiration, and I have had a hand in its creation, but most of the work has been done my good friend Phoebe. Phoebe is a super hard worker and very knowlegable about the translation business. She also is a good salesperson. Someone told me recently, and I think this is very very true, if you want to start your own company, you have to be good at sales. Sales is what keeps the business alive and kicking. Phoebe is the driving engine of the business, no doubt about it.

The good thing is, because of the convenience of the Internet, I can still work with my partners in China and be a part of the company's growth. Matter of fact, I want to open the US branch of Powers Translation, serving US customers and using the capabilities of our office in China. I don't have the sales talent of Phoebe, and this will not be the main thing I do in the US, but I want to establish the business, make business cards and stuff, so that the option is there went I meet people back in the states.

Anyway, I had a funny thing happen to me a few months ago that made me think about how long I've been away from the states. In China, exchanging money from RMB to US Dollars at banks requires alot of paperwork and trouble that I won't get into here. But, many foreigners go to underground / black market places to exchange currency. At these places you can just walk in, change money from RMB to dollars at a rate without the fees that banks charge. However, as these are not regular banks, there is of course risk, such as getting counterfeit bills. Despite the store being on the street near a major school, there is an old woman who stands at the door window, always watching outside to keep as if keeping a lookout so that if the cops walk by, they can close shop. Though this sounds relatively bad, many foreigners use this store to conveniently convert their RMB to dollars.

I went into the store laid down some RMB for exchange and got back US dollars. I always check them to make sure they are genuine. Suddenly, I realized the store lady gave me several brown colored $10 dollar bills. I was shocked and upset. I told the lady that I knew those were fake, there is no way that $10 dollars bills were brown. I said I am American and there is no such thing as brown money. In my mind there was also no way that money could be so ugly. I have seen lots of currency from different countries. There are lost of beautiful colors, green, purple, blue, red. The shade of those brown $10 dollar bills was so ugly, I couldn't imagine anyone could believe they were real.

Of course, the store lady gets mad and says they are real. That the US government changed the color recently. I said I can't beleive it, US money has always been green. I was very incredulous.

But the lady relented and found some green bills and replaced the brown ones. I said thanks and walked out the door. As I was leaving I ran into another foreigner and asked them where she was from and she said the US. I told her, watch out, this place tried to pass off some brown colored $10 bills. She then says, no those are real, they changed the color recently. I was so shocked! I went back and apologized to the store lady and explained I didn't know, that I had been in China for two years and couldn't believe they changed the color. But not only did they change the color, they changed it to a really ugly one. I was so disappointed. But it made me realize how things might change while your gone.


Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Fragrant Mountain 香山

It's been foggy and raining over the past few days. Despite the the cloudy weather, I went to Fragrant Mountain again over the weekend. This time I went with some students from my English class. On this trip, rather than taking many pictures, I took videos. After the trip I edited the videos together and added music and uploaded it to the Internet. The result can be seen here below.

美丽的香山, 精彩的一天Climbing Scenic Fragrant Hills Park, Xiangshan nea

I still love photos, but videos allow me to do new things. I like adding music to give a certain feeling to the imagery. I chose Chinese songs for the videos because they emphasize that the scenes were taken in China and some readers here may never have heard modern Chinese music, so it might be interesting and fun for some.

That is one of the discoveries I've had since coming to China. I never would have guessed that I would like modern Chinese music. But there are some really great artists, especially one I like is called "Pu Shu". I think his music is really beautiful. My video uses one of his songs.

I had this idea recently... wouldn't it be nice if your travels could finance more travels in the future. Like earning money for going on vacation, and then using that money to go on more vacations. Wouldn't that be the life?

If I could make Getpowers.com more interesting by creating travel blogs, photo galleries, adding interesting videos from fascinating places, and drive traffic to the site and earn money, that could potentially help me travel to more and more exotic and interesting places.

I really surprised my English class yesterday. I asked anyone in class if they have a box or can they could give me. Everyone had a little bewildered look on there face. They asked what did I want it for? I said, well I really would like to go to Hawaii. So I need to get a box or can to collect money from everyone to help me to go Hawaii. I told them I wanted to go to Hawaii as soon as possible. All the money they gave me would be appreciated, but preferably they should give me as much as they can. I really tried hard to keep a straight face. They all look a little baffled, like why would they want to help me to go Hawaii??? Finally I started laughing and they figured out I was joking.

I have a little bit of a mean streak really. I like to play with my students sometimes, I try my best to keep a straight face and say some real off-color jokes and humor. But I can't help it. Its too funny sometimes.


Saturday, May 5, 2007

Golden Week 2007

Offices of Powers Translation
I spend about one day a week in the offices of Powers Translation in Lishuiqiao in north Beijing. The location is a little far for me to travel to conveniently, so I do any work I have to do over the Internet if possible.
Our office is nice, but there is not much in it right now. Mainly, my Chinese partners go there everyday and run the ship. We have a secretary and in the future we will have a project manager. My partners will do most of the sales work. Originally my role was to be quality control for English material, doing proofreading and such. But my partners would like to see me do more sales work reaching out to International clients. We are currently negotiating my role in the company and my share of ownership. But I have made clear my freedom is important to me (as I might just want to move somewhere or do something else), so I can't commit myself too much. I just want a small stake in the business for now for my work.
This week is actually the Chinese Labor Day Holiday, also known as Golden Week. The holiday started May, 1st, a Tuesday. Its interesting the government, companies and schools across China had workers and students work over the weekend and Monday before they could take an extended holiday of seven days. That means that Chinese all across China worked and attended classes for eights days before they could take a seven day holiday. That would be totally unheard of in the states. Who could imagine be forced to work or going to school extra days on the weekend plus a day in advance of Thanksgiving or Christmas to make up for a national holiday vacation.
I made a webpage for my video collection. The web address is http://www.getpowers.com/video. I am excited about this because the videos are hosted on a 3rd party website. Everytime the video is viewed I can make a little money. It works like this. Every 1000 views over 20,000 views earns $5 dollars, as long as the video is rated 3 stars or higher by viewers.

一个外国人的中国生活 China Through The Eyes Of A Foreigner

I have two videos that have nearly 1000 views already in less than 3 days. I choose some videos from my collection, added some music, and uploaded them to the site. I have not made one cent yet, but I sure would be excited if this really worked. I think there is lots of material for making interesting videos in China that people in the states would want to see. Its just amazing some of the things you see in daily life that can knock you socks off. People doing some of the most interesting, or strangest or craziest things that you couldn't really imagine in the states. Its that culture shock factor.
I have a dream of making lots of money on the Internet. I think its so beautiful that something can be seen my millions in just seconds. I remember there was a video that a guy made for his resume and he sent it out to many companies. But it was tremendously bad, to the point it was funny. Someone uploaded the video to a website for people to watch and it was viewed by millions in a few short days. The guy who made the video tried to stop it from being shown, my thinking is that if he knew how to harness the attention, he could have made a lot of money. Upload the video to a website that put ads on it or something. But I can understand not wanting to be made a fool of.
If I can make a video of something interesting, such at people doing Tai-Chi exercises in the park, amazing flexibility exercises or playing unique Chinese music instruments, I think people might find that interesting. So I will see what I can come up with this summer.


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Spending the Spring Festival in Beijing

Well, about 5 minutes ago I ordered the study materials for Level I of the Certified Financial Analyst (CFA) Exam. To get the CFA, one must pass three levels of the exam, so even if I pass Level I, I still have to pass Level II and III to get the CFA. But I will be underway to getting this certification starting this year. It may take 2-3 years to complete all the exams and get the certification.
I had a great weekend. First on the 17th, I went to my friend's house and spent the Chinese New Year with her family and friends. We ate tons of great homemade food, watched the New Year's TV special (watched by an estimated 800 million Chinese people) and watched the fireworks display outside from the window.
First of all, the TV special was great. There was lots of singing, dancing, acrobatics, and comedy. Its a great 4 hour show that goes until about 12 midnight and the New Years Celebration. At about 11:45 PM the fireworks constantly going off outside the house get turned up and 100 notches. Firecrackers, fireworks displays in every direction all over the city, its truly a spectacular site to behold.
The next day I went to Fragrant Hills again, and climbed it for the 4th time of 2007. Then yesterday, I went to the Tiananmen Square with another friend to take some video for my friend Jason's class. He will be teaching some 7th graders about China and its history and asked if I could help put something together for him. I was happy to do so, and yesterday I completed it. You can view the short video at http://www.getpowers.com/video/jasonsclass_0001.wmv.
Finally today, I woke up, started doing some exercise, got online and ordered the CFA materials, which are not cheap. Its a risk to send it all to my Chinese address, but I want to start early and be ready. Its a big test to prepare for.


Wednesday, January 31, 2007

National Military History Museum in Beijing, China

Row of tanks and military vehicles at National Military History Museum in Beijing, China
Last Saturday I went to the National Military Museum near Fuxingmen station. It's only 10 yuan for a "student". Upon entering there is a giant statue of Mao, which is fitting I suppose because the museum mainly focuses on the weaponry and history about the war for liberation and anti-Japanese war, as it is known here, and he plays a huge role in that.
The displays of weaponry mainly came from the WWII era, but there were also a some modern items such as missile launchers, space rockets, and jet aircraft. However, more than the weaponry I was more impressed by the pictures, paintings, statues, and relics which portrayed the war for liberation and discussion of history.
Also, many things were a show of a great struggle for survival and independence. Obviously, people seemed to believe that they were fighting for a better future and to throw off the shackles of centuries of imperialism and poverty.
As I have seen throughout Beijing historical monuments, the British, French, and other colonial powers, (including the US, I understand) benefited from the opium trade and colonization. Statue of soliders at National Military History Museum in Beijing, ChinaAt two different times (1860s and early 1900s) they attacked, set fire and destroyed the city's buildings and monuments as punishment to Qing Dynasty rulers for trying to stop them. Several buildings in Yiheyuan and Xiangshan, as well as the entire area of Yuanming was completely destroyed.
So when you go to the military museum's history area, you really sense how people were fighting to get from under the foot of colonialism and imperialism.


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Hiking Fragrant Mountain near Beijing

Entrance to home on the road to Fragrant Hills, near BeijingChinese news radio is kind of funny. In the US when they discuss Bush going somewhere its implied that he is bringing his staff and other important people. But Chinese news radio likes to give the names of 5-10 important guys going with the Chinese president somewhere. I think it seems strange to be read a list of names over the radio as well as tiresome.

Market on road to Fragrant Hills, near Beijing

Yesterday I went to a local mountain park near Beijing to go hiking. The park is called Xiangshan, and the official English name is Fragrant Hills, but it's more like a mountain than a hill. I just needed to get out of the apartment, get away from the everyday routine, ups and downs, and find some peace of mind.

Fortunately, there is a bus nearby that took me directly to the foot of the mountain. You first go up a street banked by little tourist shops selling Buddhist trinkets, shoes, toasted chestnuts, etc. Usually this street is bustling in the summer when most of the visitors come, but as it is winter there were much less people.

Kids playing on the ice

The entrance fee to the park is only 5RMB, about 50 cents. I get a little map, I surprise myself that I can read it and get around. I first went over to "Eyeglasses lake". It has two round pools with a small Chinese bridge between them, like a pair of eyeglasses. The water was frozen over and kids were having fun taking pieces of ice and throwing them around.

Temple on the ice at Fragrant Hills, near Beijing

As it was already about 2:30 in the afternoon, I thought I had better start climbing, otherwise it would be super dark on the way back.

I started to make my way up the mountain to the scenic outlook and Buddhist temple at the top. I took a new path that was very steep and it really was a challenge. I found myself panting and wheezing for air. I think that was a sign that I am not a fit as I was a couple of years ago, so I consider that something I need to work on.

Hiking trail on Fragrant Mountain or Hills, whatever you call it

The pathway was simply a stone staircase that went up and up and when you think you made it, the mountain went higher and there were a lot more stairs to go!

Some people seem to use this path as regular exercise. I even saw a couple of guys older than myself without any shirts on (despite the cold temperatures!) running the path like they were training for a competition. Should I call that inspirational or insane.

I was doing better than the average climber, stopping sometimes to take pictures as well as removing layers of warm clothes and stuffing them into my backpack. I made it to the top about 20 minutes before the sunset so I could really bask in the scenery for a moment.

At the top you can look over the Beijing. The wide expanse of buildings stretching into the distance. Beijing doesn't have those residential communities with single homes lined up next to each other in little symmetrical patterns like we have in the states. Beijing has gray brick one story multiple housing complexes that look like they date to 30 years ago mixed in among a plethora of 10, 20, 30, 40 story business and residential buildings as far as the eye can see. There is little of the suburban sprawl we find in the US here. The edge of the city was very distinct, like a wall of buildings signifying the boundary of the city.

View of Beijing from Fragrant Hills

There was a whitish, brownish haze that like Phoenix and Los Angles hangs over the city like a dirty blanket blocking out light.

Smoke stacks near Beijing

In the other direction, there is a vista. A pretty white stone lookout is built on the farthest edge. However, from that lookout you can see the giant water towers and smoke producing stacks of factories or energy generators that seem to say that they are more important than nature.

In the final direction you can see the sunset. It falls over a mountain top behind a temple built on a far ledge. The temples seem to be one with nature while the smokestacks seem to be fighting it.

Temple at Fragrant Hills

I think over my experiences in China. My mistakes and accomplishments. I try to think over what to do and what to do next. Sadly, I don't feel any powerful inspirations. I squint looking at the sun as it goes down. I think to myself, I love the Earth and nature. If there was a way to help the Earth, provide energy and things to make people's lives better but keep it clean and as one with nature as those temples on the mountain, that would be wonderful. I think, as I don't have the technical knowledge now to create or invent things like that, maybe I can find and invest in companies that create those kinds of things. The companies whose inventions will be working with nature and the Earth rather than against it.

Overing a temple in China, taken at Xiangshan near Beijing
I think investing is like voting in a way. You put your money into things (companies, organizations, technologies) you believe in. The more money goes into the financing of a company and its products and technologies, the more it says that you and society are supporting that company.

Money is the life blood of companies and products. So you make a choice when you invest, what companies do you want to succeed? What products do you want to be made more, what technologies do I want to see succeed. I personally want those companies that are creating Earth friendly products and technologies to succeed. So I want my investment dollars to go there. That is one reason I don't choose mutual funds, because mutual funds usually choose companies by how much money they make, rather than what they do. So those big fat corrupt oil producers can keep getting financed by socially irresponsible investment companies. Maybe I should start a socially responsible mutual fund someday. But really, that is not the direction I feel like going in. On top of that, its funny to hear myself think about investing when I practically don't have any money and only care to do a part-time job.

If there was a way to keep things simple. But as I get older I seem to discover things are always more complicated than the appear to be, rather than easier or simpler. It would be convenient if everything kept to a few principles that I could understand. Even if that were the case, I certainly have not succeeded in finding those few principles.

Sitting at temple on top of Fragrant Mountain

Maybe it's a matter of knowing what matters, what's important, and was should be given priority. Then things could be kept a little simpler.
When I sat up on the overlook, I still couldn't help but be critical of people. I am one of so many people, but I often find myself angry and unsatisfied with people rather than happy and content. Anytime in China or anyplace that I see people say or do things I think are foolish, or more commonly here, litter or rudely spit on the ground, I get offended. Why am I so unforgiving about people's behaviors? I have my own problems. Its always easier to find problems with others than in yourself. I always think I am sharing this Earth and air and water with everyone. When I breathe that air, drink that water, or eat fruits and vegetables from that land, I want it to be clean and healthy. I guess maybe some people don't feel the same way or feel they are powerless to take action.

Steep climb to the top of XiangShan near Beijing

Eating noodles in BeijingLost in thought up on the mountain, I started to get cold. I came back down, caught the bus and went to my favorite noodle shop that serves delicious tomato & egg noodle soup and went home.


Tuesday, January 2, 2007

New Years 2007 in Beijing, China

The snowfall turns everything white, the canal water is frozenIt's always strange when one night you go to bed and the next morning you look out the window and world has suddenly turned white. On December 30th the snow began and ended December 31st. Suddenly Beijing looked as cold as it felt. I have never seen snowplows or snowblowers or trucks that pour salt on the roads in China. People get out their brooms and shovels and go to work. I see men walk around with bags of salt throwing it on sidewalks. Another indicator to me that human labor is one of the cheapest and most readily available resources here.

These guys serve up snacks for breakfest for people on their way to work

The snow also doesn't stop the daily grind of people having to go to work. I have never heard of a work stoppage or school closings due to adverse weather conditions here either. But I think Beijing generally doesn't get that cold or so much snow.
On the first day of the New Year, it is usually my practice to try to have a good and somewhat productive day. I think it also bodes well for the rest of the year to have a good start.

People still have to go to work - but in the snow - on their bicycles Before the new year, I had already started implementing some New Year's resolutions. Over a week ago, I began doing exercises every morning as soon as I woke up. I find that if I do exercises first thing in the morning, I don't have to think about getting them done the rest of the day or skipping them altogether if I get busy. I want to ensure the quality of my health for the long run, so I decided that daily exercise was a priority. The exercise also gets my blood pumping so I'm ready for the rest of the day.

