Friday, December 19, 2008

As you all know, I'll be heading back home soon for the holidays. I've just got about three days left here in China before I head home. Soon I'll be on a flight headed for LAX. I'm not really sure what I'm going to do when the plane lands and I'm back on American soil. I might have to get down on my knees and kiss that beautiful (yet dirty) floor.

Anyway, I'll be in LA during most of that time, but I'm planning to head up to Northern California for a couple of days. It'll probably be sometime between Christmas and New Years. If the timing/scheduling works out, it be nice to see all my friends and family.

And one last note, if you want anything from China, just let me know. I've got a couple of days left where I could do some shopping for you. Keep in mind that there's a real limit to how many bootleg DVDs I smuggle into the US.  And no I will not bring pack any poisoned toothpaste/pet food or any melamime laced daily products.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Last Sunday, in addition to checking out Shun Hing Square, I also went to Lychee Park in downtown Shenzhen.  The park takes its name from the beautiful groves of lychee trees.  And even though I was just there, I still have no idea what a lychee tree looks like.  (Oh, and for those of you who don't know, lychee is a sweet tropical fruit native to southern China.)

When I got to Lychee Park, I didn't know what to expect.  I couldn't find a lot of (English) information available about the place.  It's not huge Shenzhen tourist attraction by any means.  I pretty much just found it on a map and decided to check it out.  It turned out to be a park for the locals; I don't think I saw any other tourist there.

Anyway, check out this great entrance sign.  Apparently, you're not allowed to do anything even remotely entertaining at the park.  It's a good thing I didn't bring my "skid-board":

This is a picture from the palm tree grove.  As I took this photo, I thought to myself, "Man, this would be a cool place for portraits." I looked over and saw some couples having their wedding photographs taken.  It felt good to know that I've still got "it":

This is from the pond of gated lotus flowers:

Nothing really special here.  I just liked the reflection and extreme contrast between the sunlight and deep shadowy areas:

Ah yes, the "Chinese hacky sack" players.  Apparently it's called jianzi.  It's supposedly very popular in Asia, but this was the first time I'd ever seen/heard of it.  It's like playing hacky sack with a heavily weighted shuttlecock.  The shuttle cock has four large feathers fixed into a series of plastic disks.  There were some crazy overhead kicks:

I also came across this group of musical performers.  As you can see, they drew quite the crowd. They had musicians playing the keyboard and the banjo while others sang.  I'm not really sure what kind of music, but they must have been well known songs.  Everyone in the crowd already knew the words and they just joined right in:

After waiting about 20 minutes or so, I found an opening and made my way to the front.  It wasn't until that moment that realized just how tall I am here in China.  I felt really bad about it so I ended up squatting most of the time.  It was alright though because I got this picture.  Kids just make pictures better:

Then there were the dancing.  I guess you could call it Dance Dance Revolution for old folks.  They'd have a boombox playing some music and there would be a "lead dancer."  Everyone would watch the leader and just try to follow along.  The routine was pretty easy to learn because it was simple and it repeated over and over again.  This dance group was a little more elaborate with their decorative handkerchiefs.  There were some other bizarre ones blasting Chinese techno music:

Finally, as I was exiting the park, I came across this.  I'm not exactly sure how to describe it.  For nominal fee, your child could sit in a cart pulled by a "robot child."  During the ride, speakers would blast Chinese children songs.  There's a U-shaped handle that the child could rotate to steer the robot.  There was something kind of freaky about a small robot child pulling kids around:

Monday, December 15, 2008

This weekend I had a chance to check out Shun Hing Square. Commonly known as the Diwang Building, it's the tallest skyscraper in Shenzhen. The name Diwang (地王) roughly translates to "earth king." At 1,260 feet tall it ranks 9th tallest building in the world and 5th tallest in China.  (As a comparison, the current tallest building in the world Taipei 101 is 1671 feet tall.)

Having visited Taipei 101 must have spoiled me because this place felt totally lame. I'm not sure if I'd call it a let-down...maybe just plain strange is a better description. This is the description from the brochure for the Meridian View Centre (MVC) at the top:

"Standing at the MVC, which is the first high-rise theme sightseeing and entertainment scenic spot in Asia, you will be amazed by the enchanting view of Shenzhen and Hong Kong. So many things are great treated to you in MVC including a thrilling and stimulating movie, a splendid short film on Shenzhen and Hong Kong's history, a funny animal show, exciting stereoscopic film and stimulating game, a robot guide worth a million RMB, colorful shopping space, and quite and romantic cafe, and so much more."

