Friday, July 18, 2008

So tonight I went to a massage parlor some coworkers. No joking. And no not THAT kind of massage parlor. And for you pervs out there, I did not get a happy ending.

Seriously though, this place was like a high class day spa. It was a private room with air conditioning and a flat panel television on the wall! It was about a two hour massage session, and for less than about $20 I got the works. I'm talking about a whole body massage: head, neck, back, legs, arms, hands, feet AND the de-callused my feet! It was a bit scary because they took an old timey single edged shaving razor and just started going to town on my feet. I had the option for ear cleaning but I decided to pass. There's just something weird about someone else cleaning my ears...not that someone scraping the calluses off my feet isn't weird.

Overall it was interesting; I have some mixed feelings about it. Parts of it felt amazing, while other parts just kind of hurt. I'm extremely ticklish, so I spent most of the massage really tense and laughing my ass off. I think I'd go back again. It is pretty relaxing and my feet smell like roses. And I mean that literally...they used rose scented oils!

What was the occasion? I went with a coworker and a business client from Apple. The three of us spent the day at an ink factory. (It's actually more interesting than it sounds.) Anyway, after that we decided to go have dinner together and all get foot massages. I'd never had one, so they both insisted that we go. It was nice to actually do something fun outside of work. (I haven't had a day off since I arrived here.)

Now this Apple guy just arrived here from the U.S. He's Caucasian, so he's also adjusting to the different language and culture. He's kind of unofficially taken me under his wing, which sounds a little weird, but it's nice. He has sons around my age and I think remind him of them. He's an engineer as well, so I think I also remind him of a younger version of himself. So he'll take time out to give me advice about working since I'm such a tenderfoot I just like having someone I can converse with in English at a normal pace with American vernacular/slang. It's also nice to know an older mentor is watching your back.

On the Mandarin front, today was the first day I felt like I was making some headway with the whole language thing.

Don't get me wrong. I still miss all of you, I still skype with my dad every morning, and I still cry. (I find it therapeutic, so I don't try to hold back. I mean you just feel so much better afterward.)

Today one of my coworkers, who doesn't speak English too well, approached me. In fact he's the first one of them to try to say something to me other than, "Hi, my name is..." I mean I can talk to my coworkers who speak English well, but he was the first "non-speaker" to talk to me. It was crazy. I spoke more Mandarin in this one day than all week combined. I was actually surprised that I could communicate so well, even if it sounded like shit. He wants to learn more English, and I want to learn more Chinese, so it's a great mutual exchange. It's nice to have someone to talk to at work. Makes me feel slightly less isolated.

So having finally broken some barriers with some Eastern coworkers, and having bonded with a Western coworker, I'd say I might be starting to finally settle a bit more. My co-worker wants to hang out this Sunday. Before tonight, I told him I haven't had a massage before and he told me I MUST get one. No harm in having two in one week, right? Maybe this time I can sit still and stop laughing.

I promise more photos soon! I have work off on Sunday and my plan is just to spend my day off exploring the city with my camera on me at all times.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Most of you are probably wondering, "Alan, what exactly are you doing in China?" Well today's entry will be about an average day in the life at work. And this is all speaking from my vast experience of 5 whole days at work :p To be honest, I'm not exactly sure what I can and can't say about my work. There is a certain amount of confidentiality to it, so I'll try to be specific as I can. You never know who reads/finds these types of things.

In a nutshell, I work for Foxconn, an electronics manufacturer. In fact, it's the largest electronics manufacturer in the world. I'm working in their panel glass manufacturing division of their mechanical optics department.

Now what exactly do I do? Well this is an average day:

6:00 A.M. - Wake up/shower
7:00 A.M. - Leave the apartment/get breakfast
7:15 A.M. - Catch the shuttle to work
8:00 A.M. - Arrive at work
12:00 P.M. - Break for lunch and nap time
1:30 P.M. - Resume work
5:30 P.M. - Time for dinner
7:30 P.M. - Catch the shuttle home
8:15 P.M. - Arrive home

So as you can see, I really do work 12+ hour days. It's terribly draining. They don't have standard 9-5 work hours like in the US. You basically work when you arrive until the shuttle takes you back home. The one difference here is that people are a lot more relaxed. I find that in the US people work hard the entire time with their noses to the grindstone. Here people go take smoke breaks freely and things seem to run at a more languid pace. It's really hard for me to adjust to that because I'm the type who wants to work hard, get done quick and early, and just go home.