The canal at Jishuitan is frozen up

Another resolution is to create a daily routine. The exercises come first. Next, I need to eat some food. Before I do anything else, I want to next study Chinese for about 1 hour. The minimum is to learn 10 new words everyday. I am in China for crying out loud and I need to study Chinese at a minimum or 1 hour and 10 new words a day or I am wasting a major opportunity. So getting myself back into studying Chinese regularly is another top priority.

Beggers keep going to work tooAnother resolution is to study math about 1 hour a day. On top of my recent considerations to going to business school, I think improving my math skills will benefit my life and business. Thus, it makes sense to try to improve this area of my skills and knowledge. I got started implementing this resolution last week and I already learned something valuable. Math is used to communicate. It communicates knowledge and information. Math is used to quantify things, rather than qualify. For example, if I say "Yesterday the temperature was hot". Then today I say, "Wow, today the temperature is really hot", or "It's hotter than yesterday!". What does that mean. Well, without real numbers that may not mean a whole lot to anyone.
So math is useful to quantify, to use numbers, to communicate information. It is also standardized. The temperature was 60 degrees yesterday and 90 degrees today, carries more information than saying it was hot yesterday and hotter today. Actually, 60 degrees may not even be hot to people in Hawaii, but it might be to Eskimos. So math is used to communicate, to quantify things by using numbers. That is one reason we use it and it is valuable.
Take these examples. If someone said these things to you, would you want them to quantify it?
You just won the lottery, you're going to be rich! You're going to prison for a long time. Your stock just took a tumble.

Local temple in Beijing, covered in snowMy question is always going to be, how much? Numbers help me to quantify information to make it understandable and relative to me. So numbers and math are helpful. But by how much is it helpful you say? To help quantify this answer, the math book I bought says that students with a solid math background earned, on average, 38 percent more than their peers without such a background.
Mark and the new stachTo wrap it up, the comprehensive goal of my New Year's resolutions are to create a daily routine to use time and energy effectively and efficiently to achieve the successful fulfillment of my priorities and objectives. Wow, could I have written that any more duller? How about this: I started these New Year's resolutions to accomplish my goals of starting a successful business and having health and happiness. That's a little better...
Happy New Year!!!


Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Christmas Party

Please click here to see my Christmas Message!
Well, today is Christmas. I remember nights long ago when I was a little kid anxiously awaiting this day. I could barely even sleep on Christmas Eve I was so excited with hope and anticipation for Santa and all the gifts. My strongest memories as a little boy are being with family, sitting around the Christmas table and having a big gift giving exchange after breakfast. That was always so fun and exciting. We would have holiday music playing in the background and each one of us would take turns opening a present. What always impressed me was how creative my family could be in choosing or making gifts.
In China, Christmas is more of a excuse to have fun, and a store holiday. All the department stores and many restaurants and English schools put up Christmas decorations in the spirit of sales. I did receive many little short text messages in my phone from people wishing me a Merry Christmas. People here, as far as I can really tell, are not religious. So Christmas is more of a commercial holiday that anything. But the people here use it as excuse to party and have fun too. The pretty lights and decorations are seen as romantic, so Christmas is also known as a second lover's holiday. People really don't see it as a family event, because in another month or so it will be the Chinese New Year, and that is the huge family get-together time.
Its good that my Uncle is getting married soon, because after February 18th, it will be Year of the Fire Pig, and many Chinese tell me it will be a bad year to get married. Fortunately, I don't have anything in the pipeline as far as marriage partners are concerned, so I'm not too concerned for myself.
My school had a Christmas party last Wednesday night that was really fun. About 30 students and staff went to a Karaoke Club (called KTV in China) at Jinyuan Mall, one of the largest in the world. The room was magnificent and there was plenty of food. I was surprised that my usually penny pinching school went all out this year.
Too bad two of the other teachers got sick and couldn't make it. So me and another teacher from Boston, Chris and I were the Master of Ceremonies for the event. We asked the students what they wanted from Santa, what kinds of gifts etc. The students gave answers that I thought were kind of funny. I think usually people ask for specific things, little things that we in the US would consider to be worthy of Christmas presents. But in China, I don't think they know what kind of things we give each other for Christmas, so they would say things like "Good health for my son", "a house", etc. Also, in China, people usually don't give presents such as a bread makers, bicycles, and books. Rather, they give money in little red envelopes called "Hongbao". That seems a little empty to someone accustomed to Christmas gift giving such as me, but they don't seem to have a problem with it.
Finally, there was a nice girl downstairs who invited me to dinner the other night. She offered to cook me up a home-made meal, which I have not had in a long time. So of course I accepted! We went to a store nearby the apartment complex I had never known about. It was clean and had everything I like there. I couldn't believe it, after all this time in Xiaoxitian, and I had never known about this place. Well, that's what you get when you can't read everything and don't pay attention.
Well, we went back to her place and she began cooking up a meal. She warned me that she had not cooked for a long time, and as I watched her try to find the ON button on her stove and the way she slowly cut at the vegetables, I believed her. She made a stir-fry with vegetables and noodles, but sadly, I had a hard time getting it down my gullet. The noodles were dry and thick with spice. It seemed like she tried hard to cook up a nice meal, so I tried as best I could to eat as much as I could. But I still left about half the bowl full before I needed a digestion break. I was surprised when she took the leftovers still in the wok and put them into my bowl, thinking that I wanted a second helping. But I said "Thanks!" and went on hammering away.
In the end, I was just happy for the companionship and chance to chat. The interesting thing is she doesn't speak English, so the conversation hinged on my Chinese ability. I am happy because I can actually accomplish that. Nearly four years ago, when I couldn't speak one word of Chinese, I tried not to think I was too old to learn another language. I am glad I was positive about it. I still have a long ways to go if I really want to be fluent, but I am proud to say that I can at least hold a casual conversation. I'll take that as my Christmas gift.


Monday, December 18, 2006

Trip to the Beijing Zoo

Panda at Beijing ZooWell, I finally made it to the Beijing Zoo. After being in China for nearly a year and a half, it was about time I scoped it out. I had always wanted to visit the zoo. The Beijing Zoo is one of the few places you can see a Panda. However, I was told the Summer is not a good time to go because of the crowds, the heat, and the stink. I was told not to go during the winter, because it's cold and the animals are not outside. Basically, it seems any time you go will be the wrong time. SO I finally defied what I heard and went anyway. It helps a lot if you have company, because going alone is not as fun. Fortunately one of my English students, who is also a student at Renmin University accompanied me.

Panda at Beijing ZooThe first thing to see is the Pandas. The Pandas also have the nicest living space at the zoo, probably because they are a big attraction. Since we went on a Monday, fortunately there was no crowd at all. The Panda obviously don't know they are the star attraction and don't play to the crowds. One was chomping away under a massive bamboo tree and another was laying face down snoring. They are still very cute though. They are not as big as the bears I think of in North America. Pandas are not even as tall as me. But probably weigh double or triple what I do.
Hippo at Beijing ZOoWe visited the birds, monkeys, ostriches, zebras, rhinos, tigers, lions, and even little coyotes. I thought it was nice to see a coyote. I remember seeing them run in the street or in the desert at home in Arizona.
Mandarin Duck at Beijing ZooSome of the more interesting animals included the Mandarin duck. I had never seen a more colorful and beautiful duck before. It was so interesting looking.
Rhino at Beijing ZooThe Rhino was really big. It really looked like a tank. It's poop was really huge too, chunks as big as fax machines. The Rhino pen did look lonely though with its powerful concrete walls and giant steel bars.

Hungry tiger at Beijing ZooThe tiger was also really amazing. I was watching it pacing back and forth before it was to be fed. You could see the look of ferocious hunger in its movements. It was also really big. I imagined for a moment what I read about Roman gladiators, slaves or criminals being tossed into the ring to face these hungry animals. For an instant, I could imagine how fearful it may have been.

These tigers were really big. Once they were eating you could hear them snap big cow bones in their jaws. Scary!
There is a story from a famous Chinese classic about Wu Song. It's a story as well known in China as the George Washington and the cherry tree. Wu Song saved a village by killing a white tiger that was attacking people around the village. He was so powerful, that despite being drunk, killed the tiger with three punches to its head. After dragging the dead animal's body into town for everyone to see, he became a hero and legend.


Monday, December 4, 2006

Street Vendors - Beijing

People selling fruit at night in the coldEven though the weather has gotten colder in Beijing, that doesn't stop street vendors from staying outside to sell their fruit, offer a rickshaw ride, or play music for money. Even the older guys who play chess are still out there in the mid-day sun. They play surrounded by advice giving spectators. It's amazing to me to see people working outside all day despite the cold. The rickshaw's guys have rig up plastic and cardboard covering around the rear seats to protect the customers from the winds. Some rickshaws are people powered, some of the more recent one's I have seen are motor powered. You can get a ride for about 3-5 yuan for the same distance it would take for you to walk about 5 minutes. I am a bit of a cheapskate though, I usually just walk and some myself the money.

I took some video of a guy who plays music for money on the street. It seems like he has a problem with his eyes, maybe he is partially blind. He is playing a one stringed instrument called a Erhu, pronounced like "are-who". This is the favorite musical instrument of street beggers. Sometimes they are pretty good, sometimes not. But the sound is very distinctive and traditional Chinese. Sometimes I will drop a few yuan into their cans because I like the sound. I feel like it's a better sound that than of the honking horns, car security beeps and general street traffic. The sound adds a warmth and easiness to the air, so I feel appreciative.

I suppose the smart thing to do for the people who have to be outside is to find a place that offers some solace from the harsh winds that can whip your face. Elderly people bundle up in thick jackets and hats that remind me of soviet-era influence. Young people also bundle up, but wear fashions with bright colors and I see a kind of punk-music influence in their hairstyles and clothes. My keys to getting though the cold are my super thermal underwear and FedEx jacket. I got that jacket when I worked for FedEx part-time back in college. It's thin, but insulated and really good at deflecting the winds. However, this year I simply feel like my body can stand the cold better. Last year was the first time in a long time that I endured a cold winter, so I think it took some getting used to. Now, my blood is a little thicker. At least mentally, I know what to expect.

Guys outside playing chinese chess
Central television has been good to me lately. They keep showing Phoenix Suns games on the sports channel. It's funny how when people ask me where I am from and I say Phoenix, usually the only thing they know is the "Taiyang-dui" meaning the Suns team. They have no clue what part of the country Phoenix is in, let along the weather. But they do know the NBA franchise. Congratulations to the NBA for being for marketing their product so effectively.
November 29, 2006 12:54 AMWell, as busy as I was in September and October, proofreading work has slowed to a trickle. I think I may have lost a major customer a few weeks ago. They said that I made mistakes in my proofreading, but I get the feeling they simply found someone who will work for less. That hasn't bothered me at all, because over the past few weeks I wanted time to develop my website. I am so excited about owning my own website, Getpowers.com. In China though, many people forget the S in Powers and visit Getpower.com which happens to be some engine company or something. Whoever runs that site may be wondering why they are getting so many hits from China in the past few weeks. However, Powers is my name, and I will stick with it through thick and thin.

MeIt's getting harder and harder to think about what to do for the website now. When I first started it felt like the sky was the limit. But as I start to build things up, I feel attached to what I have created or I forgot what exactly I was trying to do and it gets hard to make changes or add more. Also, I just feel lazy sometimes and I rather look at the hit counter than write up anything. I think for the future, the try to get back to the joy of building a website and allow my creativity to take over rather than put pressure on myself to build something. This makes me more open to change and willing to start from scratch when I need to.

Recently, I helped build a website for my Dad's Photography business, a kind of online portfolio. I also set up a Online Journal for my Mom so she can write about all the interesting changes she is undergoing in improving her health and life.


Sunday, November 26, 2006

Thanksgiving in China

My business card - Getpowers.com Happy Thanksgiving! I spent my Thanksgiving working. But I am thankful for my health, family, friends and freedom. I taught English at my part-time job Thursday night. I can't even remember what I ate that day, probably some fried rice. Yesterday was more interesting. I went to a printing shop and got business cards printed with Getpowers.com, a slogan, and my name on them. It only cost me 20 RMB or about $2.50 dollars for a box of them. Then I went over to English Corner, for the Friday night get-together of Chinese and foreigners to practice English. I waited until I had a group of people around me who showed interest in what I was talking about and when people asked me what I do, I told them I could give them my card. Then the whole group wanted my card, their hands out like asking for candy. I went through half my box just last night.

I can see a few snowflakes starting to come down outside. The first snowfall of the winter begins and now I have to go to work. Better put on the long-johns.


Monday, November 20, 2006

Day in the life: websites & skin care

Today I spent most of the day at home working on building websites including the Fantastic Mark's English Class Website. It's exciting to know that people are visiting. I get around 10 hits or more a day. I have people from different countries visit too. I built a forum as well, anyone including my family can use it. At www.getpowers.com/forum. Some of my other ideas are to get business cards with my web address printed on them. Since I meet many people in China, I can just pass the card out. People are generally interested in what I do. Amazingly. Also, since wherever I go, people look at me, I want to have hats and shirts printed with the GETPOWERS.COM name and future logo printed on it. Then I can even sell them online. My slogan could be... Bigger, Better, Stronger GETPOWERS.COM.

They didn't put that stuff on my goateeI went out later in the day for dinner, and then took a walk around. I saw a place that offered a deal on skin care so I checked it out. The skin on my face gets dry and feels like it will crack. Beijing can be very dry, even compared to Arizona. They said it was 60 minutes of skin care, moisturizing, mask, scalp massage for only 30 RMB or about $4 US dollars. I said ok, I'll give it a shot.

nice smile but ruthless salesladyThe lady cleaned my face and but put so much gook on it that I felt like I was being decorated like a birthday cake. Then they put that mask stuff on. First it feels good, then it dries and you can't even talk because your face feels like it's been plastered. Once they take all that stuff off it feels much better.
Anyway, once they are finished I figure out the catch. They try to get you to buy the products to take home and use. They begin an intense sales campaign telling you how much you need it and what a good deal it is. Finally, I was able to get out of there with my fresh feeling face and wallet in tact.


Friday, November 3, 2006

Chinese drive-thru restaurants

I almost didn't notice it until someone pointed it out to me in my English class, China doesn't have drive-thru windows at restaurants. I almost forgot about those. I never liked or used drive-thru windows much in the states anyway, so I hardly miss them. I did hear that one KFC in Beijing opened a location with a drive-thru recently. Is that what I should call modernization? I have found that Chinese really like Chinese food. In general, I've discovered they prefer it to any just about any other country's food. But I don't think that is the sole reason why there are so few international restaurants in Beijing. I think it's rather that there aren't enough Chinese or foreigners who know how to prepare authentic international cuisine and have the resources and can take the risk to open up such a restaurant.

Its funny how I consider myself a foreigner. Chinese people always call me one, so I guess I have assumed I am one. Officially foreigners are called Wai-guo-ren which literally means outside-country-people. However, Chinese often call us Lao-wai which is like Old (or Dear) Foreigner. Lao means Old or Dear. Like you might call your old uncle Wang, Lao Wang. So Lao can have that dear-old meaning attached to it. But sometimes, if used in a negative tone, it is not such a friendly term.

When they compare Chinese people to western people, then they say Xi-fang-ren, or West-direction-people. Maybe that is the same as Americans calling them Orientals or Eastern people.

I got into an argument with a shop owner the other night. He gave me too much change back and swiped the bill right out of my hand before I had a chance to count it. That ticked me off and I gave him a dirty look, but walked away. Then I heard him talk to other customers, saying something about Lao-wai, and I got ticked off and went back and got into his face. That did not do me any good but ruin the relationship I had with that store owner. I could not explain to him that I did not appreciate that he swiped the money out of my hand even if he had given me back too much change.

But in fairness, people are pretty nice to me. But sometimes I feel its nice in a strange way. People treat me differently because as soon as they see me they seem to have a number of thoughts run through their head, like a check-list.

Oh, he's a westerner. He is different from us. He is a guest in our country. Treat him nicely.

Oh well. I fortunately found a nice restaurant nearby that serves salads, spaghetti and hand made pizza. I have been going there recently to get my "fix" of western style food. They are are a little bit more expensive, but worth it for my stomach and peace of mind. As much as I have gotten used to living abroad, I still feel like I have my hand on the railing, so to speak, and afraid to let myself go completely. I need to see, eat, hear things that are from the US sometimes. I don't feel comfortable completely detaching myself from what I like about the US, even for a short trip.

Amazingly, I met a guy from the US who lives in the same building as I do. His name is Matt and is from Los Angeles. He is a musician, a saxophonist actually. He seems to be a bit of a wanderer himself. He has been to Australia for a year, north-east China for a while. He also happened to be very interested in starting a business in China after in got here. I found a Saxophone manufacturer, who makes super high quality saxophones for one tenth of the price they cost in the US. He has gone to the factory, checked the quality and workmanship, found a partner experienced in China and is building his website. He enlisted my help for some of the website elements. We have had lunch together for the past three days in a row. One good thing is we laugh a lot. Laugh and jike about things around us and the cultural differences and some things about the states. That is all fun and I think provides me with peace of mind. I do feel bad though that I have lived in China for almost a year and a half, but I don't have any Chinese person that I could really say is a friend. I think for friendship to blossom, its important for that person to understand you. With the cultural divide between east and west, that is not easy.