Trust me, it sounds like a lot more fun that it actually was. Their English may sound a little awkward, but they sure understand marketing. Oh and that million RMB (~$200,00 USD) robot guide? It wasn't even on. Ugh.

Anyway, after arriving at the top, I walked out the elevator and came upon this display. It supposed to be Deng Xiaoping and Margaret Thatcher discussing the hand over of Hong Kong back to China. The whole Hong Kong/China relationship was a main theme:

And along the walls of the walkway were small displays describing history of Shenzhen and Hong Kong. You know: historical pictures from the past, scenes from famous events, photographs of celebrities, etc.  I guess this one is supposed to illustrate children playing back in the days? I'm still trying to dechiper the meaning of "Tall slide provides entertainment:"

So, "What do you think if don't have MRT now?" (I really don't mean to be a jerk, but all the really awkward Engrish drives me nuts.):

Remember that "exciting stereoscopic film" that the brochure mentioned? Well it was some sort of hourly pirate themed movie/experience. I didn't see the pirate show, but I can assure you that it wasn't rated ARRR. And I still don't get the relationship between pirates and skyscapers:

Obviously though, the main reason anyone comes to this place is for the view. (At least I hope no one comes for the "high-rise entertainment spot.") For 2 RMB (͌͌͌͌~$0.30 USD) you could use these telescopes to take a closer look at the city:

Unfortunately, I picked a really crappy cloudy day to visit. That explains why the whole top half of these pictures vanished into thin air: 

My original plan was to catch the sunset, but I got there too early. I really tried to hang out and wait for sunset, but I just ran out of stuff to do. Entertainment scenic spot? Yeah, right. And with the cost of admission at 60 RMB ($8.75), it's safe to say that I won't be heading back there again.

The rest of my Shenzhen pictures can be found here.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

So this is what my hair looks like after 6 months without a haircut....

The real question is:

Do I let it grow out even more?  Or do I get it cut when I'm at home?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Yesterday, the blacklist was released at work. For weeks, rumors had been circulating about who's on the list and when it would be released. Only upper management knew the true contents of the list. With the blacklist taking effect today, the office definitely felt emptier than usual. The reality of layoffs have slowly began to take hold.

The last 24-48 hours have been kind of a downer because I was pretty close to two of these coworkers that were laid off. They were people who I interacted with on a daily basis. They spoke English and they had done a lot to help and look out for me. I had been working with them since the first day I arrived in China. We had a farewell dinner for the both of them last night.

When I heard the news, I didn't know what to say. How do you comfort someone in a position like that? Can you really tell them that everything will be fine when the economy is going to hell? Imagine working in another country and then suddenly being laid off. With housing provided by the company, they've probably got a couple days left before she having to move out. My fellow project manager's last day of work was spent de-authorizing system accounts and clearing her laptop of sensitive material.  All these extra hassles sound like insult to injury.

The really odd thing is that part of me wishes that I was laid off. I thought about how "convenient" it would be to be laid off; I'd be able to head home for good without feeling like a quitter. It's not that hate my job, but it's not like I love my job either. It's really a love/hate relationship and I understand that I need to give it some more time before making any judgements. Wanting to leave probably sounds crazy given how unstable the job market is in this economic recession.

The scary thing about all this is that I'm not out of the woods yet; this is just the beginning. Rumors have already begun circulating of a second round of layoffs after Chinese New Year. Honestly though, all I can do is put out my best effort. No point in getting worked up over things I can't control. 

Friday, December 12, 2008

And so the countdown begins. In ten days, I'll be on an airplane headed for Los Angeles, California, US of A.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The highs from giving a presentation couldn't have died any quicker.  I came into work today feeling just about as bored and lost as I when I first arrived in China.  It was back to sitting in front of the computer catching up on Google News and reading random Wikipedia articles.  It's funny how quickly things can change.

