I’m packing my bags and shipping out in the morning (flying out, that is). Not so for most of the team since they are on the east coast and there is a massive blizzard moving in! (picture source : cnn.com). They will have to wait until Sunday or Monday. The picture of the Great Wall of China is from my visa that’s pasted into my passport .. very nice, and maybe some time soon I will get to see it for real.
Finally, a little peek into the goodies that go with this time : lots of chocolate and coffee, Dove soap that I couldn’t find there, and just some snacks for work. Oh, and a BIGGG old can of parmesan cheese for the pasta we cook in the apartment! No parmesan cheese in China could be found so far by us. (Not a surprise since the Chinese palate is not fond of cheese at all). Nothing I cannot survive without, but hey, it’s just nice to have little things to remind one of home when you’re in a country as foreign as China.
I had to go pick up my passport at the office, and so here is a picture I snapped at the bus stop two blocks from my house. The Newcastle Brown Ale (British beer) truck must have delivered some beer close by : ).
Below is the view of downtown from my desk in the office. The square brown building is a Macy’s dept store, and the low triangular blue one in front of it is Westlake Center with the monorail train at the bottom. The monorail train runs between the Space Needle and Westlake Center.
A rainy day this morning that cleared up later. I don’t mind the rain at all. We are Rain City, are we not? (Jet City when Boeing was still headquartered here, and the Emerald City for tourists. I’m sure we cannot be Rain City for tourists!)
It was a somewhat busy day, but not too hectic. I bought a Mandarin phrasebook (cover picture, yes, it’s the inevitable panda on the little guy’s shirt), a Hong Kong book and a Chinese character study book. Sounds like I’m serious about learning some Chinese but all I hope for is to make a start with, 200 characters !
My passport and multiple-entry visa will arrive tomorrow (the first one only allowed two entries, and I used both), but I went ahead today and applied for an ‘enhanced’ drivers license that can be used to cross the border into Canada and Mexico by car, ferry or rail (or foot!). Just in case I have to send in my passport and I want to go up to Vancouver for the weekend. I was allowed to smile see? : ) which surprised me because I thought smiling distorts the biometrics (likes between the eyes, nose and mouth) on the picture.
Tonight I went to a nice neighborhood bar for cocktails, beers and pub food with my very good very best friends (you know who you are! thanks! it is such a treat to hang out with you).
My body clock is still somewhat shifted, so I got up really early to come into the office here in downtown Seattle. I use the bus two blocks from my house with my Orca card (in Hong Kong it’s an Octopus card which I already have and plan to use lots as well!).
All the printers in the office were replaced just last week (of course) with different models, so it took 30 mins for me to install new printer drivers, and then when people started arriving at 8.00 am I still had to go ask for help to scan and send in my expense reports since the instructions by the printer had not been replaced. Aargh.
Looks like a beautiful day here from where I’m sitting. I wonder if February will be as mild as January. Last month was the warmest January on record here in Seattle. I promise I will find some pictures to post again soon.
.. yes, it’s Monday and I actually have to do some work! (from home, giving myself one more day then I’ll go into the office tomorrow). It also allows me to take care of very necessary little tasks such as throwing my computer backpack into the washing machine to get rid of the smell from a chunk of banana that went unnoticed and bad inside of it! yechh. My house is in decent shape, and the deck and yard at the back is finally free of leaves and twigs now that the neighbor’s maple tree has shed all it had for the season.
The 2007 versions of Microsoft Word and Excel that we upgraded to recently also seems buggy and glitchy and I’ll go and ask the tech support guy tomorrow if he had similar complaints from other users. (Always a bad situation when you’re the only one with a problem that no one has ever seen before, isn’t it?).
I have to get a light jacket and maybe a few more dress shirts so that I have some extra out in China. Isabella the dry cleaner shop in the apartment complex is on the pricey side at $2 a shirt and even more for pants, but the clothes come out of the cleaners looking like new.
From top to bottom :
Hong Kong office building at night cycles through the colors of the rainbow
Scene at the International Finance Center, Bank of China building with the diagonal stripes in the background was once the tallest outside New York and Chicago, but no more
Lots of night buses and trolleys to take restaurant and store workers home, about 10pm
Billboard with website promoting collaboration between Hong Kong and Shenzhen’s for a combined infrastructure as twin cities across the HK-China ‘border’ (eat your bokchoy! it’s good for you : )
Overhead reflection walking in Hong Kong Island’s fancy shopping district
Don’t spit in the subway! says the sign .. which must be working, because I saw very few people spit
I love the dragon-turtle on the HKD 50 (about 8 HKD to the US Dollar)
Here is an assembly of most of the things I brought back from this trip : Noritake bone China coffee mugs, Will Pan aka 潘玮柏 Pan Wei Bo 3 CD set made in Germany, panda bear (cannot go to China and NOT come back with a panda bear, right?!), Starbucks espresso mugs for Shenzhen and China, ‘lucky cat’ piggy bank (Japanese, not Chinese, though), ‘Cartier’ watch (Chinese, not French! hah), Year of the Tiger crocheted card, Starbucks gift in bag, cheap but beautiful bone China. A modest collection, yes – no silk!, no jade!, no expensive China! – I’m too cheap! Actually, my Chinese-English electronic translator didn’t make it into the picture and was a few $100.