Finally, I have spent this evening partially trying to watch a DVD, but it doesn't work in my computer and reading about Cascading Style Sheets, a computer language for rendering web pages. I regret not instilling good organization habits into my character during my life. When you are trying to run a business, things easily start to get chaotic because your organization is sloppy.


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

25 cent stores??

The 2 Yuan Store! Loof for the 2 on the sign. I've seen 99 Cent stores in the US. I've seen 100 Yen stores in Tokyo. But I have never seen a 2 Yuan (about 25 cents) store until one just opened in an empty commercial space down on the street. The store owners just slapped a sign over the previous owners sign, brought in their goods and started selling. It almost seems like a fly by night operation. It has all the same stuff you would find at a US 99 cent store, but for one quarter of the cost, just 2 Yuan! And they still can make a profit? I think the material alone is some of those goods, brooms, picture frames, tools, whatever, are worth more than 2 yuan. So after assembly and shipping, I think the cost has to be more than 2 yuan. I don't know how people can sell stuff so cheap. I assume it has to do with volume sales. A lot of people were flocking to that store to look for items. Though I did not see any problems with the store, some of my English students told me that these stores often do a kind of bait and switch. Once you go to purchase something, it may not be 2 yuan, but rather 8 or 10 yuan.


Sunday, October 1, 2006

Life on the streets of Beijing

Man sells fruit on the street near my apartmentIn America when I think of virtual stores I think of an online business selling goods such as Amazon.com. However, in China, virtual stores can be seen in reality. Basically, what I mean is stores that exist, but not in the same sense as I am used to. I see many people run shops on street corners and from bicycles and out of carts, wagons, trucks etc. Some of these virtual stores are really amazing. Take for instance a guy down the street who runs a sewing business. He has a desk that is out on the sidewalk with a sewing machine and all his tools and goods. He sometimes sits under an umbrella and is out there just about every day. He is not in any enclosed space and he has a little sign that hangs from his desk.

Man who runs sewing business with his customers
It seems he regularly gets customers, people know where to find him. Its like he has a designated spot for business. Like commercial space without really being commercial space, its just the sidewalk. He doesn’t take up so much room that he bothers others and by the look of his working space, tools, sign, and customers it seems he has been there for years. One thing about virtual businesses is that is easier for people to avoid paying taxes.

The parking lot guyAnother kind of virtual business is parking lots. Bicycles are a huge target for thieves. Most people only buy cheap used clunky bicycles on the verge of falling apart because they are stolen so often. In comes the virtual parking lot. There will be a piece of open sidewalk and you can park your bicycle there and a guy will watch over all the bicycles for a small charge. He hands you a ticket stub when you pay him the fee.

The parking lot guy watching cars. He practically lives in the parking lotDownstairs, in front of the building is a real parking lot. But there is no automatic machine to take money. So there are a couple of guys who take turns sitting in the parking lot watching over the cars, passing out tickets and collecting fees. These guys have a couple of big cushioned chairs and just sit out there all the time. When one sleeps the other goes on shift.

My business is starting to take off, but in a different direction than I first imagined. I am getting requests to do proofreading rather than translation. But I did get an order for translation from a former student at the English school. There is special feeling about working for yourself. Of course you can set the price more in line with what you think you are worth. But also its seems like a business is something you build, you feed it and it grows. There is a stronger sense of purpose than just going to a job and picking up a check at the end of the month. It also helps my self-esteem. People pay me for what I do. Of course proofreading is not my ideal kind of work. However, I am much more willing to do it because its for my business than I would be if I was working for someone’s else.

And I don’t feel like I am giving anyone a free ride, meaning I get all the profit from my work. No one tells me how to do it, when to do it, and then gets to keeps the profits from the money I just earned. I don’t want to be an employee expense or a part of the costs. There is no future in that. I want to be the owner who keeps the profits and grows the business. There is a future in that.

My future goal is to do much more. I want to build on this proofreading and translating business and offer more services and capabilities. I want to eventually go into international consulting and trade, market research, real estate and investments.

Actually, I want to do photography too. Now that I have been taking pictures in China, I have discovered how fun it is. I like pictures that give you a feeling. I really enjoy taking pictures of people here. Everyday, just walking around you see people doing all kinds of things in different ways than I am used to in America. Most of the pictures are of people on the streets. Maybe I am struck by how their lives are. Like the lady who spends her days picking up bottles and cardboard boxes and putting them on her cart. She is constantly on the lookout for something to collect. But I see her stop for a moment, chats with another guy doing the same thing, then back off to the hunt.

This lady collects plastic bottles, boxes and anything else that can be recycled - in Beijing

I can not imagine doing that kind of work. I would not say its below me, but I would prefer not to do that. But I can not imagine what drove this lady to have to do that day after day. Why she has no other sources to draw from which to live. It makes me think and feel fortunate that I have what I have.

I can't say enough about how much I think of Ayn Rand's book and her philosophy. I feel like I have been converted.

This guy delivers bottles. From what I remember in the states, we used trucks to do this. But getting on and off a bicycle seems a little easier


Monday, September 18, 2006

Random thoughts, China, Ayn Rand, and Virtues

Xiaoxitian Pailou - Giant Chinese sign in front of the main street near my apartmentHey it's me. I was downstairs doing some exercises in the courtyard of the apartment complex when I was approached by a Chinese guy. He chatted with me a bit and wanted to know if I was interested in doing work for TV, advertisements and the like. I heard that some people who work in this building are related to the marketing and entertainment industry, even the guy next door to me makes music for China Central TV. The guy that approached me wanted me to see his office, which I did. It looked professional and had tons and tons of peoples' pictures. We discussed some projects that needed foreigners. He said he had one right now where I would play the role of a doctor and check a patient. Well, I said I could do that. His partner was in the office and we discussed the pay, I wanted at least the minimum I make as an English teacher. At least I could try out the work and see what it was like. It helps to speak Chinese. It reminds me of my good friend Jason has been working as an extra in Hollywood for the past few months now. He has been in several prime time shows. I told him he could win an academy award for "Best Dramatic Presence" as "Man Walking Around". Honestly, it's quite amazing what he is doing nowadays. Working as a Hollywood extra, playing in a rock band as a drummer, writing short stories, and getting his Master's Degree to become a teacher. The subject his wants teach in History, and he has already passed the California State Teaching Exam to teach that subject, which required extensive and intensive study. What can I say, I'm proud to have him as a friend.

I have been getting a lot of proofreading work lately. I have contacts with a couple of companies here. They pay 120 RMB ($15) for 1000 English words. In the just the past two weeks I have proofread about 10,000 words worth of documents. The good thing is my contacts pay right away and directly into my bank account. I think this could be another good business to get into if I can find other foreigners willing to work with me as proofreaders.

The Ayn Rand book, Atlas Shrugged is really long, over 1000 pages, and it has taken me months to get through it. But there is one important phrase which struck me profoundly.

Life is the reward of virtue. Happiness is the reward of life.

What I take this to mean is that it is our virtues are important in the quality of our lives and length of lour lives. Honesty, prudence, frugalness, compassion, etc. If we live in ways that are wicked, we put ourselves on the path to doom. This seems easy enough to understand, but I thought the above phrase really captured this and is easy to remember. Her definition of love I found to be very good too: To love is to value; love is the expression of one's values.

From what I havv read about the subjects, logic and Buddhism seem somewhat opposed. In Buddhism compassion is the most valued attribute. While logic is a ruthlessness discipline that prohibits leniency on evidence and demands you look at the facts. If you have read anything about Buddhism you find that logic is thrown out the window, and seeks to help you escape this universe of cause and effect. Logic says everything has a cause and to turn away from seeking the truth and seeing reality is to damn your mind to oblivion.

China seems to have been torn in several directions during its cultural history, influenced by Confucianism, Buddhism, Daoism, and others. I think China today is looking to the West for guidance but trying to maintain its own cultural identity. The giant stone in front of Renmin University has a Chinese saying which can be translated to “Pursue the facts.” You many know that Chinese have many varied and long standing belief systems. I hear some people call some of these beliefs superstitious and out-of-date. This “Pursue the facts” reflects the schools aims to dispel superstitions and modernize the country. I might take it a step further and say that technology and capitalism are today’s religion in China. But I also see people trying to hold on to their traditional roots such as keeping close family ties. Imagine a city of bicycles transforming into a city of cars in 15 years. Change has come on fast.

Labels: ,

Thursday, September 7, 2006

Lifestyle differences between the US and China

German Corn Flakes - HahneAs I said before, it has been over a year since I ate cereal, so I decided to rectify this. I found some German Corn Flakes and Chinese milk in the supermarket. Throw in some bananas and I felt like I was back in the states again. Well, that feeling lasted until I realized I don't have a single piece of silverware such as a spoon in my room, only chopsticks. I had to find a small plastic spoon from a yogurt package in order to eat my cereal.

Chinese milk cartonSome of the modern conveniences of the U.S. have their pluses. Take automatic bill pay via the Internet for example. In China there are no online bill pay services. So I have to go to the bank to buy electricity, water, pay for my Internet service etc. I have a little card with a computer chip in it. I take it to the bank and give it to the bank clerk and tell her how many units of electricity I want. The first time I only bought 100 units for about 50 RMB, but that only lasted about a week. I did not realize how fast 100 units would last. So I went back the next week and bought 300 units. Once I get my next paycheck I will buy like 500 or more. In China you prepay for electricity.

Going to the bank to pay sounds convenient until you see the enormous lines. Only some certain banks handle payments for these services, so they can get really busy. Waiting in line can take a couple hours or more. At some branches you can get a number. It will take maybe 2 hours before your number is called so you can go out for lunch, buy some groceries, take a walk in the park and come back later. So I want to prepay for more next time.

I guess this is an upgrade over the old system. In the old system the electric company would have residents go about reading the meters and collecting payments for electricity. Every member of the community was required to take their turn in this duty. However some people would not pay for electricity and the state owned electric company would lose money. So now, everyone must prepay at banks which have authority to handle these services.

On the other hand, doing banking online has its own problems. For example, the bank I have in the states always makes me change my password every few months. Well, I changed it recently and then forgot what I had changed it too. When I tried to log-in again recently I tried some different passwords all of which were wrong and the bank locked me out of my account. The screen memo says: I have been locked out and to call my local branch to get my password reset. So now I have to get a calling card and figure out what time I can call from here to get a hold of someone at some branch of my bank in the U.S. to unlock my account. Also the online website for my student loan organization has been down due to software problems for about three weeks. So Mom has to send a check to them on my behalf because I can not make a payment online. Oh this crazy world.

In regards to the job I discussed last time. I still often think about that position as it seemed really interesting. However, as I said before they wanted me to be available for regular travel and to work full-time, so it would be really hard to keep my part-time English job that actually pays better.

I bought a big map of China and put it on my wall. I have almost memorized the names of all the provinces in China. I also know the names of many major cities. That is much better than when I first came to China and just knew the names of about 3 major cities and nothing else. In Beijing you can meet people who have come from all parts of China.

Yesterday, in my English class I talked with my students about the Olympics in Beijing. Many said they think its an exciting opportunity to show the world what China is like today, how it is capable of hosting and holding a major international event, and attract future interest and investment from around the world. Most people think that Beijing is going to do a terrific job for the games.

Its already been a boost to the city in terms of an improved traffic system, higher employment, image and recognition. However, people also complain that real estate prices and costs are rising quickly.

My Chinese friend and business partner is going to come over this afternoon so we can discuss marketing for the translation business. I also just got a call from an advertising company in Beijing that has Japanese and Chinese staff who are looking for a full time translator. The caller was Japanese and wanted to verify that my Japanese was good. It looks like I will get a face to face interview in the near future.


Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Job Interview in Beijing

Sichuan spicy rice noodlesI had a job interview with some investment company called JC Brothers in Beijing. This operation is supposedly the Chinese representative office. I visited their truly lovely offices on the second floor of a 5 star hotel in downtown. I talked directly with the president of operations there.

The job sounded very interesting. The president told me that the company looks into investments and opportunities in China and sends reports back to the US head office for review as potential investment targets. They wanted me to help in preparing the reports and being part of the analysis team. They would require that I work 9 to 5 and be available to travel to visit many of the companies and see how it looks from a investment perspective. Investment, China, Travel, it all sounded pretty good.

Then they asked me how much I wanted as pay. Well, because I was not familiar with this company and unsure completely of the work content, I was hesitant to say how much I wanted. I didn’t want to lowball in error, I was thinking at least 15,000 RMB a month. So I asked the range the company was looking at for this position and the president said 6,000 RMB. I make more than that already teaching English part time.

One of my favorite vegtable dishes - Sauteed Bok Choy with mushroomsBasically they wanted to hire a foreigner at Chinese salary. I told him directly that was too low. The president did not seem to willing to budge either so we just kind of parted ways. I of course would love to get the experience and skills of working in a Investment Company in China, but I still have to pay my bills, live and eat. I mean my apartment is more expensive than the average Chinese, but damn, I do not want to have to reduce my quality of life to that of the average Chinese. That may sound mean or racist, but if some of you see the circumstances of the average Chinese, you may agree with me. 6,000 is not too bad in China, but certainly not good. 6,000 equals only about US $750 dollars. For a whole month of full time work? No way. Anyway, if they still want me, they can call me with another offer. Otherwise I have other irons in the fire.

My birthday cake, it has my Chinese name written on the frontI spent my birthday doing some of the things I wanted. I cleaned my room, bought a new bedspread to make my bed more comfortable, did exercise and had some of my favorite exotic foods for lunch and dinner. In the evening I ate cake and ice cream with a friend of mine. One thing I love about my birthday is getting to hear from my friends and family. That just warms the heart.

A big storm passed through town last Friday. It cleaned the air up and also began a string of days with cooler temperatures. Fall is on the way. One thing you can say about Beijing is that the weather is seasonal, unlike Hawaii, where everyday, day after day is like summer.

Labels: ,

Friday, August 25, 2006

Chinese foods, translation business and website

Malatan vendor stand - one stick usually sells for less than half of one RMBWell, things have settled down for me in the past couple of weeks since getting the apartment. I have explored the area a bit and figured out what buses to take to get to work etc. I have really enjoyed eating at the local outdoor vendors who sell non-local foods, such as Xinjiang spicy lamb meat, or Sichuan style boiled spicy fish and noodle snacks called Malatan. They are just really delicious. I have stopped at these places every night to grab a few snacks on my way back from work. One stick is only half a yuan, or US $0.06 cents, so cheap.

I came to the realization this week that I have not eaten cereal with milk for over one whole year. This is a shock, especially because cereal was a staple of my diet back in the states.
I have started my own business. My plan is to do Translation Outsourcing. Based on the cost discrepancy of US domestic translators and Chinese domestic translation cost, there is good money to be made if I can get some US clients and provide them translation services by outsourcing the work to Chinese translation companies. So in effect, I would act as a kind of middleman. My new website is: http://powerstranslation.ourprofile.biz/ It is still under construction though!

Building this website has taken most of my free time over the past week. I hope to finish it over the weekend and get started marketing this service from next week.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, August 13, 2006

New apartment in Jishuitan, Xiaoxitian

I got a new lock put on the door a couple days ago. The locksmith did a really good job and I was very pleased. I was a little concerned because I have heard stories about owner's having keys to their rooms and coming in when the renter is not there to check on the place sometimes. Especially since I am not on the best terms with the owner of this place, I want to be the only one with a key to the room. So I better not lose the key!

My address has changed: Click here to see the new address. I also have not heard anything from the agency about taxes so maybe they have given up after the police gave their guys a long lecture. I hope so.

Jishuitan Canal - nearly 700 years of historyI live in an area called Jishuitan near the central part of Beijing. The name Jishuitan came into use starting about 700 hundred ago in the Yuan Dynasty thanks to Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan. After Kublai's Mongol hoards invaded and conquered China from the North, he used Beijing as his capital. He used the area where the Forbidden City is today, just south of where I live, to establish his palace. However he needed fresh water and had his hydraulic engineers divert water from around the mountains to create a fresh water lake near the capital. Jishuitan literally means "the place where water accumulates", because it is at the head of where the canal meets Hohai Lake behind the Forbidden City. That gives you some idea how close I am to the old city center.

This canal is still in use today. Matter of fact I can see it from my apartment. It is relatively clean and I see people swimming in it. Today was especially hot and muggy so there were plenty of people diving in.

Restaurant in China that serves spicy snailsI went out to lunch this afternoon with the girl who used to rent my apartment. She helped me go to the China Telecom office and have the Internet connection in my room put into my name instead of hers. She is from southern China and invited me to eat some spicy southern food. The restaurant was very nice. We had many kinds of delicious food including spicy snails! They are really hot. You need a thin stick to get the snail out of its shell. You pull the meaty part off of the guts and eat. Once again, my stomach and taste buds were put to the challenge, but made it through! Anyone for spicy snails? Restaurant in Beijing, China

I remember how picky I was when I was a little kid. Geez, if only I could show that kid what I eat now, he would ask how the heck I became able to eat that stuff, or maybe he would just faint.