I've always been the type that required lots of stimulation.  Take my my senior year of college as a case in point.  During that year, I had about a half dozen part time jobs and I was working over 40 hours a week:
  • Tutoring at the Residence Halls
  • Supervising the math tutoring program at the Residence Halls
  • Tutoring at the Student Learning Center
  • Teaching a bi-weekly study group
  • TA for a undergraduate physics lab class
  • Photographing for the Daily Californian
  • Private Tutoring
And that was all in addition to my regular courseload and other student group obligations.  I was busy nearly every moment of the day and I'd often get home at about 10 or 11 PM.  Google Calendar was my life saver that year.  Somehow though, I was able to juggle all of those responsibilities.  But it was more than that becauase I actually enjoyed having too much on my plate.  In fact, I thrive off that kind of pressure.  I just crave that kind of stimulation.

It's funny because I was talking with my father and he mentioned that I have always been like that.  Even when I little kid, once I had figured out a toy, I'd get bored of it quickly.  I'd have playdates all the time because I prefer playing with other kids than by myself.  Growing up, my parents were always taking me basketball practices/games, golf camp, art classes, etc.  I never realized that I've always had that in me.

The question for me now is: How do I get motivated/stimulated at work?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

"The next step in the process flow is chemical strengthening.  It's used to greatly increase the flexibility and hardness of glass."

"Psst, Alan.  A bunch of inaudible Chinese words I can't understand."


"Oh, can you introduce the other PowerPoints for me while you're at it?"

"Uhh ... sure, I guess."

And that's how my one hour presentation turned into chairing the entire four hour meeting.  Originally, I only supposed to present a general overview of the organization and lead the factory tour.  But I ended up with the whole enchilada, having to make an additional three PowerPoint presentations.

Overall, I managed to pull it off, mainly because I reviewed and fine-tuned every one of those presentation PowerPoint and Excel files.  (That's what happens when you're the native English speaker.  It's your job to correct bad grammar, awkward phrasing, and misspelled words.)  Being the PowerPoint repairman, I had a basic understanding of the presentations and I managed to sound somewhat knowledgeable.  It would have been helpful if they asked me earlier so I could have actually prepared.  In any case, even if it wasn't my best performance, it was definitely decent.

The sad thing was that my boss didn't show up.  I had been busting my ass all week to do a really bang up job and he wasn't even there to see it.  But my boss's boss was there and I think he was impressed.  He had a few minor suggestions for me, but overall he was happy with how it went.  Hopefully, my boss will hear all about it.  There's room for improvement, but I guess I'm satisfied.  I've only been with the company 5 months; I can't really expect too much.

The best part was the dinner!  Gotta treat the customers to dinner, ya know?  And guess who gets to tag along: Me!  It was a delicious Western-style steak dinner.  And it was free! (well kind of anyway.)  The price I paid was having to make lots of small talk.  When you're the only native English speaker, you're expected to chat it up with customers.  I ended up just asking a lot of questions that revolve around themselves, their family, and their home.  People love talking about that kind of stuff.

After dropping them off at the hotel, I ended up getting home at 11:30 P.M.  Exhausted, I immediately went to bed.

Friday, December 5, 2008

I'm long overdue for a photo entry, so here are some pictures from my adventures at the "Shenzhen International Garden and Flora Expo Park." (It's quite a name isn't it? It's another one of those instances where the Chinese doesn't translate that efficiently.)

It was actually quite the adventure because I ended up getting lost for the first. Usually I prepare for my outings: do some research, jot down some notes, and draw up a map. But not this time. I which subway stop to get off of, but that was about it. I just assumed it would be easy to figure out the directions but there weren't any signs. I ended up wandered the streets of Shenzhen until I figured it out. However, getting lost worked out for the best because I arrived at the perfect time. Yay for golden lighting and sunsets.

I have no idea what this building because I didn't really take any cutline;  I was just trying to explore as much of the park as possible before it got dark:

I ended up just walking around the place taking pictures of things that looked cool. This was some sort of geodesic dome structure:

And them I stumbled upon a group of kids playing on this half dome. Turns out that the dome was really a large map of Shenzhen and Hong Kong:

It's kind of ironic that I went to a garden/park and I didn't take any pictures of plants. This picture of sheet metal flower sculptures was the closest I got to an image of a real flower:

As I was walking up the main staircase, I came across these statues. These statues of children racing up the stairs were bolted down into staircase. How funny/cute!:

Finally, I ended the day with a hike to the pagoda. I actually had to run up the hill just to make it there before closing time. By the time I got there, the sun had already set. I ended up having to walk back down the hill in the dark:

And so the cycle continues...

