Friday, August 1, 2008

Today has been one heck of a day. My assignment was to go to Hong Kong (HK) Airport to meet with a customer. I had to hand-deliver some products, so he could take them back to the US. So I got home late last night because I spent all night getting everything ready for deliver (i.e. arranging transportation, meeting place/time, collecting products, etc.)

Needless to say, I had a lot of free time to kill on my journey, so I decided to write. Today's entry will be pieced together from bits of writing throughout the day. I'm going to try something new. It's kind of like a time-line style blogging entry:

8:00 A.M. - Arrived at work
10:30 A.M. - Departed work for the hotel
11:30 A.M. - Arrived at the hotel
12:00 P.M. - Departed the hotel for HK Airport

"It's about 12:00 now. I just arrived at the hotel. Apparently they couldn't give me a direct shuttle from work to HK Airport. So they dropped me off at this hotel that has round trip shuttle service to and from the airport. I just finished buying my tickets.

Honestly it's kind of a miracle that I'm finding my way around so far. Trust me, it's not because I speak marvelous Mandarin. I've got to translator; I'm flying solo. I'm just armed with a few useful phrases/words:

I don't understand: 我听不懂 (wo ting bu dong)
Airport - 机场 (ji chang)
Hong Kong - 香港 (xiang gang) (which as I found out is not "hong kong")

Otherwise, I'm just really nervous right now. I really hope I make it to the airport in one piece. I still have to go through customs, get to the airport, and find this guy. I don't even know what he looks like! Oh and let's not forget that pesky matter of getting back. I really wish I had my camera right now. The hotel was literally down the street from my apartment. I could have made it there and back in time, but I didn't want to take that chance. My boss would kill me if I missed this meeting."

12:15 P.M. - Security checkpoint

"So we just passed by this checkpoint. Two Chinese guards. They were an interesting mix. One had an assault rifle in hand. The other had a Doraemon water bottle attached to his hip. I'm not sure whether to be scared or happy."

12:25 P.M. - Passed Chinese customs

"So I just made it through Chinese customs. One van dropped us off on the Chinese side. We got out, passed through customs, and a HK shuttle picked us up on the other side. I quickly made my way to the "Foreigners" line and handed the customs agent my passport. No questions. Not a word of Chinese except 谢谢 (xie xie or thank you). Whew."

12:45 P.M. - Passed HK customs

"At least this time we didn't have to get out of the car. It's so hot out there. When we stopped, a customs agent opened up the door and "shot" us with a "gun." I immediately close my eyes. (I guess that's my first instinct when someone points a gun at you. I feel like ducking makes way more sense.) Everyone else seemed pretty unfazed. Way to stand out as the foreigner again.

Okay, so it wasn't a real gun. Some sort of laser detector or something? I close my eyes so I couldn't tell what it was. Testing for drugs? Retinal scan? No idea. As long as I'm alive and kickin' tomorrow morning."

1:00 P.M. - Disneyland :)

"My suspicions were confirmed. There is a Disneyland in HK. I saw a sign earlier that had a symbol of the mickey mouse silhouette next to an airplane symbol. I thought that was a Disney symbol. It's too bad we couldn't meet there. That would be awesome! Now I need to come back to HK."

1:11 P.M. - Rain

"Rain is so strange in China. It arrives out of nowhere, dumps buckets of water, and then the clouds scatter as if they were never there."

1:16 P.M. - Disneyland :(

"We just passed by the Disneyland exit. I guess we aren't going."

This is end of part 1. So how did Hong Kong Airport go? Did I make the delivery? Did I get back to China? (Well obviously I did since I'm writing this entry.) Please rewind, turn the cassette over, and tune in tomorrow for the end and part 2.

Note: I figured this entry was getting too long so I decided to break it up into to parts. I know I promised that I was going to try not to write these event by event entries. Personally I think they can often get too long, too detailed, and too boring. But I thought I might try it and see what the feedback was like. Maybe I'll try more or less of these types of entries.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Today kicks off the first of a series of entries I'm going to call "Traveling in China." It's pretty self explanatory. You know, how do people in China get around? I've been working on compiling pictures for these entries. It's been kind of like a Daily Cal photo assignment :)

As I described in an earlier blog entry, I went to Longhua Park last weekend. To get there, I went I decided to take the public bus. Why? Well I wanted to see what life was like for the locals. How do they get around? Are the buses any different here than in the US?:

1) Buses here get crowded. Case in point:

Man that's a crap load of people waiting for the bus. Maybe I just don't ride the bus enough, but we're talking about crazy crowded. You know, where everyone is standing in the aisle, packed in like a can of sardines.