Friday, August 11, 2006

Trouble with new apartment in Beijing

The new building I live in, in Xiaoxitian, Beijing, ChinaIn the last 48 hours I think I have had as many ups and downs as Floyd Landis in the Tour de France. The previous person who rented this apartment rented it through an agency. When I decided to rent the apartment, the previous renter and I went to the agency and changed the name on the contract from her name to my name. That was all troublesome enough until Monday when I tried to register at the police station.

First, I know that law in China requires that foreigners register at the local police station upon moving into a neighborhood. There are even signs in my building in English reminding any foreigners to go register. The key is that the owner of the apartment must also go to the police station as well and show proof he owns the property. I went to the building office and asked where I should register and got the name of the police station. However, the office called the owner of the apartment and he refused to go with me to the police station. I later discovered many apartment owners do not want to notify the police that they are renting out an apartment because then they have to pay taxes of 5~15% on the rental income.

I decided to go to the police station and at least say I am here to register, even if the owner refuses to go. Again, I had my Chinese friend Phoebe (her English name) go with me.

The police station was hard to find. Far off from the main road, on a little street the size of an alleyway, surrounded by little shops and warehouses. Finally upon getting there, I talked with the police myself first, asking my friend to stay behind. I felt that maybe on my own as a foreigner I could get more cooperation. If I bring my friend they may be stricter.

Well, the police told me if the owner would not come, then an employee of the agency who rented me the apartment must come with me, bring a photocopy of the owner’s ID and a statement why the owner could not be present. (Though I should say the police first said they wanted to see the owner’s original ID card, but later said a copy would suffice) I got the police to write down everything they wanted so I could show it directly to the agency and get them to cooperate.

So I went to the agency. Now I first should say agencies in China have a bad reputation for cheating people and I was warned by Phoebe, but I really wanted the apartment and when I saw the agency everything seemed on the up and up. They have a nice office in a nice building with 30 plus employees seemingly to be working diligently. I should have taken more notice when I heard other customers yelling at the company staff. I thought that was just the Chinese way of doing business.

Anyway, the agency was surprisingly cooperative and said they would send a guy off with me the police station with the paperwork. We left the building and stepped into a taxi. Unfortunately this driver did not know exactly where this hard-to-find police station was, and I could not remember the directions to get there and we got lost. Finally we had to call the police station and have them talk to the driver on a cell phone.

Anyway, we all finally arrive at the police station and walk into the office. Before I we get in these non-uniformed guys (they looked like mafia guys to me) start telling us what to do. I was not sure if they were the police or not, but the uniformed officers seemed unfazed and Phoebe told me they were the police. Well, it did not seem the officers and the guy from the agency got along well and there were some unkind words between them. I could only pick up that he did not have his ID card with him. At this point I was still believing the agency guys were alright and the police were being difficult.

Suddenly, the agency guy makes some calls and tells me that I can not live in that room anymore. They can not rent that room to me because they can not help me register! My jaw dropped and I just was looking into space. I didn’t imagine it would come to this. The agency guy said he would show me other places. They already had my money since I paid a deposit and three months rent after signing the contract, so I had to work with them.

Later that day the agency called saying they had an apartment for rent a little father away for 6000 RMB a month( that’s over US $750 dollars!), and asking would I be willing to accept it. Haha, I laughed at that. I was just still in a state of shock that I may lose the apartment I just moved into. I started thinking about things like they would be forced to evict me if I stay because they do not show me any reasonable apartments and do not return my money etc etc.

Strangely, I had some feelings that this still could be resolved and I would be able to keep my apartment. Well, the next morning Phoebe had taken some action. She first checked the agency and discovered that in fact, the agency was not legally licensed. She next contacted the police station to see exactly what the problem was and what they needed from the agency. She realized there must be a misunderstanding that the police only wanted a personal ID from the agency guy and not an ID from the company proving that it was legitimate. So if the agency could send someone who just had a legit personal ID that would be sufficient. Maybe the guy they sent before did not have an ID because as I have said before many people illegally take up residence in Beijing using fake IDs.

Anyway, Phoebe called the agency and discussed this issue and the agency agreed to send another guy. But I was worried if it failed this time that I would certainly lose the apartment and maybe some money. Fortunately, the agency guy came back and brought a personal ID. After some tense minutes in the police station and filling out paperwork, it was done, I was officially registered. I found out that if I did not register I could be fined up to 50 RMB a day by the police.

But finally, after the registration was completed, the police wanted the agent to pay the required tax of 1000RMB (which the owner of the apartment must pay!) The agency guy called his office, which turned around and called me through Phoebe. They promptly said the owner refused to pay and that I should pay! We immediate told the police who said that we should not pay and they gave a long lecture to the agency guy.

I can't see anything on my TV screenI discovered that the police were doing what is right and the agency is constantly trying to evade responsibility and get money where they can. I think the police were actually looking out for me in a way.

Anyway, I am getting the locks changed on my door today so I will for sure be the only key holder to the apartment. The agency may call me about the tax concern, but I plan on telling them about how I am cooperating with police and how they told me that I should not pay that. I know the agency does not want to deal with the police.

Of the different lessons I learned, I learned that you should not always let appearances dictate what or who you believe. Furthermore, in China, never deal with a middleman.

Finally, I also believe Floyd Landis is innocent and won the Tour de France.


Friday, August 4, 2006

Mao Money

I barely opened my eyes this morning, laying on the bed and stretched my leg, suddenly my calf muscle felt like it tore and I shot up wincing in pain! All I did was stretch my leg a little. Fortunately the pain went away nearly as soon as it began, but it left my calf muscle tingling and sore and I had to rub it and move it awhile to feel normal again. I decided to do more stretching and yoga-type exercise in my daily routine. I do push-ups everyday and plenty of walking, but not much stretching at all. I have to change my habits as I get older.

Mao Money, or a Mao for every moment, or a fairer shade of Mao... Later I got on the bus. The fare was 4 RMB and all I had were three 1 RMB bills and a 50 RMB bill. The ticket seller on the bus took my 50, but started to look it over. She spent nearly 5 minutes checking the anti-counterfeit measures on the currency, including the gold colored 50 mark that turns green from different angles, the picture of Mao’s head as a water mark, a roughness that one’s fingers can feel on the picture near his collar, as well as many others. Finally, the ticket seller asked me for other currency and took the three 1 RMB bills that I had. She refused my 50 RMB bill. I acknowledge it looked old, but I did not think it was counterfeit. However, in China, counterfeit bills are a big problem. Almost everywhere I go, when I use a 100 or 50 RMB bill, the clerk will examine it closely. Fortunately later in the day, I passed off my bill to the phone card seller, who wasn't paying any attention.

Actually, I think they should at least change the face on the bills. All bills of 1 RMB value of higher, 5s, 10s, 20s, 50s, and 100s have just one face on them, Mao Ze Dong, the leader of the communist revolution in China. I think there are others, even politicians such as Deng Xiao Ping, head of the economic changes during the 80s, who could be good candidates to have their face on the currency. When I mention this to Chinese they seem not to care. I think the Bank of China could at least have Mao in different moods, smiling or laughing, or maybe some action poses waving his arms just to spice things up a little.

I wonder if Mao's famous mole under his lip is a security feature of some sort. You know, moles are considered to be meaningful, auspicious, or even lucky in China. Like one between your eyebrows, similar to the Buddha. I suppose when people are trying just to make a living, who cares whose face is on the front of the currency.

I got a call from a headhunting agency in Singapore. They called not to introduce me to a company, but rather to work for their firm in Shanghai. They followed up their call by sending me information by e-mail. Honestly though, I do not think that I would be interested in working as a headhunter. I never heard back from the Japanese company.

I put the deposit down on the apartment in central Beijing. I expect to sign the rental agreement and move in this weekend. Finally, I can get out of this animal house, I mean foreign students dorm.


Monday, July 31, 2006

Street vendors in Beijing

Street vendor selling lotus seedsOut on the streets of Beijing one gets to see lots of interesting things. One thing is the street vendors and their goods or produce. I have seen all kinds of things sold including jewelry, kitchenware, clothes, DVDs, calendars, toys, artwork, and all sorts of interesting food. As I mentioned sometime ago, I have even seen a guy selling sugarcane.

Lotus seeds are sold like this, very interesting shapes!Just recently, I have seen vendors selling lotus flowers seeds. The vendors just throw down a tarp or some bags and put their stach of seeds out for sale. There are never any prices listed. It seems that sellers and buyers have some fair idea of what price to pay and will bargain at the point of sale. I tried the lotus seeds and discovered they are pretty tasty. I think lotus seeds naturally have the most interesting shape.

I think farmers are amazing. They come by truck or horse buggy and sell on the street right from their trailer. They have their scales to weigh and sell by the half-kilogram called a Jin. Common knowledge is that these farmers always use scales that are out of whack and overcharge on their produce. However, the prices are still much much less than the cost in the supermarkets.I bought a whole half watermelon for 5 RMB! Geez, that is only about 62 cents.

People selling watermellons from horse driven cartI got some new freelance work that I am happy about. I met a girl who works for a translation company at English Corner last week. She told me her company needs native speakers who can proofread and polish up English translations of Chinese letters, speeches, and reports, etc. The company first gives me a rough translation of a Chinese text and I check it against the Chinese original and correct any mistakes and spice it up with better words. I have done two assignments for them already and they said they were very pleased with my work!

The advantages to the job are that I can use my Chinese skills and earn money! Since I have to check the work against the Chinese original text, I can continue to study Chinese. It’s also super convenient because I can correspond with the company and send all documents by MSN and e-mail. Thus, I can work from home. They pay per assignment and send money directly to my bank account! No paychecks to pick up. I am free to take assignments whenever, I have a flexible schedule. They pay decently, about 120 RMB for 1000 English words. After a few weeks that should go up to 150 RMB. For the time I spend doing the proofreading, that is better pay than teaching English.

Guy sells corn on the street in BeijingFinally, I saw a couple of new apartments today. The second place I visited I really wanted. It is in downtown Beijing near a place called Jishuitan. Its just a 5 minute walk from the Subway station. Its central location is great for any job I may be able to get in Beijing. The room is great, pretty new and clean. Its bigger than where I live now. The whole south wall is a big window that faces south, that is important in the winter! It has heating and cooling and comes with high-speed internet access. It is in a nice apartment building that looks like it was built recently and has security and elevators. All this for only 2200 RMB (about $275 a month!) That is very reasonable on my salary. I make about 1950 RMB a week working 19.5 hours since classes at Renmin ended. But I will probably have quit working at the branch I have been working at this past year because it will now be kind of far away. But this new location will be so convenient to so many better places. Guy sells shrimp on the streetAnd if I finally get a super quality job, I will be in a prime location to get to work. Plus I am happy with the room itself. BUT, I have to do the contract and make the payment tomorrow. Hopefully everything will work out fine. It should be alright. If it does I will be that will be great!


Friday, July 28, 2006

Looking for apartments in Beijing

Yesterday I looked at three apartments in the area around where I go to school and work currently. Ideally I would find a full time job first and then pick a place to live nearby, but I can not stay in my dorm at school much longer because I do not plan to stay in school. The rooms were all more expensive than what I wanted to pay, only one was nice enough that I would actually like to live there and that one was in a inconvenient area.

I visited two places with an agent who specializes in finding apartments. He only showed me two places and tried to pressure me into renting it right away. In addition he wanted a one month finders fee, which is the standard. But after showing me only two places, I felt he was not earning his money. I still have time, I decided to be patient. I was proud of the fact that I conducted all this in Chinese. I had problems of course sometimes, but I could understood the gist of what people were saying. I had to clarify things occasionally. There are certain norms in renting in China, people simply expect you to know. Such as on top of a full month’s deposit, you must pay three months rent. In China you usually pay the rent quarterly rather than monthly. Often a room is supplied with a bed, furniture, a washer, and other things I never expected when renting in the US. Nonetheless, I am still looking.

I had an interview with a Japanese company last Saturday. This was an actual interview for an actual job in a really nice office in a very nice building in a good part of town. I felt nervous for the first time in a long time. I was surprised though, because I was confident that I may be the only person in China that could meet the job requirements, a native English Speaker who speaks Japanese and Chinese with sales and business experience. But I found out I was one of at least three guys who were being interviewed. I met one of them. He was a really nice Canadian guy who spent two years in Japan on the JET program, went to China and married a Chinese girl and has lived in northeast China for four years. I have not heard back from the company yet.

I felt pretty good after chatting with my mother online this morning. One of her great abilities is to see all of your good qualities, encourage and support you. If only I could hire her as my marketing agent! But she inspired me to appreciate the skills that I have and find a company that appreciates me. One of the hardest things for me, and I bet other people as well, is to appreciate yourself. Often we take ourselves for granted and forget about it. Thank goodness my mother will not let me do that. The search for opportunities goes on.

I did get good news recently. I was able to get Level 6 of the Chinese Proficiency Exam that I took in June. I took the test in April and got Level 5. My score in listening improved the most, which frankly was a shock. Logic says there is a cause for everything, but I can not pinpoint what it was. I guess that it may simply be that I became used to the testing format.

A jump from Level 5 to Level 6 is meaningful because Level 6 is the required minimum level necessary to take regular classes at a Chinese University. This means if I wanted to take business or accounting classes at a Chinese University I could. So that is a new option I did not have before. Foreign students in the US have to get certain scores on the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) test to go to a US university. The Chinese Proficiency test is similar to that.


Friday, July 14, 2006

Protection Babies

Protection BabiesWhat’s with all the babies? This is a question I used to often ask myself when I would walk outside the gate of Renmin University. The gate faces the street. There are many somewhat scruffy looking men and women sitting by the fences and on the curbs holding babies. And it has been this way almost everyday, especially as the weather got better. I have never seen such a congregation of babies in one area. One thing was obvious though. All these people holding babies are not there to have their babies play with each other or share parenting advice. Rather, they sit and with half-mumbled shouts, bark out at pedestrians as they pass by.

Since my Chinese has gotten better I finally could decipher what they are saying. "Diplomas, Graduation Papers, Drivers Licenses, Residency Permits!"

See, these people are selling illegal documentation. You can buy a fake Renmin University Diploma for about 500 RMB or about 60 dollars US. And moreover, you can buy it right in front of the university gate! How is that you ask?

Well of course, it is fake, but I hear that many companies do not take the effort to check an applicant’s documentation such as a diploma, so some people can get away with using a fake diploma. Need a Driver’s License? No problem, just buy one from one of these scruffy ladies on the street. Forget the hassles of going to Driver’s school, getting tested, and waiting for weeks. Not a resident of Beijing, but want to live and work here? Get a residency permit!

In China, people are not as free to move, reside and work as they would like. My understanding is that in some cases you must be a student or get some invitation from a company in Beijing to live there. This alleviates the crush of people trying to get out of the countryside and live in the city to improve their lives. So for some, a fake residency permit may well be worth the risk of getting one.

So why doesn’t the government or local police crack down on this blatant sale of illegal documentation in front of the school.

Woman with baby waiting for customersWell, that is where the babies come in. I guess the police have tried to make arrests. However, if the person they try to arrest is carrying a baby, then the police must also take custody of the baby as well. The police rather give warnings than go through the trouble of making arrests. Thus there are maybe twenty or more people carrying babies around in front of the school trying to sell stuff. One sale by one of these illegal peddlers may give them the money to live a whole month. Nonetheless, I shudder to think what kind of an education these babies get and what they will grow up to become.

Matter of fact, I just got a part time job teaching English to youngsters in the mornings for three weeks. The pay was too good to pass up, 140 RMB on hour, compared to the normal 100 an hour at my regular school. I may be forced to move out of my dorm in a few weeks. Thus I need to come up with some quick cash to put down a deposit and such. This part-time job should do just the trick.

The young kids I teach have never been overseas, but they can all read and speak English very well. I am just so impressed by their ability. They are all much better than many of the adults I teach in the evenings. Anyway, one can see how divergent a path people lives can take starting off so young. If I ever have kids, I will certainly want to get them started off right!

Labels: ,

Thursday, July 6, 2006

Earthquake in Beijing

Yesterday, I was sitting in front of the computer when there was a jolt and everything started shaking pretty violently. I immediately thought it was an earthquake and from experience knew that it would eventually end. I sat frozen in my chair watching everything around me shake. It lasted a long long 7-8 seconds then everything became still again. I sent out some short messages from my phone to friends around the city and they felt it too. I later learned that an earthquake registering 5.1 on the Richter Scale stuck about 120 kilometers south of Beijing. One of the worst Earthquake disasters of all time was in 1976 when an Earthquake occured about 180 km north of Beijing and killed 250,000 people. I talked with the Chinese students who I teach to and they said Beijing sits in the middle of a tectonic plate, thus Earthquakes occur outside the city with some frequency but not in the city. I read on Yahoo! News that Geologists still really do not understand the geological situation in the Beijing area.

Last Sunday, my roommate and good friend Bengt returned to his hometown, Stockholm Sweden. It was clear for sometime that he had missed his friends and loved ones and was anxious to get back home. It was only exacerbated when the World Cup was going on and he had to stay up to the wee hours of the morning to watch the games, when normally he would be watching them during the day back home. He really gutted out the homesickness and studied hard throughout the year, making the most of the scholarship that gave him the opportunity to study here.