This Monday, I have another presentation. Maybe this time, the tour won't get canceled. Oh, that reminds me! I never told you how last week's presentations went. Well, they all got cancelled. I guess when you're upper upper management, you can cancel at the last minute. Argh, all that preparation for naught :(

Anyway, I've been busy this week preparing for Monday's customer visit. It's an important one, but I'm not that worried. In high pressure situations like this, I remind myself that I've already given two of the biggest speeches of my life. If I can make it through those, then I can make it anything. For those of you who weren't there or don't remember, I'm referring to:

1) High School Graduation: As stressful as it was at the time, giving a speech at my high school graduation has one most valuable experiences of my life. Speaking in front of a huge crowd of classmates, friends, and family takes guts. And unlike most schools where the valedictorian is required to give a speech, I had to audition to speak. I don't know what possessed me to do it; it sound like the type of thing I'd be interested in. Maybe I just wanted to sit on the stage at graduation. Haha.

Looking back on it, I'm actually embarrassed by my speech. Last year, I saw a video of that speech for the first time. It all just sounded incredibly corny and cliche. There was this one line that sounded like: "I can't wait to be done with tests and finals!" What was I thinking? Did I forget that I was going to college that fall?

2) Scott's Funeral: I'm only 22 years old, but I can honestly say that giving a friend's eulogy will always be one of the most difficult things I've ever done. I think back on and it and I don't know how I summoned strength to do it. I never even properly prepared for the eulogy: it was never edited and I never asked for a second opinion. And I definitely never practiced giving it out loud.

The most poignant memories from that day were those moments right speaking. I remember sitting on that pew next to my friends with a pocket full of tissues and the eulogy in my hand. After being introduced, it was my turn to speak. With my heart racing, I made my way down the aisle to the podium. I was so nervous: I just looked straight ahead, wondering how many eyes were fixed on me. I walked past the coffin and turned to face the audience. And from there, I don't know what happened. I just started speaking. Never mind that I didn't really prepare; it all just flowed so naturally.

I didn't meant to get all serious there. I just wanted to make point that with these types of experiences under my belt, come Monday, I'll be good to go. I've got nothing to worry about.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Knock, knock.

Arrrgh. What the hell is that?

Knock, knock.

“我醒了。怎么了?” (I'm awake. What is it?)

I crawl out of bed and go open the door. My roommate is standing there looking at me.

“现在几点?” (What time is it?)

“7 o'clock.” (Note that the shuttle leaves at 7:15 A.M. and it's a good 7 minute walk away.)

Shit. You've got to be shitting me. I must have slept through my alarm this morning.

I quickly grab my cell phone and look at the time: 15:45 (i.e. 3:45 P.M.). I realize that I forgot to set the clock on my phone last night. Whenever the battery pops out, it resets the time and date.

I throw on some clothes, pack my bag, brush my teeth and head out the door. I'm looking like a hot mess because I didn't get a chance to shower. I'm combing down my mad scientist hair as we power walk to the shuttle stop. We made the shuttle but I go to work starving; there was no time to buy any steamed meat buns for breakfast.

Oh, how I hate that cell phone of mine. Maybe I should just buy a real alarm clock. After all, here in China, the price is definitely right.

(And seriously, speaking Mandarin was my first instinct after being woken up by that knock on the door. I guess that total immersion really is working after all.)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving in China passed just like any other day. No deep-fried turkey, stuffing, or pumpkin pie. No Black Friday to look forward to. And worst of all, no family gathering at home.

Lately the homesickness has been sitting on the back burner, but today it flared back up. I was really bummed out throughout most of today. I've known all week that Thanksgiving was coming up, but I wasn't sure how I would handle it. At first I held it all in, but I ended up breaking down and crying eventually. In the privacy of a bathroom stall, I cried my eyes out as I flipped through family/friend photos loaded on my iPod. And afterwards I felt so much better. Crying really is so theraputic. It's been months since I've felt that homesick.

