We are cramming in as much work as possible today before we leave. We plan to leave at 4pm today for Hong Kong, and stay over at the airport hotel.
I might have been able to have stuck around until Thursday morning, because my flight is only at noon on Thursday. It’s better to travel with the departing group, though. I plan to explore Hong Kong at night on my own a little – I hope there is time for that.
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 towards the beach 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.
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.
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 my colleague from work, though. We started out on a bus ride in Dameisha, and had to transfer twice. There is no way I could have figured out the Chinese bus tables at the transfer stops. The buses took us to Shenzhen, and 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 the offer of new cultures, new vistas, new experiences? (Money! I guess).
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. The written language is the same as in mainland China, but 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, dumplings and noodles in a broth for me. The MTR got us 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 the short Star Ferry ride across the water to Hong Kong Island. My colleague Samuel went clothes shopping while I went to a department store called Sogo. I 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 was called out of the long line (no doubt because I was looking very foreign with my lily-white face in the large crowd of Asian people). My temperature was taken with an infrared scanner before they let me through.
I’ll post a selection of colorful pictures of Hong Kong tomorrow. It was all a little overwhelming and I couldn’t get enough of the imagery everywhere. I will have to go back.
So here we are : our third and last Friday before we get to go back home. From where I sit in the corner, I see a collection of long desks and chairs on both sides, where we are all working. There’s a Chinese SAP desk calendar on my right, and today we all got little red gift boxes from a guy that got married. The little box has a miniature pink teddy bear with a bow tie on the lid, and there are little pieces of candy inside. Little bears and other cuddly creatures are used on labeling & cards & advertising to signal a warm and fuzzy feeling, much as is the case in the USA, but more extensively so.
My weekend getaway plan is to go to Hong Kong by bus with a co-worker – only for a Saturday day trip. It would be so great to have a local person to go with! It’s intimidating to step into a bus full of Chinese people, feeling that they are staring at you (usually they are not)! I have not even been able to find a bus schedule online or at the bus stop. Without the bus, my next 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 with 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 wǔ jiào 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 wǔ jiào 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 unfathomably foreign! 🙂 Here is how Chinese characters are 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. Embedded software interprets the keystrokes and pops the Chinese character into the application. Even more fascinating is to see a Chinese person actually writing these squiggly spidery characters on a piece of paper or on the whiteboard. How did you ever learn to do that? I wanted to ask them. (Answer: 15 years of education, at home and in school).
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).
Five of us made another run into Shenzhen, and this time I saw a little more of the city than just Walmart. Shenzhen -with a population of 12 million already! – is by some measures still the world’s fastest growing city. There are brand-new buildings everywhere. I saw ‘digital malls’ as they are called, a little grungy inside, but crammed with 150 cell-phone and gadget sellers.
Pictures from top to bottom (remember that double-clicking should display the picture a little bigger, to take a closer look):
Clusters of high-rise apartment buildings are everywhere in the city/ Our driver parked his van in front of the Casablanca Bar/ Unfortunately sights like these of historic Chinese architecture are very rare in Shenzhen/ One of the main streets downtown, sporting a Starbucks, a McDonalds and Coca-cola billboards, all with an Asian twist. I love cultural west-meets-east confluences like these! / My favorite sighting of the day : a colorful Lenovo truck with a cute African zebra saying ‘Let’s open happy’ ! .. it’s almost certainly going to make me buy a Lenovo notebook next.
This picture is a scene from out of the bus window I took on the way back to the apartment after work. That’s a drug store on the right and the big old Buick emerging from the gate is the most popular luxury car in Chinese cities, I’m told – more so than Lexuses, Mercedeses and BMWs. There are plenty of mopeds, motorcycles and bicycles on the road as well, and the buses and cars honk at them to say ‘Get out of the way!’ or ‘I’m on your left!’ .. we’re all glad we don’t have to drive here !
We have scheduled trips to Shenzhen for this weekend again, so I will report back on that. Hopefully we will get to go to Hong Kong and even further afield on the Mainland once we have settled in a little better.
I have to submit a picture of a Chinese toilet – amazingly these are found even in the brand-new building we just moved into. Mercifully each washroom has one western-style toilet as well. Yay! We didn’t have those in the building we started in the first week. An interesting exercise it was to put your feet on the white footholds and squat to do the dirty deed !
The birthday cake for a team member was very nice! A very light cake with frosting and lots of fruit.
By the way : dessert for a Chinese meal is usually a fruit platter with melon and cantaloupe and the like, in lieu of ice cream, pie or pastries.
I’m learning a little bit more about the written Chinese language, a language of pictographs. Many basic Chinese characters are in fact, highly stylized pictures of what they present.
Around 9 out of 10 characters is a combination of a ‘meaning’ element and a ‘sound’ element.
A contemporary Chinese person might know and use between 6,000 and 8,000 characters – but one can get by with as few as 2,000 or 3,000.
The two characters 入口 rù kǒu on the sign below stand for ‘entrance’. A depiction of a person that goes through a door, opening, gate.
‘Exit’ looks like this 出口 chū kǒu. That first character is a foot, coming out from an enclosure! The foot is leaving through a door, or gate.
I’m taking a walk around the apartment complex where we stay, in Dameisha.
I like the sign that says Show mercy to the green lives under your foot! .. a very philosophical interpretation of Keep off the grass!
Well – what can I say? I was Alice, and Walmart was a wonderland of Chinese culture and department store marketing of food, houseware, electronics and clothing. There we were, 15 of us dropped off with a little bus, looking for household items and food for our apartments in Dameisha. And did we load up that bus!
Walmart being what it is, the choices were cheap and enormous – and of course, they had Kraft branded food products and Coke & Pepsi, but there were still some surprises. Dinner plates were hard to find. Chinese food is served up in bowls. T-shirts were not plentiful at all.
The food was the most fascinating, from the ‘wet area’ where one could catch one’s own super-fresh seafood (yes, right there in the store, the way the staff did at the restaurant the other night), to teas of all kinds, milk tea, a limited selection of good coffee, candy, but relatively few chocolate products, noodles of all kinds, root vegetables, fresh ginger, eggplant and durian.
There are plans afoot to visit Walmart in the city of Shenzhen on Saturday, so that we can get pots and pans, knives, forks, extra towels & what have yous. My internet access at the apartment is not up and running yet, nor is the central heating working.
We have made a start to our project, though; met dozens of colleagues and client team members, and it was not a bad week at all.