Other interesting tidbits about work? Hmm, well when I say nap time. I actually mean nap time. During my first day on the job I thought my coworker was kidding when she said it was naptime. For the first couple days I just couldn't sleep. What a waste of time!? I quickly realized that that's the only way people can work 12+ hour shifts like that. Seriously though, we just all sit at our desks, arms folded, put our heads down, and go to sleep for a good 30-60 minutes.

When I'm actually doing work, I don't have too much to do. I basically stand in on a lot of meetings that are conducted in Chinese. I usually get someone to sum it up for me at the end. I also shadow people throughout the day. Otherwise I'm sitting at my computer reading google news for hours on end. Sadly, gmail and my blog are blocked at work.

Oh and the internet, I swear they are on some 56K crap over there. It took me like 30 minutes to download a 4 MB .pdf! There must be some crazy firewall/security thing that slows down the internet here. The security is so crazy here that they have two checkpoints where the shuttle has to stop so guards can quickly check everyone for laptops/cameras. That's why I can't take any pictures :(

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

I swear that China is playing tricks on me. There are some days when I'm out and about and I completely forget I'm half way around the world. Other days I can't escape the fact that I'm so far away. One of the reasons my conception about China changes so much is because of the food. Forget math being the universal language! It's food because everyone loves to chow down. Food has been one of the most fascinating parts of my trip, mainly because I love to cook and eat so much. China sometimes feels like home because I walk around and eat/see places that I would see in the U.S. But as familiar as they are, there's always something slightly askew about them. To make things more interesting, let's make this a photo journey!

1. McDonalds
I'm probably going to get some dirty looks for saying this, but man McDonalds is good here. I'm not sure if it's so good because I'm homesickness or because it actually is better. My bet is on the first. Anyway, check this out:

(I probably should have increased the depth of field but I was so embarased taking pictures at a McDonalds with my big ol' clunky camera.) So at McDonalds in China they have these Spicy McWings (among other new items). It's basically like a spicy deep fried wing, way better than any buffalo wing I've ever had. I accidentally ordered it; I just wanted some Chicken McNuggets. Seriously though, they are pretty bomb.

2. Breakfast
So every morning I go buy some bread/pastries from a local bakery. It's a nice little place. I can't read what any of the items are, so I just try something new everyday. But regardless of what I pick I always get some milk. I mean real milk, not that fake rice porridge "milk." I know the characters for milk, so I can tell :) But this isn't normal milk. This is like some sort of yogurt milk. It takes kind of like plain frozen yogurt, like pinkberry or something but way more tart. I think I almost puked the first time I drank it, but it's starting to grow on me. Now I can't have breakfast without it!

As for the pastries, they've been pretty good so far. I've been making pretty conservative choices though. I've been looking for some Cha Siu Bao (BBQ Pork Buns) there but haven't had any luck yet. They do have these weird "dry flake pork" ones. That's as close as I've gotten to the real thing. Trust me, they're not as good.

3. Junk Food
Ah, what would a food entry be without junk food. I think they junk food has been the most interesting. There's the standard stuff that's exactly the same. I mean check out these soda cans. I mean if you can't read Chinese, you could still figure out what they are:

Neato fact: Coca-cola is called ke kou ke le.

You may have noticed that they have different shaped tops than we're used to seeing. I haven't opened one yet. I'm sure it works exactly the same, but I'll let you know how it goes.

I was in the market today and came across these familiar items, so I bought them:

That's right Extra gum in a vitamin-like container and Oreo wafer cookies. I opened one of the Oreo cookies...I think I'll just stick to the regular ones.

Oh, there's also the chips. I guess Chinese people really like BBQ flavor or something. I find that really odd because there isn't a lot of REAL BBQ around. That makes me sad. I love my USDA 64 oz steaks :( Anyway even Lay's has a series of odd flavors: Flame Roasted BBQ Flavor, Black Pepper Rib Eye Steak Flavor, Finger Licking Braised Pork Flavor, Sizzled BBQ Flavor, Texas Grilled BBQ Flavor, Braised Pork Ribs Flavor. Get the idea?

Finally these ones I just had to buy. I just cracked up when I was at the market. They are so weird that I'm afraid to even try them. You'll just have to see the pictures to believe me:

Yes those are "Corn Juice Drink" and "Mango Flavored Lay's." I rest my case.

Click here for the gallery.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

NOTE: I wrote this at work today again. I have a lot of downtime and long hours at work. It's another raw emotional piece. Hopefully I don't come off as too much of a whiny drama queen. I promise tomorrow's entry will have pictures and be about food in China!