I was really sorry to see him go. He invited me to be his roommate when I was having so much trouble with my super-snoring roommate last semester. But more than that, he inspired me with his study effort, knowledge and interest in China, take-no-crap attitude, and total devotion to his girl who was waiting for him back in Sweden. Fortunately we shared a common taste in music and could occasionally raise the roof in our room listening to our favorite songs. As I said before, his enthusiasm for soccer, or football to him and everyone else in the world, rubbed off on me. Even though several times when I said "Hey, they scored a point", he had to correct me "No, it not a point, it’s a goal!", he happily shared his knowledge of the sport which really helped me become a fan.

The good thing is that I am sure we will stay in touch. I even found a website where I can learn some Swedish. I can say a few things like, Hey, How are you? Good. I come from America, etc etc. And I know what to order if I get to a Swedish restaurant, meatballs!


Friday, June 30, 2006

Train ride from Beijing to Hong Kong

I had said before, I had to go to Hong Kong for my Visa. Actually all I had to do was go to Hong Kong and turn right around. To travel 2300 kilometers and twenty six hours to get a stamp in red ink on my passport, to show that I had been out of the country. Then to travel the same distance to get back.

I left late on Monday morning and saw I had little time before I needed to be at the station. I heard that food on the train was expensive so I had to buy some. I picked up bananas, walnuts, dried raisins, yogurt, a loaf of bread, and water and threw it into my bag.

Check-in at the train station still requires that you put your bag through the x-ray machines checked by security. Since going to Hong Kong is like leaving the country, you have to show your passport and fill out a departure card before leaving. It’s like going through immigration at the airport, but at the train station. As soon as you are on the platform there are men dressed more like military officers than train station attendants who stand at full attention by the entrance. People file into the train. The difference between the foreigners and Chinese is obvious. Many young backpacking foreigners take the trains. They look like they have been hiking mountains all day in their scruffy outdoor clothes, hiking sandals, and massive backpacks, which look like they are carrying a tent and full camping supplies. The trains are the way to go for people like that and me who have time but short on money to buy plane tickets.

I saved about half the cost of a round trip plane ticket by using the train. I also hoped by taking the train I could relax, read, talk with some people and see the countryside. It would an interesting experience.

One can really see the differences in the landscape going from the north to the south of China. In the Northern heartland the land is so flat for miles and miles around the Huang-He, translated as the Yellow River, so called because of the yellow sediment. In the North the fields are a faded yellow and brown, flat and wide stretching into the horizon. I saw people working in the dusty fields with hoes and field tools. That looked like backbreaking work. There were men and women, spaced about 20 yards from each other doing all kinds of work. Some scattering seeds, digging at weeds, others with spray cans on their back, probably insecticides of some sort.

The south is green and lush, trees and plants with thick green leaves, rivers and mountains. Farmers in the south grew rice. The rice paddies are not laid out so square and wide like in the north.

Again, I saw little of tractors and farm machinery. I saw people behind plows and water oxen. I saw people bent over sticking rice into the wet earth. They wore those wide brimmed grass hats and loose fitting clothing reminiscent of south east Asian farmers. That looked like hard hard work.

The train would stop in a few places and passengers could get off and stretch their legs and breathe some fresh air. Outside, you could feel the warm, bordering on hot, moist air. The sky was blue and air fresh, but the moisture was thick enough to make movement feel like a chore.

As we neared Guangdong province, part of the mainland just north of Hong Kong, the train traveled alongside the edge the Beijiang River. The river cut the land into beautiful shapes and fed the rice paddies. There is a point when the train crosses from the mainland into Hong Kong. Its interesting to see how it is cut by a moat, high barbed wire fences, and guards to prevent mainlanders from going into Hong Kong, despite it being part of China. In Hong Kong you can see the architecture of the buildings are different, more attractive and affluent.

I only stayed in Hong Kong an hour. I got off the train and got my precious stamp. I had a choice. The next train leaving to Hong Kong left in an hour or in two days. Not having purchased the return ticket yet, I had the option of staying. But standing in the station, I felt cut off. I had no place to go to, nothing besides an English bookstore on my list of things to see and do. I had been in HK before and knew that food and stay were not cheap. This was a business trip rather than vacation, so I went back to the counter and bought a ticket for the train going back that day.

Fortunately, both trips were in sleeper car and I could lie down. I could not have done this if I had to sit down for the length of the journey. I hurried up to buy some food for the trip home and boarded the same train I just got off of.

I met a man on the train back. He was 68 years old and lived in Tianjin City east of Beijing. He worked as a PE teacher in a middle school. I asked him what he teaches his students. He said he starts at the very basics, like how to stand, walk, run, and dance. He said he is kind of old-school, in that the new teachers just give the kids a ball and say "have fun!" They are not as strict as himself. He asked me what kind of music I like, I said rock-and-roll. He told me he liked Frank Sinatra, Pat Boone, Ben Crosby, etc. I was kind of shocked to hear him say that. He listened to them when he was young on Voice of America radio. But he said after the 60s that was cut off. During the 60s and 70s one could not listen to western music, learn English, or have anything to do with the west, let alone talk with a westerner. You could get into trouble. But now, he said things are different, its open and liberated, we can talk. I wanted to ask him about those dark years, but I was afraid to bring up anything painful for him.

We talked about Confucious. He said Confucious taught people how to be a person. what was important and how to behave. We talked about Chinese exercise, since he was a PE instructor, I figured he might know some things. Sure enough, he told me that Chinese exercise like Taijiquan can strengthen one on the inside, techniques such as how to breathe properly, flexibility and dexterity.


Monday, June 26, 2006

Summer and the last days of school

Man sleeping on his bicycle in the shadeOh, the lazy days of summer. As far as temperature, humidity, air quality, and mosquitoes, summer this year in Beijing has been so much better than last summer. That could be partly because I have gotten used to it, but partly because there has been more breeze and cooler temperatures. I bought a ticket for the train to Hong Kong the other day. In order to extend my visa I have to leave the mainland and come back. This is so troublesome, but everyone has to do it after their first year. Though Hong Kong is part of China again, it is treated as a Special Administration Zone with special rules. If I go there its like leaving the mainland. So I can simply go there and come back to meet the visa requirement.

For 642 yuan, about $80 US, I bought a one way ticket to Hong Kong. It takes about 24 hours to get there by train. By using the train instead of flying I will save money. Starting Monday there is a one week break with no school before final exams, so I’ll leave Monday and take off from work.

Yesterday I went to a career seminar hosted by a Japanese Staffing company. They seemed interested in me and said they have companies they would like to introduce me to. They sent me information about two companies and jobs whose requirements matched my skills, specifically a native English speaker who can use Japanese and Chinese. They both were in Shanghai. I was told before I came to China that for study Beijing is best, for work Shanghai is best. At the seminar I discovered most Japanese companies in China are operating out of Shanghai.

It gives me the feeling that Shanghai is next place stop on my journey because it is where the jobs are. Last night I was invited by a Chinese classmate to have dinner. The girl works as an intern for a Internet company called QQ, which is the largest instant messaging service in China. Little did I know that the host of our dinner would be the president of this company. I guess he asked her to invite a foreign friend of hers to dinner so he could potentially meet a friend he could practice speaking English with. Well, I was game, I could get free food and maybe learn a thing or two. We went to a fancy restaurant in Beijing. The parking lot was spacious, full of BMWs, and luxury cars. The restaurant was underground. It was huge inside, with maybe a 40 foot high ceiling, and had a space-techno, futuristic style. We went into a private room. The president of the company was waiting for us, he seemed young, maybe in his early thirties like me. He wore casual clothes like a guy in the high-tech industry. The conversation was slow. He talked about his company and work. I learned a few things about Chinese business.

The most interesting thing was the food. If there was a moment in China when I wished I had my camera this was it. Upon this extravagantly set table with chopsticks, knives, forks, tea cups etc. the waitress set a dish in front of each of us. The dish was square with a circle in the middle. There was one slice of cucumber at the top and sauce filled the circle. It reminded me of some fancy French cuisine, more style than substance. But in the middle of the circle, covered in sauce, was a chicken foot, skin, claws and all.

Well actually, I learned it was a goose foot. Anyway, I started laughing. All this fanciness and sophistication over a chicken foot. Alrighty then, dig in! Talk about not easy to eat, that chicken had no meat on it. What was there to eat I thought. Anyway, I couldn’t get much out of it. Then came some salads, fish and tofu dishes, spicy noodles. Then came the finale.

A big bone in some soup with radishes. This bone had some fleshy and fatty stuff on it, but I saw little real meat on it. It was just a big bone. Then the waitress put some straws on our table. I didn’t get what that was for. I saw my classmate stick a straw into the bone. Then she started to drink the juice out of the bone. She said you drink the "Gusui". "Gusui" I remembered that word from a Chinese language lesson we had in class about a girl who got a transplant. It means Spinal fluid or plasma I think. Anyway, here are some nice people, they dress and look nice, well to do people, sucking on straws stuck into these gargantuan bones drinking spinal fluid in some soup with radishes.

Anyway, I was handed some plastic gloves to handle the bone with and stuffed my straw into it. I tried to slurp on it, but it tasted dry and sour. This was not something I would like to have everyday. I suppose it is some delicacy here.

Anyway, I was thinking the whole time, if only I had my camera and could capture this moment.

Professor Liu doing his impressionsWell, Friday was hopefully the last day of regular classes for me at Renmin University. I say "hopefully", because I expect to either get a job or go somewhere else. I like Renmin, but its time to move on. All that is left is the Final Exams the week after I get back from Hong Kong. Our teachers took us out to eat after class at a more typical Chinese restaurant, which was pretty good. The only male teacher I had, Mr. Liu, who likes to do a funny imitation of Mao Ze Dong, was knocking down shots of liquor with some European and Korean students near the end of the festivities. Drinking is not really considered a social evil in China. In my experience visiting different countries in the world and meeting different people, enjoyment of drinking seems like one of those things that crosses all borders.


Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The Great Wall of China at Simatai

The Great Wall of China at Simatai
I went to Simatai section of the Great Wall, about 70 miles north of Beijing, last weekend. It was really spectacular. Much better than the section at Badaling that I went to before. First, the Wall was the actual wall, rather than the 1960’s rebuilt version designed for tourists at Badaling. Second, because the location is remote, there were less other people and tourists. I was particularly struck by how the Wall was built on the very peaks of the mountains and towers every 50 or 100 yards apart. I climbed to the twelfth tower and farthest point allowed and had a spectacular view.

The Great Wall of China at SimataiIt boggles the mind how much human effort had to go into building the wall over peaks and mountains spanning across China. The designers really seemed to pick the most difficult areas to build the wall probably to make it that much harder for the Mongol hoards in the north to pass.

I asked how the Mongols eventually got through and I should have guessed the answer: bribery of guards and officials.

One of the best things about the trip was just getting out of Beijing. The air quality, green trees and mountains were a much needed change of scenery.I could also see how people live in the suburbs and countryside. They don't use big trucks and tractors to do construction or farming out in the country. They are work crews of 20+ guys with shovels, hoes, and carts. People sell fruits on the side of the road. Hotel managers sit on the side of road and wave and call at passing cars. A herd of cows crosses the road. An old couple sit by their tent (maybe a home?) near their honey bee boxes. I think of the midwest in America. How things are different here.

The Great Wall of China at SimataiI watched World Cup matches for the first time. I saw the American team get beat by the Czech Republic 3 – 0 in their first match. Despite being beat I was proud of the American team for a few reasons. I liked to see the variety of ethnicities on the American team. White, Black, Latino, Asians players were all on the team. Compared with the all white Czech team, you could really see how America is a melting pot.

Another good point about the Americans was that they were not "fallers", meaning they didn’t fall and act hurt in order to get a call by the refs like I have seen other teams do. The American team had flashes of brilliance and decent technique and strategy. However, they were not able to control the ball nor as sharp, fast and decisive in their attack as other teams I have seen.

At my language school, where all the students are from different countries, I am reminded daily that football, or soccer as I know it, is the world’s most popular sport. Even a girl from Ghana, Africa, which the American team plays next, asked me if I was watching the games.

The Great Wall of China at SimataiI am regularly asked why Americans do not watch soccer. My best guess is that soccer does not get as much TV and media time as baseball, American football, and basketball. It has not caught on yet and there may not be enough scoring.

As I said before I feel certain that I will not be going to Renmin University for another semester. I believe I can improve faster and use my time more efficiently by studying on my own for awhile. I want to check the job market now. I want to find a job where I can use Chinese. I think this would improve my Chinese and develop into a real business tool for me in the future. If I can not find anything then I probably will go back to school.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Passing the one year mark in China

More flowers from Beijing's Botanical Garden
One year has officially passed since I have been on this side of the world, spending most of that time in Beijing, China. The event that really marked this anniversary is a new group of students from Arizona State University arrived a few days ago for the summer program here at Renmin University. If you remember, that was the program I came here on originally. It seems so much has happened over the past twelve months, yet time still just flew by. I suppose that is good because that means I did a lot and did not waste much time.

I have made a few decisions recently. One, I decided not to continue studying Chinese at Renmin University after this semester is over. I will study Chinese on my own from now on, unless I go back to ASU and finish my undergraduate degree in Chinese. I only need a couple more Chinese classes. In short, I feel a little burned-out on taking Chinese classes now. I took the HSK (Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi), a Chinese Proficiency Exam, and scored a Level 5. The minimum to be allowed to take regular classes at a Chinese university is Level 6. I scored Level 6s in both reading and grammar, but only a Level 4 in listening, so an overall score of Level 5. I will take it again in June.

I have not heard anything yet regarding my application for a Chinese government scholarship. The schools I selected to go to if I am awarded the scholarship are not in Beijing. The first two schools I picked are in Shanghai because that is the business center of China and the logical step in an evolution of living and working in China. The third school is in Sichuan province in the south, better weather, climate, interesting culture and has some ties to Arizona as well. I figure if I do not get the scholarship, which seems more likely because it was submitted late and such, that I will stay in Beijing and work over the summer. I can stay in the dormitory at school, yet work unlimited hours after school ends, thus it will be a good chance for me to make some extra money.

I have read through half of Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. I am really impressed by Rand’s ability to express her philosophy as a great story. I certainly recommend it.

Finally, I plan to add more features to this web site and complete the Chinese Goods for Sale website that has been in limbo for nearly a year. If anyone has any suggestions for items or products for sale they think would be ideal to put on the website, send me an e-mail!


Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Getting along in China

Well, despite being in China I have been able to keep track of all the important things. Especially the best basketball team, the Phoenix Suns, making it to the conference finals of the NBA Playoffs!

I have been able to watch a few of games. Sometimes they are not on when an important Ping Pong Event or Badminton Match is on, but I have to remember this is China and not the USA.

There is nothing much more frustrating when you want to watch a Game 7 of the NBA Playoffs with your favorite team and the government controlled sports channel shows the Women's Badminton Doubles live from Malaysia.

There is no local sports bar that I can go to and watch it on cable TV.

I was talking with my roommate and we discussed what it takes to live in China as a westerner and we agreed you must have a lot of patience. For example, if you go to a restaurant and have certain expectations about the service, speed of service, kind of service etc, you could really get upset if you are stubborn about those expectations.

For example, unlike in the states where you might get everything served to you at once, in China the food comes parts at a time. The rice may be the last thing you get. Or the appetizer comes last. It just depends on how busy they are or if the waiter remembers you. Its not uncommon for customers to tell the waiter to get something or bring something a few times. Or maybe you ordered something and they bring something else.

Also I have seen a waitress kill a fly on a table the customers are eating at. The waiters clean the floors during business hours. However, only with a wet mop, not with a bucket and water. So the dirt and grime just gets moved to the side rather than removed completely. When they clean, if you do not move your feet, your shoes might get moped as well. I had to tell the waiter one time to wait till I was done eating before he mops under my table and chair.

Patience does not mean lowering your standards, but rather being understanding and sometimes tolerant that the Chinese are learning. I have seen improvements at businesses and restaurants regarding service and quality, albeit slowly, and it makes me think that international standards are creeping into Chinese society similar to the way they picked up on Western ideas of Christmas and even Mothers Day and Valentines Day. Also in the same way they are making products to meet demands of western consumers, the Chinese are picking up and in and outs of the International business and standards. But it will take time and thus we must be patient.

Labels: ,

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Opinions on Beijing

Mark near Fragrant MountainAt the end of this month, I will have been in China for one year. I have officially declared the weather in Beijing to be crappy. Based on my experience 5 out of every 7 days in Beijing the sky is cloudy or hazy and the air is bad. There have been some nice days during the fall and spring, but not enough.

Where does the bad air come from? Well, Beijing is surrounded by mountains. That was done on purpose to help protect the city and the emperor from invaders. So like Los Angeles or Phoenix, the smog and dust is generated by cars, construction, manufacturing, and the like and has no place to go. It takes strong winds or rain to clear it up.