Got my passport out to New York by overnight mail, I need a visa again, hopefully I will get a multiple-entry one this time. Otherwise I just ran errands, picked up three weeks’ mail (90% junk mail of course) at the post office, and went to the gym. It felt so nice to get some exercise.
.. and it’s still Thursday. I traveled back in time, so to speak, of course. Reminds me of the limerick
There was a young lady named Bright
Whose speed was much faster than light;
She set out one day,
In a relative way
And returned on the previous night.
– Arthur Henry Reginald Buller, in the December 19, 1923 issue of Punch
It’s 10pm and I have to run out to get milk and bread, so I’ll put a few more Hong Kong pictures up tomorrow.
No, I did not eat too much Chinese food while I was here! .. the photo is a reflection in a Chicago Bean-like silver work of art at the airport. My flight has been delayed by 6 hrs, but that’s OK. It is so nice to go home for a week. We stayed at the Marriott Hong Kong Skycity hotel close to the airport last night (very luxurious). My colleagues, carnivorous Americans that they are, couldn’t wait to sink their teeth into a cheeseburger in the hotel restaurant. They talked about it with some of our Chinese colleagues already as we were leaving Daya Bay. The conversation went as follows : ‘You should not kill animals and eat them, you should eat vegetables’. Response : ‘Oh, we kill the animals to save the vegetables!’. Oh boy : ).
Anyway, I had plans of my own : grabbed a sandwich in the hotel lobby instead and went out to explore the city with the help of the Mass Transit Rail system. I will post a few night-time pictures of Hong Kong when I’m home. The night offers spectacular cityscapes. At one point the train went through what looked like an out-worldly forest of 50 story-high apartment buildings. The airport is out on Lantau island west of Hong Kong island, and it takes a while to get to Kowloon or Hong Kong and so it was already 10pm by the time I got there, and most of the stores were closing. But I should be able to come back to Hong Kong several times.
We get to leave at 4pm today for Hong Kong, to stay over at the airport hotel. I might have been able to have stuck around until Thu morning because my flight is only at noon Thu – but it’s better to travel with the group (but tonight I will go explore Hong Kong at night on my own a little – I hope there is time for that).
We are working hard to get as much as possible done today before we leave. I took this picture at the Hong Kong immigration point on Saturday.
Hey, Tuesday is one day closer to Thursday. By now the bus ride in to work offers few surprises, but I still see many more ‘out of place things’ than perhaps I would see in the USA on the way to work : a kid that seems way too young to be bicycling on his own on the busy road; an electrical control panel door left open on the side of a building, a driver doing a risky move.
We had dinner last night at a new (for us) little restaurant close to our apartments, and the food was excellent! : pork on a bone with Szechuan spices (I’m still careful to bite too big into food with these), eggplant strips with garlic, noodles in a broth (got to have those!) and TsingTao beer. The tab? A scant 43 yuan ($6) each. I’m told the cleaning lady for our apartment gets $6 for two hours’ work. On a Saturday morning we can walk down and buy a delicious omelet- like breakfast on the sidewalk by the beach for 50 American cents. The radiant heater-fan combination in our apartment was all of $12 at Walmart. Of course a cheap currency helps exports (as my dad told us many times at the dinner table when we were kids!), but it also makes the money in the Great Piggy Bank of China (by some estimates it was $4.3 trillion in 2009) worth a lot less.
Picture of the day – the red-bean milkshake below is one I had at the Silver Dragon restaurant in Hong Kong on Saturday (very nice ! .. it was almost gone before I thought I should take a picture).
I’ve borrowed one of the weekend in Hong Kong’s pictures to cheer me up, since it’s Monday – a working sap’s un-favorite day of the week. These characters adorned a rack of jackets in the clothing floor of the Sogo department store which reminded me much of Macy’s in the USA.
I do have Wednesday to look forward to as the last day of this trip. Most of us go back on Thursday. (Yippee!). Some team members will ‘hold the fort’ and retain a presence here, and back in the USA we will have to finish up some documentation.
Pictures from top to bottom
On Avenue of the Stars in Kowloon about to take the ferry to Hong Kong Island – HK skyline behind me/ Rado painted bus in front of big billboards /Still trying to find out if Patrick Chan is related to Jackie Chan – Jackie Chan is a very big star in China, and has many endorsed products such as the flyer with his shampoo I got handed at Walmart : ) / Budweiser beer truck / Glass figurine in upscale store on HK island/ Street in Kowloon, the stores are still opening at 10.30am! .. but I’m told they are open until late at night/ Eye-catching beauty in shop window/ Catching the red line on MTR to Hong Kong Island; the subway tunnels under the sea to get between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island
Wow! I made it to Hong Kong today! and I so wished all of you could be here to experience it with me ! I would never have made it without going with someone from work, though. We started out on a bus ride, and had to transfer twice – no way I could have figured out the Chinese bus tables at the transfer stops. The buses took us to Shenzhen. Then we got separated at the Chinese customs and again at the Hong Kong customs points. Isn’t customs/ immigration is a little like human relationships? do i let you in? do i like you? do i like your politics? what will you offer in return for new cultures, vistas, experiences?
After getting through Hong Kong customs, the efficient (and crowded) Mass Transit Railway (MTR) System is at one’s disposal to go just about anywhere on Hong Kong Island (bottom of map picture) and Kowloon (top part of map). First a few basics about Hong Kong .. it is now a special administrative region of China (handed over in 1997 by the British), they have a different currency from China – the Hong Kong dollar and they speak Cantonese and not Mandarin!
So here goes with a quick run-down of what we did. We stopped at a nice electronics store, and I bought a little handheld Chinese-English translator-computer with a stylus that lets one practice Chinese writing as well (I’ll try to learn just a few characters at a time, I have no illusions about how difficult it is given that it takes a Chinese person 15 years of schooling to learn the written language !). Next we had a nice lunch, dumpling and noodles in a broth for me, and used the MTR to go to Victoria Bay/ Hong Kong harbor where the picture of me was taken (so it’s the Hong Kong island skyline behind me, a little foggy). Then we took a quick Ferry across the water to Hong KOng Island and Samuel went clothes shopping while I went to a department store called Sogo and came away with a stuffed panda bear, a lucky cat piggy bank and two Noritake coffee mugs. The MTR took us back to the border post with Shenzhen, where we again negotiated the two customs entry points. I got taken out of the line (I am sure it was because I was looking very foreign with my lily-white face in the crowd of Asian people!) and had to go get my temperature taken with an infrared scanner before they let me through.
I’ll post a selection of colorful pictures of Hong Kong tomorrow. I couldn’t get enough of the imagery everywhere. I have to go back.
So here we are : our third and last Friday before we go back HOME. From where I sit I see a collection of desks and chairs where we all work. There’s a Chinese SAP desk calendar on the right; and we all got little red gift boxes on the left from a guy that got married. The little box has a miniature pink teddy bear with a bow tie on the lid and has little pieces of candy inside. Little bears and other cuddly creatures are used on labeling and cards and advertising to signal a warm and fuzzy feeling, much as is the case in the USA. My weekend getaway plan is to go to Hong Kong by bus with a co-worler, only for the day Saturday. I am so glad to have a local person to go with – it’s very intimidating to try a bus-ride full of Chinese people, feeling they are staring at you (usually they are not)! I have not even been able to find a bus schedule on-line or at the bus stop. Without a bus my best shot at the moment is to walk down to the Sheraton hotel and see if they can get me a taxi.
The whole team went to dinner last night at the restaurant that serves up baby pigeons as its specialty. (Yes, I am horrible – I ate some baby pigeon as well. It is quite good!). The table has a lazy susan and they must have brought out 25 different dishes : roasted peanuts, spicy cabbage, jellyfish (none for me), fish and parsnip, a hot corn drink, beer, oolong tea, goose, noodles, green beans with garlic, most of it interesting and tasty.
In China, most workers take a ‘siesta’ after lunch (I thought it was only the Spanish, but no) – it is called wujiao and they really have cots here at work on which they sleep for an hour after lunch! Then they troop back in here and work with us. Not fair! I want some wujiao too!
Back at the apartment, Monday at work behind me. Today I saw an SAP screen in Chinese alongside the English version. The English is flawlessly lucid – and the Chinese infathomably foreign! 🙂 Here is how the Chinese characters get entered into any system : a Chinese computer keyboard is very close to a Western style keyboard, but the user types in syllables or English phonetic equivalents of Chinese characters, and software interprets the keystrokes and pops the Chinese character into the application. But even more fascinating is to see a Chinese person actually writing these squiggly spidery characters on a piece of paper. How did you ever learn to do that? I want to ask them.
But just to make sure we don’t get too serious – here is a picture of the wrapper on a Chinese twinkie sitting on the storeshelf yesterday. Aww .. I bet the little panda bear sells a lot of twinkies !
Hey – I was not going to sit in the apartment in Dameisha today, so I got on the Sunday shopping van to Shenzhen with 3 other coworkers.
Pictures from top to bottom –
The store looks very respectable, but sells only knock-off watches. I’m sporting a classic sqaure ‘Cartier’ I’ve seen many times in print ads in Time magazine.. nice enough for $40, not? / Remember that the Chinese New Year is not yet here! (second week in Feb) so the signs for a happy 2010 are all still up / Roasted duck in a Carrefour store – very good, we bought some / The cute kid was playing with the live seafood in front of him : ), this is also in the Carrefour store (international French store chain, but they are not in the USA).