I landed in China Friday night and it wasn't until today that I felt homesick for the first time. I'm not sure what it was exactly but it happened at about dinner time when the kinks in my armor began to show. I got really hungry and decided to start dinner without everyone else. So I was eating by myself when some of my non-English speaking coworkers walked in. They started chatting in Chinese. I think that in that moment I felt truly invisible. It was as if they didn't even see me. (In their defense, I'm not sure what we could/should have said to each other.) It was as if everything fell apart. At that moment I just wanted to go cry in a bathroom stall. I immediately lost my appetite; I couldn't stomach any more food.

I think the isolation and alienation of being in another country and barely speaking the language finally hit me. I sit in meetings I can't understand all day. I'm working 12+ hour days, but I don't have much to do because I can't read/write/speak. I don't really converse with anyone because well...I can't really. Sure I have some coworkers who speak English, but I feel bad depending on them so much for everything.

Maybe I've been putting up a facade since I got here, pretending that I'm stronger than I really am, that everything is okay. Honestly, everything felt fine until today and I'm actually feeling a little better than earlier. I just need to keep looking forward. I'm only here for 6 months. It's not that long. This will be all worth it in the end in helping my career and growth as a person.

I'm the kind of guy who likes stability and consistency. I find comfort in that. But I also know that change is good. In fact, change helps you grow, learn more about yourself, and ultimately become a better person. And moving to China is as big a change as any! I just need to remind myself that there are things at play that are bigger than today. I need to put things in perspective. There is a payoff at the end of this trip. And I won't be in China forever. 4 days down...159 to go.

Thanks for the comments! Hearing from you all makes my day whether it's via AIM/Email/Skype/Blog Comments.

Monday, July 14, 2008

One of the first things people warned me about China was about stomach sickness, i.e. diarrhea and loose bowels. I guess that does make sense. There must be natural toxins local to this country that body just isn't used to, so I'm going to be sick until my body can adjust. Even my travel doctor warned me, proscribing some antibiotics and suggesting I stock up on Pepto-Bismol and Immodium AD. Plus, it doesn't help that Chinese food is so greasy and salty (but I'll save my entry about Chinese food for another day). Anyway, I didn't really believe it until today.

Relax, this isn't going to develop into some gross, in-depth, descriptive entry about my bowel movement. It's more of a funny story about the toilets at the factory. So I was at work today when the "traveler's sickness" finally hit me. Now keep in mind that this is my second day of work, so I'm still trying to get used to the place and all. Until today, I hadn't even bothered to check out the stalls yet because I hadn't needed to go number two.

To make matters worse, I developed an upset stomach at the worst time. I was on a tour of the plant in a clean room. For those of you who never heard of a clean room, it's a room used in manufacturing or research that is extremely clean and dust free. I had to wear a bunny suit. I mean it was intense. You walk into the changing area and suit up. I'm talking about a jump-suit, boots, gloves, a face mask, etc. Then you walk into this hallway that has fans everywhere that blow all the dust off you. And the floor along the hallway is sticky so it cleans your shoes. You aren't allowed to bring in paper because it has too much lint. They give you special wax paper!

Anyway, so I'm suited head to toe in a bunny suit and my stomach starts to hurt. I'm in the middle of a tour so I decided to suck it up. It would be such a pain to change out of the suit, go to the bathroom, and then suit up again. So I finally finish the seemingly endless tour and head to the bathroom. I open the stall door and I freak out...Where's the toilet!? Seriously, it's just a half pipe trough that's recessed into the floor. And there were no handles or rails to grab onto to.

As if things weren't weird enough, there's no toilet paper dispenser in the stall. There's one large dispenser near the sinks and you have to grab it before you go. Let's just hope that you grab enough and don't have to get more. After turning around and moving back and forth several times, I gave up. The last thing I needed was to poop in my pants...literally. I just couldn't figure out the best way to use the "toilet." It was almost quittin' time so I figured I'd hold it till I got off work and got home.

With a 12 hour work day, I'm not sure I can keep this up for 6 months. Time to start taking the Pepto-Bismol and Immodium AD.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Note: I originally wrote piece during this during a four hour long training session at work. Actually I wrote it in terrible English cursive to make sure no one around me could read it! I was hesitant to publish this because I thought it might be too personal/depressing. However, I figured what's the point of having this blog if I can't write raw honest piece about how I'm feeling?

I'm sitting on an uncomfortable blue plastic stool listening to Chinese powerpoint presentations. I'm in a big cafeteria that's been converted into a makeshift auditorium. I'm surrounded by about 700 people and I think I'm the only American.

I sit here in training I'm wondering why I was hired sometimes. What were they thinking when they even hired me and decided to send me to China? I can barely speak any Chinese and everyday I just feel more and more incompetent. Chinese is all I hear all day and all night. Is my Chinese getting better? Well yea, but just not fast enough. I know it's unrealistic to expect to learn Chinese overnight, but the frustrating is starting to boil over.

On today's agenda I have four hours of training. Yeah, that's right. Four hours of training all conducted in chinese. It's very frustrating being unable to understand very much. Luckily my boss was generous enough to send along a translator with me. She's really nice and all but her English isn't the best. I mean it's still better than mine. And it's way better than nothing. But I still wondering what's going on and what I'm doing here. This training feels like such a waste of time.

I can tell everyone is doing their best to accommodate me but I feel bad about it. Maybe it's that I'm just not used to depending on other people so much. Maybe this all stems from feelings of incompetence and isolation. Maybe I'm just tired of feeling like a deaf/mute foreigner who sticks out like a sore thumb.

I know that when I come back in December I'll have NO regrets about my decision to take this job and come to China. I have no doubts about that. Right now though, I'm having trouble seeing through the fog and I'm just overwhelmed. I'm actually not as homesick/lonely as I thought I would be. More than anything it's frustration at not being able to fully understand the language. As my vocabulary grows I know it can only get better with each day.

Half asleep and tired from a 12 hour day at work, I arrived at my apartment last night. I just came home and crashed without even bothering to unpack or even shower (Trust me, not showering means a lot in this kind of humid weather). I finally took the time to unpack and settle this morning.

Anyway I figure everyone is curious about what my apartment is like so I figured I'd take some pictures and write about it. I'm basically living in a three room apartment by myself. It's got a kitchen, one bathroom, living room, balcony, and three bedrooms. Since I'm the only one here, I decided to take the largest one :) I must say, this place is pretty P.I.M.P.

Here's the living room:

Notice the Wii!? I know. It's too bad the television sucks. I know it looks huge and all, but the picture quality is terrible. The picture is all bent and discolored. I was going through the drawers and found some Wii games and a buttload of bootleg DVDs. You know, in case I get bored because living/working in a foreign country isn't interesting enough.

Now the living room leads directly into a balcony. It's nice and all, but it's just too hot and humid to hang out outside on the balcony. Inside with air conditioning for the win:

Across from the living room is the kitchen:

In fact, the kitchen leads out to its own balcony:

As cool as that seems, I'm not sure how much cooking I'll be doing. For one, with all the time I spend at work, I'm not sure how much time I'll have. Secondly, it must be hot as all get out to have the oven/stove on with this kind of weather. Maybe I'll cook/bake some good ol' "American" food for my coworkers.

Now the first room along the hallway is the bedroom. Notice anything special or unusual about the room?:

Where's the division between the shower and toilet?? My point exactly. That's going to take some getting used to. I this picture of me in the mirror catches my inner photographer dorkiness :)

And lastly is the bedroom:

I'm not sure if the picture does the room justice because it's huge! Plus it came fully furnished with two dressers and a desk. Oh and the curtains? They open up to a grad 4th floor view of the plaza below. Oh and it come with air conditioning.

When I find some time, I'll try to take some pictures of the surrounding area.

Oh and here are a few more pictures from my place.

On the first morning in China I was welcomed by rain. Well hail to be specific. I woke up in the middle of the night because of the hail pounding on the window. I was so confused. I woke up wondering who the hell was typing so loud next to me. Then I realized I was in China.

This morning’s breakfast was well…interesting. See below:

For those of you who don’t know, I’m an incredibly picky eater. So this China trip is going to be VERY interesting for me. I’m really hoping this meal is not representative of the meals on rest of my trip. When I got it this morning I was excited: “Ooh milk and bread!” I took one sip of the milk and couldn’t figure out what was wrong with it. Turns out it wasn’t milk at all; it was some sort rice porage. It was okay. The juice box tasted a little strange though. It tasted like lime Calpico/Calpis. I guess the equivalent would be like mixing one of those fruit flavored Tootsie Rolls with milk.

Anyway, I have to go work. Surprisingly I'm not feeling that jetlagged...yet. So I'll try to update later. I'm supposedly moving into an apartment tonight.

COMMENT PLEASE...I'm an attention whore and I'm curious if people are reading :)