However there are plenty of reasons to like Beijing too. This city is thick with culture. From the monuments, temples and palaces dating back hundreds of years, attractive Chinese style gardens and parks, to the attitude of the people, Beijing is the government and cultural capital of China and will never give it up and proud of it. Even Chinese people say when Beijingers meet people from other cities they always show interest and curiosity like an official from the capital going out to keep tabs on the provinces and keep the country unified. Beijingers are famous for being pretty generous too, which I have found to be true. Flowers at Beijing Botanical GardenThat is in comparison to the people from Shanghai who are renown for stinginess and business savvy. Beijingers will welcome lots of guests and treat them well. I have been treated by many people for meals and entertainment. It makes me think customs learned by how the emperor and officials treated their guests.

Another big reason for liking Beijing is that the people speak standard Chinese (Mandarin). From my experience in some other cities, many people can speak Mandarin, but usually speak the local dialect among themselves. This makes for learning Mandarin much more difficult. So for students of Chinese, Beijing is the best place to live to have an environment of the target language.

I was back in school this past week after a week vacation. That vacation time was really good, I felt rejuvenated and ready to go back to school. Especially going to the Botanical Garden and smelling the flowers, breathing the fresh air, and walking through the hills was refreshing.

Flowers at Beijing Botanical GardenI have an idea to make an 80 year plan. When I am 113 years old and look back, what will I have wanted to accomplish, what will I have wanted to see and do, what will I want my life to have been like, what kind of legacy will I have wanted to leave, where will I live, what kind of house will I live in, what will my family be like, my children, my grandchildren, my health, my hobbies, my spirituality, my education, where will I have been, etc. Having a far-reaching, thoughtful plan will make everything I do have purpose and meaning. I will be able to check off items on my plan, making the most of each moment and use my time efficiently and effectively, and I can make adjustments along the way as necessary. I like the idea of a long-term plan because I can make my short-term plans with greater objectives in mind. This is along the lines of what I had in mind in creating an exciting vision for the future.

My classes will end at Renmin University on July 7th. My current plan is to go to Hong Kong the week after school is out and renew my visa then return to Beijing and work through the summer while I stay in the dorm. I am still waiting to hear back on my scholarship application.

Labels: ,

Thursday, May 4, 2006

War against mosquitos

Flowers in the park near Fragrant Hills
The first day of May is Labor Day in China. I get the whole week off from school and work. However I paid little attention to any parades or events that may have occurred. I was able to get some errands done this week.

I bought an anti-mosquito device to put in the room and a mosquito net for above the bed. My roomate thinks that is overkill, but he may not after he gets bit in the night. Cleaned the room, swept the floor, put the winter clothes away and broke out the summer clothes. I sent off my application to the Education Offices of the Chinese Embassy in Washington DC. I have some hope they will take care of it properly.
I also went to a store for foreign students that I really like and browsed to my heart’s content. I bought a book on Chinese idioms. I really like Chinese idioms. Most are only just four characters long and deceptively simple. However Chinese idioms are packed with meaning, history, culture, and philosophy. One might even say to really know Chinese idioms is to know China. Such as in "Yin-Shui-Si-Yuan", each sound is a word, drink-water-think-source. It literally means when you drink water think of the source. But it dates back to the Liang Dynasty, over 1500 years ago. An educated man named Xu Yin, after being promoted to an official, wrote a poem in appreciation of his homeland. "When you eat the fruit think of the tree that bore it, when you drink water think of its source." The idiom is often used to remind one how the past has contributed to the present situation.

The waterfall in the parkChinese idioms are as abundant as the flowers in these pictures. Actually, these pictures were taken today at the foot of Fragrant Mountain in the northwest corner of Beijing. Spring has finally taken a foothold and the flowers are in bloom. I love it.

I received some feedback on my last journal entry. First, its really amazingly great to know people care, are reading and thinking over what I wrote, and send me feedback. How could I not feel great that even though I am on the other side of the world, my friends and family love, care for, and encourage me. With that in mind, I got a surge of energy and new vigor to take on my current challenges. I just have to quote a few of these…

Flowers and more flowersKaren wrote, “I just want to say that I have NO DOUBT that you will come up with the perfect thing to do next.”

My friend Jason wrote, “keep searching and you can write to me whenever you want”

Dad wrote, “Sounds like you are preparing for a new chapter in your life. We can't wait to read it.”

Like me, surrounded by ChineseMom wrote, “MARCUS COME BACK AND FINISH YOUR CHINESE DEGREE.”

Gosh, I love my friends and family so much.

I made a tiny little breakthrough the other day. I walked outside without any direction or destination, just enjoying the cool breeze and sunshine and made my way to a little park. I sat down and starting thinking, but not in a tense, depressed way, but in a relaxed, cheerful way. I decided to do what I want to do and enjoy it. My first mission is to give myself a purpose. I want this to be fun. Creating a mission like the new movie "Mission Impossible III". Make it exciting interesting, and fun. I am not afraid to work, but lets start working smarter and not harder. Moreover, with a some kind of meaningful outcome in mind!


Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Dust Storms, School, and Badachu

After the duststorm, everything is covered in yellow sandThe weather has been surreal lately. Yesterday the campus sky was filled with white puffs that looked like cotton balls. I think they came from some kind of willow trees, but I have yet to find the source. Then this morning I went outside and thought the color of everything looked strange. There was a thin layer, a film of yellow sand or dust over everything. It looked like a dream. Even the air had a yellow tinge to it. I surmised a sand storm had come in the night. I've heard of them, but had never seen the consequences of one. Motorbiker outside of the Pingyao station on the way to Badachu

I will soon submit my application for a two year scholarship from the Chinese Government. I had to get a lot of paperwork in order to apply including my transcripts, diploma, letters from professors at ASU, other certificates, create a study plan, and get medical clearance from a hospital in Beijing. I went to a hospital in downtown, it was fast, clean and friendly. I was happy not to have any problems. I felt like a car when they did the ECG test, because they hooked up so many wires to me. I guess they wanted to make sure my heart was beating, I really don’t know. They drew blood, had me do a physical, and took x-rays.

The Pagoda at the entrance of BadachuI told them I will pick up my results rather than have them send it to me. I have had at least two people send me things I have never received, so I was hesitant to trust the hospital to send me the results by mail. I will submit my full application soon after I pick up the results. I should find out if I get the scholarship sometime in June or July.

Wall inside the Badachu compund, giant stone carvingFinally, I will get some rest. Classes will be canceled Thursday and Friday. There will be a super large school athletic competition during those days. The field is near my school building. The noise will be so loud, the school just canceled classes on those days.

Anyway, I will be participating in the athletic competition. I volunteered for the 100 meter run, the 400 meter relay with other International students, and the shot-put. I do not have any running shoes except for my old sneakers I brought over last summer, but I am not going to go out and buy any for this either. Good shoes here that fit me are hard to find and expensive.

The last pair of shoes I bought were fakes and only lasted only about 2 months before the soles and insides turned into mush.

Close-up of the carvingI take the HSK exam this coming Sunday at Beijing Language and Culture University. HSK is short Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi, or Chinese Proficiency Exam. This will be the first time I have taken it for real. I can use the results to present to companies and such to show my Chinese ability as well as enter a Chinese University to take regular classes if I want to.

Tree decorated with red lanterns and wishesIts funny to see my roommate get so worked up about the upcoming World Cup. I have never cared a day in my life for them, but his enthusiasm has rubbed off on me and I am sure I will watch them a bit. However I will not be up at 2 AM in the morning watching! Only if the games are on during the day.

From the top of Badachu overlooking the outskirts of BeijingLast Saturday I went to a new park on the outskirts of Beijing I had not been to before called Badachu or "8 Big Places". The big places are actually Buddhist temples on a mountain. I really liked it. The wind was strong that day and cleaned up the air a bit. I could see pretty far and enjoy looking at the trees and temples.

I really liked the giant stone carving on a wall inside the compund. It was so huge and well designed that I felt like I could look at it for hours and still discover lots of interesting details and surprises.


Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Visit to Beijing University (Bei-da)

Just when I think spring is here....

Again after a few nice days the temperature drops and a huge wind blows through at night. I am tired of cold weather and look forward to the heat. Fortunately the mosquitoes have not come out yet. I remember last summer how bad they were. I plan on going to the store soon and buying a mosquito net and a little electric device that keeps mosquitoes away. That will be the secret of success for the Chinese Olympic team in summer games of 2008. They will know how to fight the mosquitoes here and the other teams will go crazy, never get enough sleep and have no stamina to play.

Recently the air outside looked awful. You could only see about half a kilometer away clearly, after that was a haze. My roommate and I surmised it to be air pollution.

The lake called 'Unnamed Lake' at Beijing University, the giant pagoda in the background

I went to Beijing University last week. What a beautiful campus that was. Actually it far surpassed my campus in architecture and serenity. All the buildings looked like they were made in the Qing Dynasty. There was a huge lake in the middle of the campus and there was a giant multi-storied Pagoda near the lake. How wonderful it would be to study in that atmosphere. Actually that is the top school in China, the competition to get into that school for Chinese students is extreme to say the least. However a graduate from Beijing University is nearly assured of a nice job after graduation.

I have become a fan of virtues. They give me something to aim for as far as what kind of person to be. Accepting, Patience, Tolerance etc. I hear people say just be yourself, but I ask myself, what is that? Is there anything wrong with striving to be yourself but better? That may be the same as adding more pressure to yourself, giving yourself more stress, but at least I can see what kind of person I can become. I want to make a list of key virtues that I want to incorporate, to strive for. These I want to keep in mind when times are tough, when decisions are hard, when my feelings are all over the place.

I have been super busy lately. But its important to write down one's thoughts and reflect.


Wednesday, March 29, 2006

In China - expect the unexpected

What should a goal be? What is a good goal? A goal should have a high Return on Investment. Meaning that it should be at least worth what you have given blood, sweat and tears for. My mind is pondering what I want to do in the future. I feel it should be something that has a big return for the effort.

Speaking of benefits/cost (i.e. value)...for a long time I have cut my own hair, more or less just shaving my head. However, on very rare occasions with encouragement (her money) from my mother I have gone to a barber. I started shaving my head around 1997 when I was living in Japan. I was looking for a barber and all of them wanted about 3000 to 5000 Yen! That was about 30 to 50 dollars US at the time. I decided to hell with them and I would buy a shaver and learn how to do it myself. I ended up just cutting it all about 2 millimeters from my scalp.

I was not unhappy with the results though. I saved money on shampoo and barber fees, saved time after getting out of the shower and thought I looked cool too. So I kept this up for years. Even in the US, I felt it was still hard to get a decent cut for a fair price month after month.

Now I am in China, land of the greatest barbershops on Earth. I could not more pleased. First, think of your own barbershop experiences back in the states or wherever. If you are like me you may pay 12-15 dollars, plus maybe a tip! For what? Maybe you get your hair washed. Then you get a haircut, but very quick with a style I would swear I saw on reruns of Hee-Haw. I remember the two style choices I used to be able to get back in high school. The Block or the V. The block was straight across in the back or the V was the back in the shape of a V. And the V cost extra!!! Once they are done they are nice enough to wipe the hair off your face.

China is a whole new experience. Once you go in the barbershop, they take your coat and bags and put it in a locker and hand you a number. I appreciate this, because I don't want to leave my stuff on the floor or unattended. Then one of the service people puts lots of shampoo in your hair and washes and rubs and massages your scalp for several minutes, then you go to have it rinsed out. They put a towel on your head and while you wait give you a head, neck, arm, hand and back massage! This lasts for about 10-15 minutes! Finally, you are ready for the haircut. The stylist spent at least a good 15 minutes cutting my hair, making sure it was even, that he didn’t miss anything, and not talking to anyone else while cutting my hair. Then there is a second hair washing. I assume this is to get rid of any cut hair leftover on your head. Finally, the drying and styling. The total cost, 35 RMB, about $4.37 US. And no tips are expected!

Labels: ,

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Finally, it looks like spring has taken hold after some fits and starts. The sun is shining early in the morning and I guess it will be a warm day. But I have added some pictures of Houhai park, another one of the emperor’s local hangouts, that I took in the last cold days of winter.

As everyone knows, there are over 1.2 billion people in China. One could take a map of China and start drawing a line from Dongbei, previously known as Manchuria, continue a little west of Beijing, south through Sichuan Province (known for its spicy food) and ending in Yunan Province on the southern coast. Around 94% of China’s population, or over 1.1 billion would live on eastern side of that line. From a glance at a map, the space all those people live in looks about the same as the western US.

Inside the compound used by the emperor near Houhai ParkWhy do most people in China live in on the eastern side? The eastern side is more temperate, flat, fertile, lower elevations, and oceanside. Two great rivers, the Yellow river in the north and the Yangtze river in the south, which flow out into the Pacific Ocean created a lot of good land for agriculture. The western side of China is famous for the Gobi Desert and the Himalaya Mountains. I suppose it is much harder to live over there.

So what it my point? It is that China is even more crowded than it looks on a map. China looks to be a decent sized country on the map, but in fact most of it’s huge population lives on the eastern side.

I think this massive population density has an effect on culture. But I am still trying to figure out what kind of effects. One hypothesis is that it makes people feel more at ease approaching one another and having less personal space. Chinese students in universities may share a room with as many as 8 other students. No wonder I see them studying late into the night in empty classrooms around campus. Where else can they find some quiet space!

Inside the compound used by the emperor near Houhai ParkI was sitting at an outdoor pavilion on campus yesterday when a student sat next to me. Though I was enjoying my own peace and tranquility as the dusk approached, she in all seriousness suddenly asked me in English “What do you think of the people first policy?” Well, I don’t know what the people first policy is.

But this is not the first time I have been approached like this. I guess Chinese students want to A) Practice speaking English B) Are interested to know what foreigners think C) Hoping to make new friends D) Out of their minds E) Both A and B are correct

Inside the compound used by the emperor near Houhai ParkI guessed E. This student then went on to ask me many questions about policies, what things are like in my country, and finally to explain to me, though I really didn’t care to hear it from her, what was happening in China.

Finally, she walked off. I tried to use Chinese the whole conversation. I am becoming adamant about using Chinese. I want to practice too!

Anyway, when you come to China, prepare to see and meet alot of people. And as I have said before, expect the unexpected.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Off and On Spring

Just when you think Spring is here, it starts to snow again. It can be a shock to be under the impression warm sunny days are ahead and open the curtain to see a blizzard of white. Oh well, such is life.

I have always liked Chinese food. I am not sure if this pertains, but I learned something from my Economics class regarding the Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility

“The law of diminishing marginal utility is based on the idea that at a given point in time an individual's want for a good can be satisfied. The extra satisfaction that an individual derives from consuming successive units of a good tends to increase but later at a declining rate so that an individual would be willing to buy more of a good only if its price will decrease.”

I think this means I get less and less satisfaction from successively eating Chinese food. Matter of fact, I would really like to eat some homemade tacos, Hawaiian style pizza, and some Lasagna. Maybe some biscuits and mashed potatoes too. I hear other students in my classes, who are all from other countries like me say similar things. The Austrian girl misses her chocolates and pastries, the Korean kids miss their authentic Korean dishes etc. My roommate Bengt misses Pann-biff, a big fat Swedish Meatball, served with potatoes and sauce. That sounds great to me too! He also misses his girlfriend’s Smorgish-Tarte, some kind of cake with tuna. I may have to pass on that.

Anyway, Thursday night I had an oily Kongpao Jiding (Spicy chicken with onions and peanuts), followed by Tofu with a lot of soy sauce and onions, followed by tomato and egg soup, and finally some rice cakes. I am not sure what it was, but Friday morning my stomach hurt. After several early morning trips to the bathroom, which can disturb my roommate's sleep, I finally threw up into the sink about 10 minutes before class started! I was relieved temporarily and went to class. But upon the start of the second class, I felt really sick again and went back to my room. That was the first time I have had to miss class since I have been at Renmin University. I wanted to gut it out, but I had no concentration and I did not want to cause a disturbance in class.

Finally, I felt better later after drinking some warm water and some friends giving me stomach medicine. Later, I finally became hungry again and was able to get some bananas and pears. I remember Mom always telling me bananas were good for digestion and they did seem to help. I was able to go to work last night and this morning I felt rejuvenated. However, I am still loathe to eating oily spicy food for a while. I will stick to a diet of soup, noodles, breads, fruits and lightly cooked vegetables for the present.

Labels: , ,

Monday, February 13, 2006

Tiger Claw Strike! Flying Duck Kick! - Chinese TV

Did I mention there is a plethora of Kung-fu movies and shows on TV. I like martial arts and will forever be a fan of Bruce Lee, so it does not bother me much. However, sometimes you flip the channels and its one kung-fu fight after another. Sometimes it looks realistic and practical, and sometimes fanciful, magical and unattainable. If well done, it can be fun to watch.
Many movies, shows and music come into the mainland from Taiwan and Hong Kong. However, more and more are being produced on the mainland. I watched a part of the New Years Special Music and Entertainment Special on TV. It lasts for hours, leading up to New Years Day. I read the Super Bowl, the most watched show in the US, was watched by about 100 million Americans. The Chinese New Years Special was watched by an estimated 800 million Chinese. Notice that is 8 times more than how many watched the Super Bowl. That happens to equal the number of Chinese who live on less than $2 a day.