2) Everyone tends to enter the bus through the rear door. I was pretty confused at first. I was waiting my turn to get on the bus and then I noticed everyone was entering through the rear door. I'm used to everyone entering through the front door to pay when you walk on. Here it doesn't matter because there is a ticket collector. He/She walks around and collects money from everyone.

Rather than paying a set fee and being able to ride the bus for the entire length of the line, here you only pay for how far you ride the bus. I didn't want to let on that I didn't know what I was doing. Well that and the fact that I don't speak Chinese. So I just handed him 2 RMB (= $0.30) and he handed me a ticket. Didn't even say anything to me. Mission accomplished!

3) When I was on the bus, I had my camera out already. I spent the longest time trying to figure out how to take pictures without being a creeper. I think I ended up just using the liveview function. To frame the photo I was pretending like I was reviewing pictures. Oh and a loud cough for the shutter click. :p

Otherwise, the bus seems a pretty chill way to get about. Other than it being really crowded at times, it's not so bad. There's a TV screen on the bus too! Plus it's dirt cheap. What can you get for $0.30 now days? (In China a lot, but in the US pretty much nothing). Oh and I took the expensive bus. There's a shorter cheap bus too.

Click here for the gallery. More and more pictures will be added as I finished editing photos.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Update: I actually saw a couple posters for it today. It's called the Chinese Ec*nomic C3nsus. It's good to know that it sounds like something that is legit.

As I was walking back from work today, I passed by a familiar face. It reminded me of a story from last week...


The door rang while I was in the middle of watching one of my b**tleg DVDs. I was trying to figure out who the heck would be ringing the doorbell at 9 P.M. It wasn't like I knew anyone around here. Plus all my apartment-mates were home already.

I open the door and this short Chinese girl wearing a red shirt with a red sash tied around her arm is at the door. (Maybe describing her as short and Chinese is a bit repetitive in this context). Anyway, she starts talking to me as if I understood what she was saying. I quickly run to get my apartment-mate to help me out.

It turns out that the Chinese g*vernment is doing a census of everyone in China to prepare for the Olymp*cs. A security measure I suppose. They are literally going door to door and collecting information on everyone living there. They wanted my name, passport number, date of birth, etc. Oh and the name of my college for some reason. She had never heard of UC Berkeley (so much for it being a world famous university). She wanted a picture. I don't even know why, or what the g*vernment would do with a picture of UC Berkeley.

I thought it was a bit weird but one of my apartment-mates told me that he went though the same thing in Foshan a couple months ago. Same sort of survey/questioning. I guess it's normal around here. I still find it strangely unnerving. I'm not exactly sure where that information is going. I'll be gone in 6 months so I guess it's not a huge deal.

The crazy part is that I think they do multiple censuses. (Is that the correct plural of "census?") Because one of the first things she said was that last time they did a census here only girls were living here. And clearly we weren't girls. I'm just trying to think about the time and manpower you would need for such a project. I mean think about how many people live in China! It's madness.

Anyways, as I was walking home, I saw that same girl walking past me. And I thought my job was busy. I should try working for the Chinese census!

I'm overdue for an angsty emotional blog rant. (Sorry to people who were expecting something more substantial and interesting about China).

Anyway, it's frickin' 12:31 A.M. right now and I just got home from work. That's is just plain insanity. I got stuck at work because they had me translating some excel spreadsheet. I wasn't really translating; it was more of someone else translating and me fixing it up and making it sound pleasant (I guess that English minor was good for something). I didn't get the assignment until like noon, and I pretty much just worked on it for the rest of the day until I finished at about 10:00. I mean I didn't mind too much because at least I had actually work.

But the thing I really hate about my work is that I live 40 minutes away and I can't leave whenever I want to. There's a company shuttle that drives everyone to and from the plant. And of course since we're carpooling, we can't leave until we have a full car. So we didn't end up leaving the plant until 11:30 P.M. But the shuttle always runs late, so that's why I didn't get home until now. It's crazy. I caught the shuttle to work at 7:15 A.M. and didn't get home until 12:30 P.M. I don't care how long the lunch break is, or if they serve us dinner there. That's just too long to be trapped at work.

The main reason I suck it up is because there are people at work who have it worse. When I left, there were still people at work. I don't even know when they get to go home. They say things are just really crazy at work, but I wouldn't doubt that it's kind of always like this. I know I'm the new guy and I need to pay my dues but this just sucks. I can only live caged like this for so long. It doesn't help that I'm going to have to work again this Sunday. That means I will have to work for 3 straight weeks without a single day of break. And these are all roughly 12+ hours spent at the plant. Give me the mental and physical strength to push through this. I really hate work right now.

Monday, July 28, 2008

There are a number of great reasons to go to college:

You can get away from home.
You can party hardy and get drunk every weekend (or day if you're really hardcore).
You can secure your future with a great job opportunities and make more money.

I think that the last reason tends to be the most motivating for most people (unless you're a party animal). I mean having a college degree opens the doors to so many opportunities. And the key component of completing a college degree is coursework. Supposedly all those hours you spend pouring into writing essays, attending class and office hours, reading textbooks, and studying for midterms/finals is going to help you in your job. You're training yourself for a career.

Now something that I've always wondered about is, "How much of your college coursework is actually used at work? With all of those classes you take, how much is actually used on a daily basis?" From the people I've talked to, it really varies from person to person and job to job.

Today, I began a new training program. They are having me actually work on the manufacturing line to learn the process flow in depth. Sure that means I'm a UC Berkeley doing plain old manual labor, but at least I'm doing something other than nothing. I mean all I did today was see how an anti-reflection coating is applied, but it was exciting because I actually got to use some of my coursework! They were talking about the various physical vapor deposition techniques like electron beam and sputtering. I actually got to seem both types of machines! They are a lot cooler seeing it in real life than reading about it in a textbook.

In the end though, I don't think that it's the coursework that's the most useful part of college. I think it's all the other things. It's the social/interpersonal skills you develop that allow you to work with others. It's knowing yourself and becoming a self confident individual with a deep sense of right and wrong. It's about learning how to learn. Sure you may not use everything you learned from class, but you've learned how to become a self-sufficient independent learner. So you'll be able to learn whatever you need to know that you didn't learn in college. A college degree is a certification of that.

P.S. My new coworkers don't speak English nearly as well. Ugh, it's going to be rough, but really good for improving my Chinese. I resorted to gestures, pictures, and cell phones. With these Chinese cell phones, they have Chinese-English dictionaries. I'd type up the English word I'd want to say in Chinese and then show them my cell phone. Ridiculous I know, but it works!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

I love weekends. Well, that is to say I used to love weekends. That was until I started working in China. Today is Sunday and I had to go to work. I wouldn't mind going to work if I actually had work to do. You can only surf wikipedia and google news for so long :(

Anyway, I knew I was going to have to work this weekend both on Saturday and Sunday, so last night I decided to go out. I didn't give a crap if I had to wake up at 6:00 A.M. this morning, I had to get out of this place. I had to go out and do something. So I decided to head to the local Longhua Market and Longhua Park, situated literally 6 blocks down the street from where I live. Here is my adventure with my camera:

I hopped on the bus and decided to start off at Longhua Park. As I'm walking down the street I notice this huge crowd of people. I walk over and try to figure out what all the fuss is about. Apparently, there's this outdoor stage where people are performing. There's these 4 guys on the stage doing sketch comedy. I don't really understand what they are talking about but the crowd is going wild. I keep circling the crowd trying to find the best place to take a picture from. Here is the stage:

And in case you didn't believe me, this is only a section of the crowd. (Notice all the faces staring at me? I don't think most of the people have ever seen a DSLR. They kept staring at me. And it didn't help that I was using the liveview mode, taking pictures above my head to look over people. Oh that and my camera kept flashing a light to try to autofocus. So as if wasn't bad enough, my camera kept flashing at people):

After I'd had my fill, I decided to go into the park. This is a picture of the entrance. The words on the sign mean: "Longhua Park."