Anyway, I want to make a special post today. The following was originally written around the end of September. At the time, I had some reservations about posting this entry.  But since today is Thanksgiving, I figure now's as good a time as any:

"Have you talked to your mother yet?"

That's the first thing my dad asks me. (I was talking to him on Skype during my lunch break.) I immediately think to myself, "Ugh, what did I forget to do this time?"

He tells me that my brother had a serious automobile accident. He fell asleep at the wheel. The car rolled five times. It was completely totaled.

My brother walked away from it. No concussion. Only one cut on his head. He didn't even need stitches for it. He's lucky to be alive.

It took awhile for the gravity of the situation to sink in. When it finally did, I was actually pretty shook up; I couldn't stop crying. It was the first time I've ever had "tears of joy." I've experienced tears of grief, brokenhearted tears, and homesick tears, but never "tears of joy."

It's events like this that make you count your blessings. It's the type of sobering experience that puts everything in perspective. Suddenly, all the crap I've been dealing with in China didn't seem that problematic anymore. Homesickness? I'm just happy to have friends and family to come home to.

So everyone, please take care of yourself. I can't even imagine how difficult it would be to deal with losing another close friend or family member. (I still haven't forgot about Scott or my grandfathers.)

On a more lighthearted note, my brother had my Nikon D700 and 14-24mm f/2.8 lens with him in the car during the accident. One of the first things he did was check if my camera was okay. (It was fine.) As my friend said, "You've got to admit that's cute." It's touching. Now I have another thing to be thankful for!

Monday, November 24, 2008

WOW! Talk about an anti-climatic day. No one showed up, so there was no presentation. To quoteth David Letterman, "I feel like an ugly date."

Tomorrow there's supposedly another presentation, if time permits. Let's see if I go 0/2. I'm just hoping that all my preparation isn't for nothing.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sorry for the complete lack of posts these last couple of days. I've been extremely busy with work these last couple of days. In fact, I had to work on Saturday! (I was one of only three people working in the entire building.) I've been asked to give some presentations this Monday and Tuesday. But these aren't your normal presentations; as one of my friends said, this could possibly be the greatest 30 minutes of my young career.

On tomorrow's agenda, I'm leading factory tour. Oh and did I mention that some big senior vice presidents from Nokia will be in attendance? They're are flying from Finland. Accompanying them are some pretty high upper management guys from Foxconn as well. This includes Mr. $5.5B himself: Terry Gou , the CEO.

And on Tuesday, I have another important presentation for Nokia. We're trying to get the deal to produce a new product. The head of this team from Nokia will be coming out to survey the facilities. As the person with the best English skills, guess who got the job? The craziest thing about all this is that I just found out about this project last week.

I'll have more dish tomorrow. (Do you think I should ask for an autograph? Or is that tacky?)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Last month on 10/10, I got out of bed early, hopped on the MRT, and made my way into downtown Taipei. After all, October 10th is the National Celebration Day of Taiwan. (You can think of it like Taiwan's birthday, similar to our 4th of July.) I was just happy to get the day off work. The plan? Photograph the annual Double Ten Day parade. 

And boy did I take some awesome pictures. The great thing about having a huge professional camera is look like a professional photographer. I was able to make my way into the restricted area without any credentials. In fact, security didn't even question me! I had complete access to the staging area of the parade and I was able to freely walk among the floats. It was awesome.

Let's see the results:

Here are some people dressed up in native Taiwanese clothing. (And by native Taiwanese, I mean the indigenous peoples of Taiwan.) I was trying to take a candid but people just love to pose:

Next, I came across a group of children acrobat performers. This kid was trying to balance that ball as he spun the parasol. (I should have used a slower shutter speed for the motion blur :/ ):

Sounds easy? Well try doing it while walking on stilts!

Since I was being mistaken as a professional photographer, I tried to play the part. I spotted a group of children and asked them to pose. Then make a little small talk, show them the picture, you get the idea:

For this next one, I actually tried to go incognito with the telephoto lens. Even though it didn't work out, I still like it. (Oh and she's wearing some sort of lion/dragon costume that can be pulled over her head):

And finally came the mounted police. If you couldn't tell, a lot of these pictures were taken with my new ultrawide angle lens. This event was the first time I really got to play around with it. For this picture, I got really close to the head horse. I was scared it was going to lunge foward and break my lens/camera. That's how close I was:

In the end, security eventually figured out I wasn't supposed to be there. I supposed it's my own fault that I got caught. After the parade started moving, I didn't know where to go, so I started walking along side the floats. I must have walked out too far because a guard asked me what I was doing. It would have been pretty cool if I was allowed to march in the parade!