New Year's TV SpecialThe Chinese New Year Special was performed live. It had the top new and favorite celebrities singing, dancing, comedy sketches etc. A good performance by a new talent can bring instant stardom.

Another thing Chinese like to watch is acrobatics and super-human feats. Some of the acrobatic stunts are amazing. I think of the long, long hours of practice that went to doing them. However, I do not enjoy watching girls who can do amazing feats of contortionism. It just sends creepy shivers down my spine to see a girl touch her nose with her toe, over her back! I have a hard time just touching my toes with my fingertips without bending my knees.

Commericial for Hi-Tech pillowChinese TV is certainly unabashedly commercialistic. Not only do commercials interrupt programming as much as in the states, there is no shortage of Infomercials. Infomercials selling everything from masks that will turn your skin a lighter, whiter complexion, bust and butt enhancers, shoes that add 7 cm to your height, body suits that straighten your back and improve your posture, magical hair boosting and restoration creams, liquids, sprays, and helmets that shoot some kind of beam into your scalp. For kids who are pressured to studying all day and night, gadgets and games for children to help them learn English faster and make studying more fun.

Are people lives determined when they are kids?
You can see the extremes people go to sometimes. I have kids as young as 12-14 in some of my English classes. Their parents make them go to school to pick up and absorb what they can, knowing that if the kids read and speak English well they are more assured of a bright future. I have also seen kids made to grope, pull and beg on people, especially foreigners until they can get some money out of them. I have seen a child about 5 or 6 years old laying out on a pedestrian bridge everyday for over three weeks. The little child acts like a child, rolling around and fiddling with the little can, showing little awareness of anything. I got fed up of seeing this day after day and talked to the Security at Renmin University on how to report that. But they said I was wasting my breath informing the police. The child is being watched by someone and being used to beg.
But when you compare some kids who are starting off early in school to study versus a child who spends his days holding a can, I wonder how the begging child can ever reverse course and have a better life.

Trade Deficit
I have been reading articles about the US and Chinese economy. As far as America is concerned, the trade deficit was the largest ever recorded, and China is the biggest so-called culprit. Some blame the Chinese government for not allowing the Chinese currency, the RMB, to fluctuate according to market factors. The Chinese have the RMB pegged to about 8.11 to the US dollar. This helps keep Chinese goods cheap and drives exports. I feel this certainly needs to be looked at.
Cook makes soup at Ditan Temple FairIf you look at Chinese exports, a majority sells based on its value. Decent quality at a cheap price. The cheap price primarily comes from cheap labor. It is my feeling that cheap labor is the biggest contributor to China’s growth. With 800 million still making only $2 dollars a day, that reserve still can be tapped for years.

By keeping the exchange rate fixed, this allows the Chinese to keep making use of cheap labor. If the rate of exchange were allowed to change, all the dollars being used to buy goods in RMB would cause the price of RMB to increase. Chinese goods would become more expensive, and production and manufacturing in China would be more expensive. Thus factories and jobs stay in the states, more goods made in the US are bought in US. I have seen US politicians putting more pressure on China to change its exchange rate policy, everything from direct comments to Chinese officials to putting forth bills in congress.

In the meantime, how can America compete? In the short term, getting China to change its exchange rate policy is needed. But in the long-term, it seems clear to me that Americans need to be smart, creative, inventive, and efficient. But that is too much for me to discuss at this juncture.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, February 7, 2006

Trip to Changsha, China

West Beijing Train Station

Giant statue of Mao in Changsha City, Hunan ProvinceWell, I went on a little trip to alleviate some stress. The school was feeling so empty, everyone was gone, both work and school were out, I decided to get out of town. I had a friend who lives in Hunan Province invite me out to visit, so I gave it a shot and went. I took an overnight train from West Beijing Station. That building is an awesome structure visually. It is really big, daunting and has a distinct Chinese flavor.

Hunan cuisine at an outdoor storeI rode in a soft sleeper car on the train. The soft sleeper cars have many small rooms, each with four beds. I could fit snugly into one of the beds. The beds were clean and comfortable and each had a TV on one end, by your feet, and the headphones, channel and volume control by your head. I left Beijing around 6 Pm and arrived in Changsha, the capital city of Hunan Province, at 7 Am the next day. I heard Hunan Province is known for a few things. It is where Mao Ze Dong was born and raised. I hear Mao’s little hometown, about 2 hour drive from Changsha, has become a small tourist spot. Another thing is Hunan food is pretty spicy but very delicious. Chinese people outside of Hunan are very prejudiced towards men from Hunan. I guess men from Hunan are very rude, boorish, ill-mannered, and all around bad. However, based on my trip I can not attest to that.

Pavilion at Yue Lu Shan ParkAnyway, Changsha has about 3.6 million people.Its amazing to me how many cities in China are huge, 3 or 4 times the population of Phoenix, and I had never heard of them until I came to China. As I was entering the city, I could see from the window some somewhat common sites. New huge modern high rises towering over ghetto-like housing and crumbling buildings. Piles of trash just heaped together on the ground left to the elements. That reminds me, I have rarely seen garbage trucks to the scale that we have in the states. In many places garbage collection is done by street workers with a dustpan and broom, or guys on bicycles pulling a cart.

After arrival, I unfortunately discovered my friend was busy most of the time I was there and I would have to do explore the city on my own. Fortunately I can attest that Hunan food is pretty good. I was able to eat at a few good restaurants, but it was really spicy!

Pavilion at Yue Lu Shan ParkThe highlight of my trip was Yue Lu Mountian, on the outskirts of the city. The mountain is home to a big Buddhist temple. I climbed the mountain and explored the temple. I was surprised when a Buddhist nun gave me some apples and nuts. People usually give to the monks and nuns, not the other way around. I like the smell around a temple. The incense smells so good and makes one feel like they are in another world.

Back in the city, I went to Buxinjie, the most lively, clean, and modern part of the city. I have to admit though, I think I may have been the only white person in the city. I didn't see any others except near the train station, and everywhere I went I got stares, long looks, startled expressions, and called at "Hello!" You can tell when people are talking about you when someone looks at you, then nudges their friend, and their friend turns around and looks at you too and they start talking.

Most people all over China are bilingual to some extent. People are taught Mandarin, standard Chinese, in school. However, with family and friends people use their regional dialect or language. Some dialects are similar to Mandarin such as the Beijing dialect. However, most are as different as English is to French. I could not understand what Hunan people said among themselves, but we could converse in Mandarin one-on-one. Buxinjie Shopping District in Changsha City, Hunan ProvinceWe are lucky that in the states we can use regular English everywhere, maybe with the exception of some places in Kentucky or Arkansas. Just kidding! However, in China, the reality is many people have to study Mandarin so they can talk with people from other places or watch the National news etc.

Finally, on my way back to Beijing I had a startling discovery. I was looking in the mirror and found what looked like a colorless hair on my head. Upon further inspection, I found it to be a white hair! Wow, my first one!

Beijing's first big snowfallCoincidentally, the next day back in Beijing, I woke up and opened the curtain to see the biggest snowfall of the winter. The entire city turned as white as a dove.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Ditan Temple Fair

The entrance to Ditan (Temple of the Earth) Park, New Year's Fesitval
I went to Ditan (Temple of the Earth) Park in the north part of the city. By the way, Beijing has a long history. Used during the last three dynasties, the Emperor's palace, also known as the Forbidden City, is in the center of the city. The entrance to the Forbidden City is the one that is particularly recognizable, because it now has a big framed picture of Mao Ze Dong on the front. There is something very conspicuous about this placement to me. As if they replaced the emperor with Mao Ze Dong. There is something fitting in that, replacing one dictator for eh-hem.

Making my way through the crowds was not easyAnyway, Ditan, the Temple of the Earth is to the north of the Palace, Temple of Heaven is to the south, Temple of the Sun and Moon to the East and West. I understand one of the Emperor's big jobs was to go to these temples, offer prayers and sacrifice.

My visit to Ditan was not to make any sacrifices or offer prayers, rather to see the festival being held there. The Temples have all become public parks now, open to the people. The parks are used to hold public fairs and festivals. Inside Ditan, there were many shops selling all kinds of special New Years gifts, toys, games, arts and crafts, and food. Unique arts and crafts. This man was making little animals out of some kind of taffyThere were areas that had games for people to play and win prizes like a state fair. I tried a few including throwing Chinese coins through a big wooden board in order to hit a bronze gong and trying to break light bulbs over a metal bowl. I don't know what the trick is, but I threw those light bulbs hard and still couldn't break a single one.

Popular sweet candy treatsThe crowd was big. The mass of people moved through the many different twists and turns of the paths. The shops outnumbered the entertainment and arts and crafts, but it was still interesting.

Some scorpions on a stick please!I saw food there I will never forget. Rather, they were unforgettable because they were disgusting. Something that one might see on Fear Factor! Bugs and scorpions, little chickens on a stick. I am not sure if the scorpions were some kind of gimmick food, but I did see people buy and eat them. Though I don't think that is normal Chinese cuisine, I have heard that in China anything that moves can be on the dinner table. This group would carry kids around on traditional style carriages

Labels: , , , , ,

Monday, January 30, 2006

Beijing New Year's Festival

Beijing went crazy last night. I walked with some friends around 9 pm to have dinner at Bi-sheng-ke, the Chinese name for Pizza Hut, to celebrate the Chinese New Year. As we were walking there were many people on the streets unleashing powerful firecrackers and dazzling displays of light in all directions. Fireworks were going off all around the city in little alleys and next to main thoroughfares. People were swinging long strings of firecrackers around them and even holding pipes that shot off huge rockets that exploded into light. I thought it looked awfully dangerous, having been injured slightly when I was young by a little bottle rocket.

At around 11:50 the city just exploded. I went outside to hear the action. There were lights and explosions in all directions. I jumped because I would look in one direction to see a display when right behind me another guy lit a string of firecrackers that went off like a machine gun. Then I jumped again as the pops shot off from another direction. What really blows me away is how close to the buildings the fireworks go off. I would think lawyers or insurance people might be watching.

I hear that Chinese usually spend this time with their families. In some cases they sit around a table and make dumplings together. Kids are asked relentlessly by their grandparents about school and their grades. I understand that is a way of showing affection!

Its late January, and I have come to the conclusion Beijing winters are not sooo bad. Over the past month temperature hovered around the freezing point, but it has barely snowed and has been dry. It was windy in December, but not recently. Not as good as Arizona, but better than Chicago.

Recently Mom told me, "if you have a positive attitude you will be more successful".

Labels: , , ,

Monday, January 16, 2006

Beijing, Beer, and Bamboo

New modern buildings near Xizhimen Station, the sign on the right shows a phone number to call to rent spaceDid I mention there is construction going on all over the city. One can imagine after 10 or 20 years how much more modern and exciting the city will look. There are still ghettos right underneath some of these new towers, but increasingly those are being replaced. I wonder if there will be a glut in new office space sometime, but it does not seem much of a concern for now. Beijing is the capital of China, as well as the host of the 2008 Olympics. The city seems like its hurrying to look like the capital of the national and economic power that it is.

Finally, the semester is over. I finished my final exams. I showed some improvement over the mid-terms, especially since I knew better what to expect.
Final Class Party
My classmates and I had a big dinner together at the cafeteria to celebrate as well as to say goodbye to some who will be going home. We ordered lots of food and there was Chinese beer. I do not like to drink, but there was sufficient pressure from enough people to get me to have a couple of cups. I have never seen any other beer served besides Yanjing Beer. I think it tastes much better than your standard Bud, but I feel beer is bad for my health so I try to avoid it.

Man selling Ganshe, or sugar caneSince we were in Intermediate-1 last semester, the people that stay including myself, will advance to Tigao-ban or Advanced Class. Advanced Chinese will prepare students who are interested in further study at Chinese Universities. I will be taking it to improve my Chinese. However, if I get the scholarships I hope to get, these classes will be useful for further study in China.

Weighing it

I was walking on the street the other day and saw a man selling what looked like Bamboo on the street for people to eat! I thought Bamboo was uneatable. I later found out that he was selling something called Ganshe, which looks like Bamboo, but is soft and chewy. You can not really eat it though. You chew on it, suck out the sweet juice and spit out the leftover into a bag.

It seems kids really like this snackThe guy selling it would cut off a piece for you, weigh it and cut off the bark. The small piece I bought was only 3 RMB, or about 36 cents. Kids seem to like it as a snack. I tried it so I could have the experience. But it was so sweet I did not have more than a few bites.
Inside Beijing's Walmart, it looks the same to me
I went to a recently opened Wal-Mart in Beijing recently. It looked like a regular Wal-Mart to me from the blue and white colors, big aisles, and atmosphere. Is Wal-Mart Blue a color? The language on the signs were in English and Chinese. Most of the items were pretty cheap even compared with prices in the US. For example, seat cushions could be bought for only 9 RMB or $1.08.

pig snouts - for cooking!Most of the stuff sold at Wal-Marts in the states are made in China anyway, so I did not see anything special. EXCEPT, the pig snouts available in the meat section. Is there anything you would rather have for dinner than a crispy pig snout with your noodles and soup? Actually I have no clue how they might be used in a meal, but I hope I never get caught off guard and eat one. Who knows, I might have already.


Monday, December 26, 2005

First Christmas in China

By the Pavillion on the lake near Fragrant MountainTo all my friends and family, MERRY CHRISTMAS!!! I miss you all very much. My Christmas feast was an excellent dish of curry chicken with potatoes. I had a wonderful day yesterday climbing up Xiang Shan, or Fragrant Mountain with a friend to the north of the city. The area is beautiful, lots of trees, small pools and lakes, winding paths, and really cool temples and pavilions. I was able to watch the sun set behind the mountains to the west. I could see the stars, including a familiar constellation Orion. Every time I see Orion, it reminds me of the many other nights in different parts of the world that I looked up and saw Orion overhead.

The outdoor snack shopI stopped at a little snackshop on the road up to the park. There was a neat item there I had never tried before. The cook poured what looked like pancake dough on an iron skillet over a charcoal flame. Once the shell hardened, the cook made a little hole in the top and poured a mix of egg with onions and spices inside. Once it was finished being cooked the cook spread some different sauces on the top and rolled it with some lettuce. For 1 Yuan (or 12 cents) it was a delicious and a good deal!

This morning my heart feels a little heavy. I had an interview with a Japanese company called Howa Textile Industry that builds parts for Japanese car makers including Toyota and Nissan. This company has offices and manufacturing locations in Japan, China and the US. They want someone to work in their international department at their office in Nagoya, Japan. They want a person who can speak Japanese, English, and Chinese. I have interviewed with them twice. The second time they sent a member of their HR, a Japanese speaking Chinese woman, to meet with me in Beijing. They told me they are very interested in me because I have good work experience, have lived in Japan before and speak Japanese fluently as well as conversational Chinese. A temple at Fragrant HillsMost of the staff in their international department are Chinese. It seems like personally and culturally I would probably fit in nicely. I have yet to hear what kind of compensation package they will offer, but I do know that they would provide housing at nearly no cost. They said I would work primarily in Nagoya but sometimes go to China and the US. They have an office or factory in Richmond, Indiana as well, because their major customers, Toyota and Nissan are in Indiana as well. Yes, this all sounds very nice. And it would not hurt to have a nice, good paying job with loans etc coming due in a few months. However, I really like China and would like to stay here. I think I can continue to study Chinese if I got that job and even if I lived in Japan. But it would not be the same as living in China. Finally, the job would involve car parts. I think working for a manufacturer would be alright, but I do not feel thrilled about learning the ins and outs of a car door or a sun roof in any language. Also, Nagoya is a nice town, but it is not Tokyo, Shanghai, or Honolulu. I am still putting together my thoughts, such as if I took this job what would be the positives and negatives. That is why my heart is heavy, taking this job would be a serious life decision.


Tuesday, December 20, 2005


I am sorry to have not written much in awhile.I feel like I have had things to write about then they disappear from my mind. More than anything, its getting near Christmas. I feel like my internal clock is calling on me to start doing something for the season. Its funny to see some of the department stores and buildings around here have Christmas decorations put up. There is even a life sized singing Santa in my dorm building. I've had many Chinese ask me about Christmas. There are some major misunderstandings. Some thought you are supposed to dress up like a witch or wear black like Zorro. I can not guess how these ideas got into some people's heads, maybe people are confused about Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, and New Years coming right after another or it had something to do with a Hollywood movie. Hollywood movies are like the voice of America. Many Chinese, and I suspect people around the world, see America through Hollywood's lenses.

My English school is going to have a big party tomorrow night. I am scheduled to work, so I will be in a room doing Christmas related tongue-twisters, games, and I will teach the students a Christmas song or two.

Fortunately I get Christmas Eve and day off! No work, so I will sleep in. I may not be so lucky on New Years Day. China's New Year won't be until January 29th I think. It is a major holiday in China. I will have nearly 5 weeks off from January 13th to February 20th for the Winter Holiday. I feel like I could use it. I have started to feel burned out. I would like to feel rejuvenated again and study hard next semester. I also won't need to work so much next semester, because I won't be saving up to pay for another semester.