As you can see from the previous picture, there is a huge multi-tiered pagaoda in the center of the park, sitting atop the hill. I really wanted to go up and take nightscapes, but I arrived there as they were closing :( I guess that means I have to go back. Maybe I can get some sunset shots :) This picture is of the stairs at the bottom leading up to the pagoda:

Now this is a park unlike any I've seen in the US. Here are people shooting BB guns. People literally pay to shoot a BB gun at balloons to win prizes. There was another one of these shops set up outside the entrance gate to the park too. There was also people playing billiards, ping-pong, and singing terribly off-key karaoke or KTV. I think the weirdest thing were the portrait stands. You pay people to take pictures of you in various costumes/backdrops. Then they'll print the pictures for you. I guess it was just weird because it was all this traditional Chinese style clothing. I guess it would be similar to people taking those ol timey Western photos.

After the park, I headed to the mall down the street. Check this out:

So I don't really get it, but at a lot of Chinese escalators, they have fake grass in the middle. I guess it's supposed to make it look pretty or something. I need to ask one of my coworkers about that. I just had to take a picture.

Oh and outside people were breakdancing. Like there was just a big crowd and in the middle were about a dozed breakdancers. They were pop-lockin', doing the moonwalk, doing windmills, "Chinese get-ups," etc. This picture was from when two groups were battling actually:

I think the most rewarding thing about the trip was that I was able to hold my own. I managed to take the bus, buy a webcam from the mall, order at McDonalds, and take a taxi all by myself. And when I say all by myself, I went alone and I had to speak Mandarin the entire time!

Click here for more images!

Today officially marks the end of my second week in China. It's kind of crazy how quickly time passes by. I mean two weeks ago I was standing in Hong Kong Airport, having just got off a 15 hour plane ride from LAX. Two weeks ago I was homesick as hell, wishing I could come back home every waking moment (Now it's not every moment). And two weeks ago I could barely speak a word of Mandarin.

Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating just a little bit. I could speak a little bit of Mandarin, but I was too scared/embarrassed to use any of it here. I don't think I really went out of my way to try to speak Mandarin until I had a very interesting conversation with my friend.

Like normal, I was complaining about how hard it was not being able to speak the language. He told me, "Dude, you know how we complain about FOBs who can speak English, but just don't? Come on, this is America and we speak English here. Well that's exactly what you're like in China." And he was right. Sure I can't speak too much. But I can speak a little and I should at least try to make an effort to speak their language. I think they would appreciate that.

So the million dollar question is, "Alan, how is your Mandarin going?" Honestly it's getting stronger and I can actually tell. I mean it better be. I've been sitting through meetings conducted in Chinese all day, every day at work. I've actually started to make an effort to try to speak Chinese with my coworkers. I'm beginning to feel a bit more comfortable speaking it. I feel bad that I'm probably butchering it, but oh well. In conjunction with this, I've been listening to podcasts everyday on the way to and from work. Might as well do something productive on the 40 minute commute.

It's exiting when you start to understand a language. I mean at this point it's only bits and pieces. You know, little words like because, so, you can, maybe, why etc. They're just baby steps, but it's incredibly gratifying to hear some Chinese and understand it. Especially when it's at a native speakers pace :)

Ironically, the one downside is that I feel like I'm forgetting how to speak/write in English. This is going to sound really funny, but I feel like I'm beginning to pick up a FOB accent. It kind of makes sense. After all, I only listen to broken, mispronounced English from my coworkers. Oh, and to make things worse, when ever I speak English with them, I have to speak simply and slowly. That's not helping any. It's gotten to the point where I'm beginning to think to myself in English with an accent. I can actually tell that I'm beginning to leave out little words like to in my speech. That's why it's so important for me to write and skype with my friends/family. I need to keep writing/speaking in "regular" English. I gotta keep fresh. I don't want to sacrifice English to learn Chinese.

My good friend said you'll know you understand a language when you dream in that language. I haven't had the Mandarin dream just yet. But every night is another chance to have that dream. And every day is another chance to strengthen my Mandarin. Good night.