Anyway, by that point, I didn't really care about getting kicked off. I had already gotten my shots. :)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Okay, so yesterday I lied about staying in the entire weekend. I actually went out to downtown Shenzhen on Sunday. Given my recent illness, it probably wasn't the smartest idea. In fact, it's probably made my flu become drastically worse. 

But nothing was going to stop me from going out this weekend. I had plans to go out and I couldn't stomach the idea of spending a third weekend in a row bumming around my apartment. It was time to seize the day!

The day started off with a nice lunch at Parkhaus. It's a lovely Western-style restaurant/coffee shop/wine bar. I immediately spotted two foreigners (i.e. non-Chinese) chatting away in English at the table across from me. That's how you know it's a good place for Western food! This is in the interior of the restaurant:

It was a nice change of pace because I was getting tired of eating Chinese food damnit. Yay for REAL Western food. This was an orange citrus and smoked ham salad:

That was followed up with some pan-fried pork steaks with fried potato wedges and seasoned vegetables:

After lunch, I headed off to the Shenzhen Book City. It's apparently the world's largest bookstore in terms of area (at 43,900 square meters). You can think of it as a huge three-floored "book shopping mall." But there's more than just books; they have a restaurants, antique shops, convenience stores, art galleries, etc. They books though are obviously the main attraction. There's an imported bookstore, 24-hour bookstore, and a huge main bookstore that also sells music and videos. This is a picture of the central bookstore:   

My favorite though was the antique bookstore bar. We're talking about a real bar where you can sip on wine/coffee/tea/etc. and just read. And all the pieces of furniture were hand selected by the owners. You can curl up with a good book in an antique bed from the Song Dynasty!

Anyway, I ended up buying some Chinese books to help me study Chinese characters. You know, time to work on that reading comprehension. I found a great series of books for native-English speakers like myself. The stories are written entirely in Chinese with footnotes at the bottom of every page explaining new vocabulary.

Oh and the stories are just classic. With titles like Can I dance with you? and Two children seeking the Joy Bridge, how can you lose?  Just check out the description on the back cover of I really want to find her....:

"She is really beautiful. Just one look at her photo and three guys, Dai-wei, Jie-fu, and Qiu-tian, are all determined to find her! The photo was given to them by their professor before he died. And nobody knows where in China the girl is. How can the guys find her? And what happens when they finally see her?"

We're talking about Pulitzer Prize winning stuff here. I just had to buy the whole collection:  

Right now I'm working my way though Whom do you like more?, a gripping love story. (I'm actually just suprised that I can understand this many Chinese characters.)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Geez, it's been a rough couple of days. I haven't really had a chance to update because I've been dealing with the trifecta of pain:

1) Twisted ankle: First off, I twisted my damn ankle. (At least I think it's a twisted ankle; I've never actually had one before.) It got really bad last Friday after work. I gave a tour of the factory and so I had to stand all day. That's probably what made the pain go from bad to worse. It got to the point where I just went out an bought a freakin' ankle brace. I spent most of Saturday in bed trying to keep my weight off it.

2) 拉肚子 (AKA diarrhea): Then there's the restless bowels that I've been dealing with. It's funny because in English, diarrhea is a bit of an embarrassing topic. It's not the type of thing people talk about openly. And there aren't really any good euphemisms for it either. "Upset stomach" just doesn't do it for me.

But in Chinese, we have 拉肚子 (Pronounced: "la du zi.") Literally, it means "pull stomach." It carries the same meaning as diarrhea without the stigma. And people are relatively more open about discussing it. They have no problem with asking if you have it or mentioned that they've got it. My coworker and I have been trying to figure out what the hell we ate this week.

I'm starting to get over it now, but last week was rough. I was on the Pepto Bismol, Imodium, and some Chinese medicine. (I guess that's what I get for going out and trying "local food." Let's just say they don't have the same health/sanitation standards as in the US.)

3)Flu: But the worst so far has been the flu I caught this weekend. It started Saturday. By Sunday, I developed a fever, headache, and a runny nose. Now it's full blown and it's moving down into my throat. It got so bad that I asked my boss if I could take a half day today.  I got home and just napped a good four hours or so.

This is the first time I actually got sick in China and it sucks. Damn, these Chinese super-colds. My weakened American immune system just can handle it. I guess I should just be thankful I didn't catch SARS or the Avian Flu.  ~knock on wood~

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Still making my way through those Taiwan pictures.  Here are a few of my favorites of Taipei 101, currently the tallest building in the world!  And if you missed it, you can click here to find my entry about visiting Taipei 101. 

This picture was taken in front of the entrance to the Sun Yat-sen (SYS) Memorial Hall. I tried to use the building's roofing and columns to frame Taipei 101.  It was taken shortly before sunset, so there was still a good amount of light out:

After visiting the SYS memorial, I made my way over to Taipei 101. It's well within walking distance and it's easy to find. I mean how the hell do you miss a 101 floor building? Anyway, as you can see, nighttime was beginning to set in. I must have camped out at this spot for a good 20 minutes or so waiting for this shot:

And this is a late night picture of the main entrance to the shopping mall in Taipei 101.  It was actually taken on a separate trip to Taipei 101. I had plans to go to the outdoor observatory on the 91st floor, but my camera was running out of batteries. (So stupid of me!)

You can find the rest of my Taipei 101 pictures here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

So I'm sitting at my desk when my coworker walks in the room carrying an eight-pack of toilet paper. She rips open the packaging and begins handing out one roll of toilet paper to each one of us. I ask her what's going on. She informs me: "It's part of the 'cost-down' plan."

They're seriously reducing costs at my factory by rationing the amount of toilet toilet paper. I wish I was kidding about this. Apparently everyone gets one roll of TP a month. (At least it's two-ply though; that's really like two rolls right?)

The situation is so absurd that I couldn't help but laugh. I mean really now, who came up with this brilliant idea? But on a more serious note, it illustrates how China is effected by the global economic downturn. Demand is going down, manufacturing is slowing down, and the company is losing money. At first, I hardly noticed it, but the changes are becoming more and more evident. It's getting worse and worse though:

There are weekly "cost down" meetings.
They've laid off about 30% of their workforce.
Production has completely stopped on Fridays and Saturdays.
Paid overtime has been suspended indefinately.

Honestly, I'm thankful to be still employed. Oh and I'm also just thankful for getting toilet paper! (Before I left the factory today, I made sure to lock up my roll in my drawer. In these dire times, there's no telling who might steal a roll of toilet paper. Classic...)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

"Alan, do you know what today is?"

"Uh, ... Tuesday?"

"It's Singles' Day! It's 11/11."

That was the exchange I had with my coworker this morning. Little did I know that today is Singles' Day in China, an unofficial holiday celebrating the single life. (I guess they need another holiday to balance out
Chinese Valentine's Day. It's that whole yin and yang thing.)

Obviously, it got the name Singles' Day because the date is made up of four "1s." It looks like four single people standing together, hence its Chinese name "光棍节," meaning "bare stick holiday." From my research, it seems like this holiday developed out of the university culture of the 1990s in Nanjing. As these college students graduated and entered the "real world," they carried on the tradition.

There's also a legend about the holiday's origin. The story goes that there were four single men who used to sit around all day playing mahjong. They were all single guys (no wife or girlfriend) and they all lived rather boring lives. Well on this particular day of 11/11, they ended up play mahjong from 11 AM to 11 PM. And even wierder, no matter who won, the winning tile of each game was always the 'four columns' card. (A card depicting four independent, parallel columns in two lines). To commemorate the day, they nicknamed it Singles Day.

To me though, Singles Day seemed like a pretty regular day. I didn't notice anything particularly special or out of the ordinary going on. Some single people have dinner together and go out to a bar or club. Some people go on blind dates or make vows to not be single next Singles Day.

Plus, you're supposed to eat four sticks of youtiao and one baozi for breakfast. The deep fried sticks of batter are supposed to represent the "1s" and the steamed stuffed bun is supposed to represent the "." in the date 11.11  It kind of makes you wonder how crazy Singles' Day will be on 11.11.11 (I don't think I could eat that many sticks of youtiao!)

(Oh and happy Veterans Day you lucky people in the US who got a three-day weekend. I still miss my two-day weekends.)  

Monday, November 10, 2008

And so today's blog finishes up my series of entries on the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Square. By now, you're probably wondering how one person could have amassed so many pictures from the same place. Honestly, I wasn't satisfied with my pictures from the first time, so I back...twice. (It was at that point that I realized, "Maybe I'm getting too deep into this whole picture takin' thing...")

Anyway, I got really lucky with these pictures. I mean talk about being in the right place at the right time. Needing a break, I just happened to take a half-day off of work and head to CKS on that particular day. Boy was I excited to find groups of soldiers out there practicing in the square.

I mean look at this! Definately not the type of thing you'd find there everyday. I really lucked out:

They look just like toy soldiers, standing in rows. I had to go low and get up really close to them for this picture. Talk about awkward: 

They were even practicing spinning their rifles. How cool!:

And we're talking about real friggin' rifles with bayonets. Some crazy woman wasn't paying attention and she walked right through the lines of rifles. It scared the crap out of all the soldiers. Classic:

It actually took me awhile to get comfortable around them. They looked so stoic with those rifles; it was intimidating. By this picture, I was comfortable with inching out closer and closer. At some point some guard told me to get back though:

And they weren't just standing in place, but they went a marchin' as well. It was kind of fun following them around, running after them, duking it out with other photographers. Reminds me my days at the Daily Cal....sigh.

Anyway, that's all folks. As always, you can find the rest of my CKS pictures here.

Tomorrow I'll have another entry about life in Shenzhen.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Today is yet another installment of my adventures in Taiwan. Last time, I wrote about Liberty Square, a large public plaza in Taipei. Today, it's all about the National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall that flanks the square.

As I mentioned last time, within the last year or so there was a big controversy over the renaming of the CKS Memorial Hall. I'm not an expert, but it sounds like it was a huge waste of time and money. A big fuss over nothing. It began when the former president of Taiwan decided to unilaterally rename the structure the "Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall."

The situation is kind of complicated because of the differing views on Chiang Kai-shek. On one hand he's seen as the popular first president of Taiwan who was a champion of anti-communism. After losing the Chinese Civil War, he lead the movement from the Chinese mainland to the island of Taiwan. However, during his reign, the government was a single-party state consisting of non-Taiwanese mainlanders. Martial law was enforced and dissidents who supported Chinese communism or Taiwan independence were jailed.

Some saw the renaming process as an attempt to dilute his image and eliminate Chinese influence. It led to legal challenges and protesting. Arguments developed between the central government and the Taipei city governement. Ultimately, the next president just restored the hall to its original name, inscription, and purpose.'s the memorial hall. I was there during the Double Ten Holiday, so they had Taiwanese flags all over the place. (Yay for windy days and motion blur!):

A lengthy 89 step staircase leads to the main entrance of the memorial hall. These 89 steps represent Chiang's age at the time of his death. Couldn't they have done one step for every 2 or 3 years of his life? Talk about tiring:

The main entrance opens up into an spacious main hall with an elaborately deorated ceiling and a gigantic statue of Chiang Kai-shek.  Yay for the wide angle!  (I actually came back to CKS after I got my new camera/lens specifically to take this picture.):

Aparently this archictural feature is known caisson ceiling. They are common in the East Asian architecture of temples and palaces. This particular caisson is decorated with the emblem of Taiwan:

However, the main hall is pretty much dominated by the large bronze statue of Chiang Kai-shek. It kind of reminds you of the sculpture at the Lincoln Memorial, huh?

He's shown smiling, seated and wearing traditional Chinese dress.  (Okay, well maybe the same as Lincoln except for the whole Chinese wardrobe thingy.)

Oh and finally, sunset time at the memorial hall:

So what else is in the memorial hall?  Well the ground level houses a museum documenting his life. It's got all sorts of personal artifacts like his clothing, car, etc. That kind of stuff.  Oh! and a Wooly Mammoth exhibition. Gotta love those woolys.
Again, you can click here to see more pictures from my trips to CKS.