I went to several department stores to find Christmas cards and went from department to department without much luck. Finally I found some cards that I could send out. They will be late, but they are on their way now.

I felt better about using the post-office in China since I got a card from Grandma and Grandpa. I was hesitant to use the Post Office for a long time because my address was unstable and I didn't even understand which counter to go to at the Post Office. It was just too much trouble. The Post Office looked like mass confusion to me the first time I went in there. My friend from Sweden, Bengt helped me out.

The weather is deceptively cold here. The sun is shining and the sky is blue, there is no snow on the ground, but the high temperature may not rise above zero.


Monday, November 28, 2005

Thanksgiving in China

Happy Thanksgiving! Again, I was reminded by my family, friends and Chinese people about another US holiday. It was business as usual for me. It's hard to imagine everyone in the US sitting down to a lovely meal on Thanksgiving on the other side of the world.
Today, Sunday, I went to a Japanese company career fair. Most of the companies were manufacturers which I had little interest in. However, I did get positive feedback from their HR people. I prefer to be humble, but I will be upfront here. It seems my Japanese ability impressed them. One company said they would like to do a second interview in Tokyo. But that would be hard for me, especially from a visa standpoint. Unlike Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, and Mexico, where you can get a visa on arrival at the airport, China requires that you have a visa prior to arrival. So any trip out of China would require me to get another visa before returning. I am hearing that Japanese companies are hiring more and the Japanese economy is making a comeback after years of stagnation. I probably could get a job there much easier than ever before, especially now that I have a college degree. But I am set on learning Chinese, at least through next summer.
I saw a movie yesterday on DVD called A View from the Top. It reminded me so much of America, I almost felt like I was there. Then the movie ended and I remembered where I really am, in China surrounded my Chinese people! That is a strange feeling.

Men fishing in a local lakeThere was a terrible environmental disaster in Northeast China recently. A chemical plant spilled 100 tons of Benzene, a toxic chemical, into a large river that supplied water to the major city of Harbin, on to Russia, and finally the Pacific. The spill occurred on January 13th, but the news was not reported until a week ago. Local officials were criticized for not informing the public in a timely manner. The government brought in supplies of drinking water into the city and after four days restored water to city. I read in another article that the authorities had to come clean after the spill left a trail of dead fish on the beaches. All I can say is...scary, and I drink bottled water.


Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Studying Chinese

A picture of my Chinese textbook
This is a picture of my textbook. I think will help everyone get an idea of what it is like to look at Chinese text. There are many characters in Chinese. My knowledge of Japanese helps to know many Chinese characters, but there are still many that are new to me. A student is reading English aloud in a hallway.Also, the Chinese in mainland China have simplified the characters so that they sometimes look a little different than what I have seen before. I see many Chinese students study very hard everyday. I see many outside every morning when I wake up reciting texts aloud. I see classrooms packed with students late into the night studying by themselves. It seems many students push themselves very hard. Maybe that is all they know. In order to pass the examinations to get into Renmin University, these kids had to eat, drink and sleep study. The competition to get into the best schools is fierce. Going into an elite school is still the most traditional and common of way of becoming successful in China. Seeing them study so hard has insprired me to work harder and use every available moment to try and get more into my head such as buying a radio to listen to Chinese while I am walking around campus.

Labels: ,

Thursday, November 3, 2005

China's change and development

I visited the National Science and Technology Museum in Beijing last Saturday. I was struck by a few things. The number of foreign companies funding displays..Intel, BMW, Ford, on and on. As with many things I have seen in China, they may start off with something nice, but the people in charge of running the place seem to let things get worn-out and broken. But everyone tells me things are getting better and better. Hard to imagine how things were before.

My friend from Sweden told me when he visited China about 15 years ago, that there were few cars on the road, few modern buildings and many people still wore clothes that were made fashionable by Mao. He said things have changed alot since then.

Who said, the more things change, the more they stay the same...?I asked some Chinese students what do they think happened after the Cultural Revolution to prompt China to pursue a different path since the 1980s. They said a certain post- Mao leader named Deng Xiao Ping visited the US around that time and was struck by the massive difference between China and the US. Soon after, the Chinese allowed for experimentation with a market economy in special areas of the country. The rest is history. But I imagined what it must have been like for a person who had lived China before it changed, streets crowded with bicycles and no street lights to visit America. It must have been a shock for so many reasons.

I have an address for those who might want to send me something. Please see the Contact Information Page. I have been hesitant to give out an address until I settled in a little and could verify that mail could make its way to me. My roommate was able to get some mail, hand delivered to our room, so I suppose it's safe now.

Last week I did some shopping for warm fall/winter clothes. I bought some nice hooded pullovers with the Renmin University name on them for only 48 yuan (about $6). I think the same items for ASU would go for at least $15. I also bought a winter hat, gloves, and some long underwear! Yes, long underwear! I have not worn those since my days in Indiana years ago, but I know those are a requirement for below freezing temperatures.

Some family members have let me know of their concern about the bird flu. My good friend Lily even canceled her trip to China out of concern. I read that because of China's large poultry industry and sanitation standards there has been concern that any outbreak could be widespread here and potentially mutate into a strain that could infect humans. If that happened I could imagine it would be bad. I don't have an exit plan or escape plan for getting out of the country in an emergency of that magnitude. I did register with the American Embassy in Beijing (See Travel Registration Website) to let them know I am here, and to get me out in case of disaster! Other than that, I do exercises and take my vitamins everyday. And I have some of that multi-purpose Chinese cure-all, Green Tea on the shelf (next to the Peanut Butter).

On another front, I registered at the 2nd Annual Beijing Career Fair for Japanese/ Chinese bilinguals. The career fair invites bilinguals to meet companies from Japan and China for potential employment opportunities. I figured I should check it out.

A question often raised by my Chinese friends is "ni xiang jia ma?" Which literally means "Do you think of your family?", and could be translated to "Do you miss your family?" They use the word xiang, which is the same word used to say "think". In English we say "miss", which really gives me a feeling of loss. I certainly think of/miss my family. Many of the Japanese and Korean students will be going home during the winter break. I just can't afford to go home for a short break, not to mention the hassle of getting a new visa before I am allowed to come back (I have only a single entry, not a multi-entry visa).

Halloween almost passed completely without me even realizing it. A Chinese friend reminded me on October 31st , asking me if I had any plans. I was kind of shocked, yes its Halloween and didn't even recognize it. I heard there were some costume parties around Beijing, mainly at places where foreigners hang out, but I spent the night doing some study. When I thought of how Halloween would be celebrated back in the states, all the kids going out, and the street parties in Tempe, Arizona and on Kalakaua Avenue in Honolulu, Hawaii etc, it struck me in a funny way. Once again, I'm reminded that the atmosphere on one part of the Earth could be so festive, and on another it could be something else at any point in time.

Finally, next week we have mid-terms for Chinese classes, including writing, listening and speaking examinations. I should do fine. I feel like I have made noticable progress, expecially in listening and new vocabulary since I restarted school in September. That is what I hoped for and expected from emersion in Chinese.


Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Trip to Beihai and Jingshan Park

Some of my classmates and I standing on the hill in Jingshan Park. You can see the back of the Forbidden City in the background. The student's nationalities from left to right: Italy, Norway, America (Me), Austria, Norway, and KoreaMy classmates and I went to Beihai and Jingshan Park last Friday. These parks are directly behind the Forbidden City and were where the Emperor could hang out and do some boating and walking around. By the way, the Forbidden City was the residence of the emperors during the last two dynasties, the Ming and Qing Periods. The Forbidden City housed the Emperor, 3000 of his wives or concubines and eunuchs. Supposedly several of these women never actually met the emperor and died virgins. The last emperor of the Ming period hung himself in Jingshan Park before another army broke into the city, establishing the Qing Dynasty and a new line of emperors. There is a stone in the park marking the spot. There is a large hill in Jingshan Park. There are differing stories on how that hill was created. One story goes that it was created from all the trash coming out of the Forbidden City.

Internet access in our building has been out of service for about 5 days. It is a reminder of how the Internet has become a part of my life. Not being able to get or send e-mail, not to mention read the news about what's happening in the world can start to become uncomfortable. I can find an Internet Café if this state of affairs continues.

The weather has become colder and colder. Especially in the morning, then it warms up by the mid-afternoon. This is typical of continental weather that I learned about last year in my Physical Geography class. The ground absorbs and releases heat faster than water. So, Beijing, which is further inland, absorbs heat quickly during the day and warms up, but at night easily gives up its warmth and cools down quickly, much like Phoenix. Thus, the day and night temperature difference is wider than places that are surrounded by water, such as Hawaii.

I have a water bottle. There is a hot water machine on every floor of the dorm. The water that comes out is always boiling hot. You have to let it cool down before you can drink it. I put some dried tea leaves in the bottle and pour in the hot water to make tea. Besides wearing lots of clothes and keeping warm, green tea seems to be good for my throat and help fend off getting a cold. I hear a lot of students coughing and I want to avoid getting a cold as much as possible. I also try to have a bowl of noodles regularly. I think a hot bowl of noodles is like chicken soup, it warms up your body and is easy on the digestion. Another means of trying to stay healthy.

I did see a sight that creeped me out yesterday. A giant rack of meat hanging from the inside of a small van. The van was outside of a cafeteria I eat at occasionally. The meat was exposed to the sun, uncovered. The van was not any kind of ice-truck designed for the transportation of meat or any other frozen goods, but rather had carpeting on the floor and looked like any regular van, with a spare tire and other tools thrown in the back. But there it was, a giant rack of meat, like what you might see at meat packing factory, all red and white. The van's back door was open and it was just exposed to the elements. And I had just walked out of that cafeteria with three "Roubao", or steamed meat muffins. However, as you can imagine, those meat muffins didn't go down as tastefully as they had in the past.

I am listening to the Chinese pop music station right now. In the last song, the singer kept saying something about Tic Tac Toe. Chinese pop sounds just like American pop music except the lyrics are in Chinese with occasional foreign words thrown in. Some sound like rip-offs of American songs, but I am not a music industry expert like my uncle James!

Did I mention before that I spent some hours at the foreign language bookstore over the last vacation? I couldn't afford to buy some of the books I wanted, so I just sat in the store and read a few. One book I really liked was called Thinking Strategically. I learned the first rule of strategic thinking, when the moves of the players are sequential, is to 1)Look Ahead and 2)Reason Back. That may seem difficult, but its just like the game of Chess or Checkers. You first think about your next move, how the opponent might respond, and then your next move, their response, your next move and so on. That sounds simple enough. However, sometimes a game such as Chess can have many potential moves. With so many potential moves available it's difficult for your mind to calculate all of them far ahead. So you next use your experience and judgments about what will be in your favor, what position will be potentially most advantageous to you in the future of the game, and finally make your moves now accordingly.

Now I can try to apply that idea to my life. Map out the potential moves I can make in the future. I can't map out all of them to infinity, but go out as far as I can. Then look at which ones look the most advantageous and favorable based on my experience and judgment. Finally make a decision about what to do for the future.


Friday, October 21, 2005

Physical deformities and suicide in China

I remember seeing people with physical deformities in America, but maybe because of advanced health care, caring people who will pay the money for surgeries, and maybe the help of the government, I don't remember seeing those people too often. It makes you feel like it is kind of rare. But in China, it seems I come across people more often with deformities I could not imagine living with them in the States. I've seen deformities in China that were quite scary. However, I felt that those people, if they were in America could get surgery to help them. That is, if they wanted help. Sometimes I think Chinese take pride in whatever they were born with. It goes back to Chinese traditional thinking that out of respect for your parents you covet your body. People would not cut their nails and let their hair grow very long. Even today I see some men who have moles with long, long hairs growing out of them. I feel like screaming "Cut that thing!", but that would not be civil.

But besides culture, it makes sense that people live with deformities because health care quality and money is much harder to come by in China. So people who might otherwise get surgery or treatment in the states are left untreated in China. On the streets of Beijing you come across beggers. I have seen more than a few that have severe deformities such as people with terrible burns, leg and arm irregularities, etc. I gave a little money to some of them at first, but later heard that many are part of begging groups, like underground companies, that use their deformities to make money. Additionally I would see one begger in one place on one day, then the same guy in another place the next. I am not sure what to think of it, but I stopped giving away any money.

Finally, some real depressing news. After class, I saw a large crowd of people by a nearby building. I looked up and saw a girl, a student, standing on the ledge of the 3rd story of the building. Below her were some security men waving their hands at her not to jump and parked bicycles. The crowd showed typical emotions, concern, sarcasm, laughter, distress. I saw a girl run up holding her camera. I thought the girl on the ledge would finally show some sense and go back inside. Someone would convince her that whatever problem that may have happened, a boy, school, family, friends, whatever, that it was not something worth jumping off a building over. At first she seemed agitated because of the people behind her and the crowd, then she started looking down intently. A few moments later she heaved forward and jumped. The crowd gasped. I could not believe my own eyes. I turned away not wanting to see the aftermath. I started saying "No, no, no, no..". I just left for my next class, but I was rattled for a good hour. It was the topic of conversation among my classmates for while. In my own mind, I feel over my life I have had times when things were bad, but fortunately never to the point of throwing it all away.


Friday, October 14, 2005

Chance meeting with an elderly Chinese man

The art displayI had a pleasant experience this evening. I was walking home from teaching English and was passing some glass displays with student artwork inside. I saw an older man standing in front of one and looking sternly at some of the work. A friend recently told me if I want to practice listening to Chinese more, I should talk with older people. Because they have no need to practice their English, they will speak to me in Chinese and may enjoy chatting with a foreigner. I decided to take a chance. The gentleman was looking at some calligraphy. Using Chinese, I asked the gentleman what he thought of the works. He pointed to one work and said it was bad, the characters were written too fast and sloppy. To me the works looked great, much better than I could ever do.

He pointed to another and said it was written very well. It did look nice to me, but they all did. The man said the one above was sloppy, the one below is better, I can't tell...He pointed to another and said it was really sloppy. It did look a little sloppy now that he mentioned it, but I never would have noticed on my own. Then we started to walk along the road through the campus. He lived in the area and was passing through. I was surprised I could understand what he said pretty clearly. For some reason I had the unfounded impression that it would be harder to understand older people than the students. But even he suggested that because he spoke a little slowly that he might be more understandable for me. He asked me some questions about the foreign students on the campus. He told me he is from northeast China (formerly called Manchuria), but has lived in Beijing for over 50 years. He is 81 years old. I said he is about the same age as my grandfather. He said he was an engineer and built residential buildings like some of the ones we passed. He walked with a cane and moved slowly, but his mind seemed sharp and as well as speaking clearly and kindly. He asked me how long I had studied Chinese and praised my ability. He talked about the Chinese students on campus and how difficult it is for them to be accepted into this school. He also said I should talk with them as much as I could. Finally after about 20 minutes we parted ways, but I was so happy to chat with him.


Saturday, May 28, 2005

Arrival - Beijing, China

Beijing, China. I left Phoenix around 10 AM on the 26th and arrived in San Fracisco about noon. I had to make my way from the Domestic to International Terminal, which wasn't much trouble. I went to the China Air counter. Most people in the line looked Chinese. There were a few non-asian looking people scattered around, but few enough that if you saw one you felt like starting up a conversation like "What are you doing here?" The plane was one of the jumbo trans-pacific planes that have ten seats accross in the economy class. 3-4-3 pattern with two asiles. I did notice the stewardesses where not as cute as those on Singapore Airlines. To see Photo Album click here It takes a few minutes for all the pictures to show up.

Mark and Mao
I sat next to the aisle, on the other side was a older woman from central China. It was a little bit of a lonely flight, becaue the older woman seemed content not to talk with me. As far as in-flight entertainment, China Air is deffinately not on the same class as other airlines I have flown. But the funniest moment came when we were about midway through the flight and they showed an in-your-seat exercise/loosen up video. I had never seen that before. And the video instructor was doing stretches and moves in her chair that I was embarrassed to attempt in mine.It was fun when the stewardess asked us what we wanted to eat and drink and I answered in Chinese. Also it was fun to hear in-flight announcements spoken in Chinese. I could feel like I was really on my way to China.
Upon arriving I found an ATM machine to withdraw money and passed immigration and customs without any delay. Upon exiting customs though I was barked at about getting a Taxi. These barkers were a little too aggressive so I got suspicious and seeked out an information desk. I was able to find a Hotel Reservation counter and they were professional and spoke English. But the 5 star hotels were expensive, I settled on a two star hotel in downtown Beijing for 280 yuan. 1 dollar equals 8.28 yuan. I also got a taxi into Beijing for 100 yuan (about $20). My hotel room is certainly not above two stars, but it meets all my needs. The Television gets about two channels, there is just a shower head over the floor in the bathroom, the toliet seat is too small for the size of the toilet. The hotel staff put there laundry out in front of their rooms and some sleep in the lobby at night. But the location is nice. I easily found an Internet Cafe where I could send an e-mail to my family and let them know I arrived safely.
Tomorrow I can check-in to Renmin University. Before I go to check-in I plan to do a little walking around and check out the area more. After all this is downtown Beijing.


Links Visits: Free Web Site Counter

Pick my brain

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner