Sunday/ Happy Valentine’s Day! Happy Chinese New Year!

They do celebrate Valentine’s Day in China, and this year it coincides with the Chinese New Year’s Day – very rare since the new year’s day is late on the calendar this year.   It turned out that my fears of masses of people trying to get into Hong Kong on Friday through the Shenzhen-HongKong border was unfounded; I sailed through with no trouble at all.  I stayed at a Marriott Courtyard Hotel on Hong Kong Island, very reasonably priced at US$100 per night, a tall 30 story structure with only 6 rooms on every floor (picture below is from my hotel room).   The room was very cozy, the bed had six perfectly firm pillows, the glass shower stall a large oversized ‘rain’ showerhead .. and the food in the restaurant was superb.   I was so tired Friday night, but sat there enjoying a crisp Asahi beer and fried halibut with jasmine rice and Thai asparagus.    Saturday I criss-crossed the city on several missions, to the bookstore, to the jewelry store, to the toy store, and they were all successful.   I also learned that the New Year’s parade (another parade other than the January one) and fireworks was only going to be tonight, so I missed that.  But I did go to the New Year’s Fair in Victoria Park; I will post more pictures later this week.

These ‘happy happy’ guys are from the foyer of the International Finance Center, an upscale shopping mall (behind me in the reflection picture of me).   Not quite my cup of tea, the malls in Hong Kong.   Very upscale and designer oriented, all Gucci and Louis Vuitton and all that.   The bookstore there, an Australian franchise, only carried English books.  I was looking for a Chinese translation of ‘Tintin in Tibet’.  The Adventures of Tintin (Les Aventures de Tintin) is a series of comic strips created by the Belgian artist Georges Rémi (1907–1983), who wrote under the pen name of Hergé.  Sure enough, when I produced my English language version of the comic strip to the store clerk (bought at the first bookstore), he showed me the Chinese ones.   Now I can read them side by side and see if I recognize a few Chinese characters here and there, see?    I’ll write more tomorrow, got to go to bed.

Friday

So check this out .. I wrote ‘Do not Erase’ on the whiteboard, and then my Chinese colleague wrote it in Chinese next to it for good measure.    The second one is a 17 stroke character! Wow.    So the amateur very limited-time student of Chinese I have become, had to go look up the characters on my translator .. and voila!   cā : do not erase!

must not, do not; without, never

to wipe / to erase / rubbing (brush stroke in painting) / to clean / to polish


And this sign says ‘Good Luck’ ..  which I hope I will have a little of for my trip this weekend to Hong Kong.  I see the New Years Parade was back in January, so I missed that, but even so I am sure there will be an exciting vibe there this weekend.   I need it, since I am a little homesick and that after just one week out here this trip.

Thursday/ weekend plans

This message from the ATM machine at the apartments.   Please obstruct other’s view when input password to avoid peek .. yes,  peek : ) at your password not good !

My roommates and others are going to Shenzhen for the weekend; I am a going to attempt to get into Hong Kong on my own.  From the red dot on the far right where the apartments are to the train station dot on the Hong Kong border with a driver all should go without a hitch.   Then I might run into a mob scene at the Hong Kong border, with thousands of mainland travelers trying to get through customs (it’s Chinese New Year weekend).  It might count in my favor that I’m a foreigner – we have a separate line at customs.    Once through customs, I should be all clear since I know how to use the Mass Transit Rail system – but again there might be hordes of people that will want to use the train go to Hong Kong city.   I will see!   My plan B is to turn around, go back to Shenzhen and stay in the hotel and give up on Hong Kong.   But there will be a really big fireworks display on Saturday night to herald in the Year of the Tiger.   And who wants to miss a fireworks display from the inventors of it?

Wednesday/ more red lanterns

Here’s a nicer red-lantern picture from the apartments.  These are much bigger than the ones in the earlier picture.  (I finally figured out how to use the bracket function on my camera to slightly over-expose the image to make the lantern ‘glow’).   Next week is going to be quiet with no one here at work; our laundry place and some restaurants and stores are closing down for the week as well.  Help!  I may have to wear some shirts more than once – not the end of the world.

Tuesday

A picture that was sent to one of our team here by a friend.   Yes : if you can’t find the book you are looking for, you are probably at .. the Wong Fook Hing book store!    Is the picture photo-shopped?   Is it a tongue in cheek name, and the store run by an English person?   It’s still funny!  : )

And more evidence of the coming new year here at the entrance of the building where we work .. the tangerines are real ones, and will get plucked and eaten, is out impression.

Monday

The Year of the Tiger is coming !.. (a crouching tiger waiting to jump us?) Next Monday the 15th is the start of the lunar new year. The entire country stops working for a week (but not us .. boo! Boo! ).    We will prepare for the next phase and set up the SAP system.    I took the photo tonight here in the complex, the red lanterns along the pathway here is  a nice touch.

Sunday night ‘home’ (far away from home)

Yes, home it isn’t but it will do, right?  Only three of us got picked up by the driver tonight at Hong Kong airport; the rest will come out tomorrow due to the snow storm that closed the airports out east.     My friendly little teddy bear piggy bank was waiting on my desk in my room for me, so that cheered me up (aww LOL) !   The flight went very well; the sore throat I started with even cleared up somewhat.   I reconfigured my wallet (out with the greenbacks, in with the red 100 yuan notes) and computer bag, so I should be ready in the morning for the bus at 6.30am.

At Seattle airport

I got put on the earlier 6am flight to San Francisco again, which is good – gives me a little more time to make the connection to Hong Kong.    Dry and clear here, no sign of rain and snow.   One could almost think winter is passing us over this season, but I don’t believe that !

Oh, and the two canisters of powdered Parmesan cheese pasta have been tested for explosives by security at the airport !  My roommates and I had better enjoy them,  since I will not packing powdered parmesan cheese into my bags again.

Friday/ packing up

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.

Thursday

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.

Wednesday

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).

Tuesday

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.

Monday ..

.. 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.

More Hong Kong pictures

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)

Friday

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.

Home ..!

.. 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.

Thursday, at Hong Kong airport

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.

Wednesday

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.

Tuesday

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).

Monday

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.