Saturday, August 9, 2008

Hey everyone! Just a quick update today. I'm going to Hong Kong tonight
and tomorrow, so I decided to just write a miniblog today because I have to
catch the shuttle. These are just rants or little stories that I've been
meaning to write about:

1) I never realized Jackie Chan was so popular here. I mean he's big in
the US, but he's even bigger here! Even before that music video from
yesterday's post, I'd seen him singing and on advertisements/commercials
for shampoo and Canon DSLRs.

2) Yesterday I stuck hand in a big tank of acid. It was 草酸 (cao suan) to
be specific (Pronounced: "cao" = tsao as in ouch, "suan" = swan like the
animal). I wanted to rinse my hands and I saw this huge tub of liquid,
thinking it was just pure water. So I went ahead and dunked my hand into
it. The production manager I was working with told me it was cao suan. I
had no idea what that was. Only later did I realize that suan means acid
in Mandarin. So I quickly washed my hand for a good minute or so. No one
knew what the acid was called in English though, but they assured me it was
a weak one. It turns out it was oxalic acid. I guess things are okay. My
hand and fingers are still attached to my arm.

3) Earlier this week, I said my first words in Mandarin without hesitating.
When I speak, usually I have to think of what I want to say in English, and
then try to translate it to Mandarin. I was on the shuttle home with my
coworkers, when it stopped at my apartment complex. As soon as we arrive I wake up. Groggy and afraid that I'll miss my stop, I shout, "等一下!"
(Wait a second!) without even hesitating. (Pronounced: "deng" = deng "yi" =
yee "xia" = shaw). All my coworkers started cracking up. Even the driver
that I see everyday thought it was hilarious. I think that those were the
first words of Mandarin I had ever spoken in front of some of them. Just
for extra laughs, as I walked out the shuttle, I said "再见" (Goodbye).
(Prounounced: "zai" = z + eye "jian" = gee + en).

Friday, August 8, 2008

Tonight was the opening ceremonies for the Summer Olympics. It started at 8:00 on 08/08/08 because Chinese people are superstitious. They love the number 8 because it sounds like prosper or fortune in Chinese. Though as my friend pointed out, I'm not sure how to feel about there being four number eights. (In the Chinese language, the word for 4 sounds like death, so it's really unlucky). I actually wasn't even going to watch the opening ceremonies tonight...

I know that I'm in China and that I should be really excited about the Olympics being here and all, but I just don't really care that much. I think it's mostly because I'm so far from Beijing; it makes me feel detached from all the Olympic spirit. It's not like I can go see any events except equestrian ones in Hong Kong, but even that's kind of far away. I would love to go to Beijing and take pictures of the "Bird's Nest" and just hang out in Olympic Village, but I won't have to time to travel and visit.

Anyway, I got home a little before 8 and I decided to go do some shopping. Again, I didn't really have my heart set on watching the opening ceremonies. As I was walking to the store I noticed the streets were oddly quiet and empty. I had figured everyone was watching the opening but most of the apartments were dark and no one was home. Where could everyone be?

In front of the supermarket I noticed a crowd around a little newspaper stand; they were standing around watching the opening ceremonies on a little 15" television. Some people were playing mahjong and Chinese Chess, but most people were standing/sitting on stools and watching. I walked on by and entered the supermarket; nearly all the workers were watching the ceremonies streamed live on a desktop computer! I guess that most people were crowded around televisions all over China. That's why everywhere seemed so empty. I actually stood around and decided to watch. Again, I'm trying hard to find out how everyday people live and experience China. I took these pictures:

I wanted to take more pictures, but I attracted the attention of a cop. He kept looking behind him at me, so I hurried up and left before he tried to talk to me.

I headed home to finish watching the ceremonies. I don't know how many of you watched them, but I had no idea what was going on. All the commentary was in Mandarin, so I was just kind of watching without understanding: "Oh, here's like 100s of kids with little backpacks on painting with giant writing brushes. I have no idea what's going on." Honestly though, it was pretty cool.

People in China are pretty excited about the Olympics. It's kind of a big deal. It's one of those questions I always bring up when I have to converse with coworkers in Mandarin. Now I can see why.

P.S. Here is the Olympics "Welcome to Beijing" song. It's kind of like one of the anthems for the Olympics. I swear I hear it all the time. It's like six minutes long and it's got like 100 famous artists from mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan and Singapore. (Jackie Chan is in there somewhere!)

Do you know how frustrating it is to have a song stuck in your head that you don't understand? It's not like you can really remember it, because you don't know the words. So you basically end up guessing and humming how you think goes. Man I have to download this to my iPod or something.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

So last week, after one of those unbearable days at work, I decided to go with a friend to the massage parlor again. This time however, we go the V.I.P. treatment. The floors of the building are tiered such that the higher the floor, the nicer the massage. Last time I went to the 3rd floor; this time we went to the 4th floor. There are 10 floors! I can only image what goes on up at the top.

Just walking down the hallway, I could tell that this level was swankier than last time. We were led to our room: a nice big room with two beds, a flat screen television, good ol' air conditioning, and a luxurious bathroom. (The place doubles up as a hotel as well.) This room was a step up from the seemingly crammed room last time that just had reclining chairs and a television. Before the masseuse came, I quickly took this picture:

She instructed us to go shower and change into special clothes that she handed each of us. I guess no one wants to massage dirty/smell/grimy Alan. It is a nice looking bathroom though. I took these pictures while pretending to take an extra long shower. As much as I love taking photos, I hate looking like a tourist. It's embarrassing, makes me stick out, and it puts a big flashing sign above me that screams "Rob me. Please!":

So how was the massage? It was good, but I wouldn't say it was "better than sex" as one of my coworkers put it. Maybe I'm just not a massage type of guy. The highlights?

1) You know you're off to a bad start when you can't fit the underwear. As part of the wardrobe, you wear these one-use thin flimsy meshed underwear to wear. It looked exactly like a hairnet. Unfortunately none of their pairs of underwear fit. Talk about embarrassing. Good thing it occurred in the privacy of the bathroom.

2) Just when I thought it couldn't get any more embarrassing, my pants ripped during the massage. The shorts they gave me were only slightly more durable than the underwear. I was able to get the shorts on, but they were just too small. The masseuse told me to spread my legs and then the shorts ripped at the crotch! Good thing I decided to wear my own boxers since their underwear didn't fit.

3) Towards the end of the massage, she told me to roll over and take my off my shirt. It was time for a back massage. It was going great, well except for being so ticklish. Then all of the sudden she stops and feel something really heavy pressing down on my back. She was walking all over my back! It was crazy. It felt surprisingly good. Good thing she was a small girl.

All in all, it was a nice to way to take off a load. I was so tired and relaxed that I wished I could have stayed the night.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Today's entry will be the second in a series about how to get around in China. You can click here to see the previous entry about buses.

Today is all about getting around town in a taxi, or a 出租车 (pronounced: "choo" (like choo-choo train) "zoo" (like an animal zoo) "che" (like Che Guevara):

1) I imagine that taking a taxi here in Shenzhen is a lot like taking a taxi in New York. (I dunno though, I've actually never been there before :/ ). The point is that the streets are flooded with taxis. I mean all hours of the day/night, there are taxis driving down the street looking to pick up passengers. Seeing as how few people own cars, for those who can afford it, taxis are a very popular means of transportation.

Here are four available taxis all driving through the same intersection. I told you they were all over the place:

2) Where I live in Shenzhen, there are three types of taxis: green ones, red ones, and unmarked cars.

The green ones are restricted to driving outside of the SEZ (Special Economic Zone) while the red ones are allowed to travel anywhere. Basically, there are certain districts of Shenzhen that are like experimental mixed socialism/capitalism called the SEZ. These parts of Shenzhen are adjacent to Hong Kong. Basically, green taxis can't drive me downtown:

On the other hand, red taxis are unrestricted and can go anywhere in Shenzhen. However, they do they cost more:

Oh and then there's the unmarked cars. Some people just drive around in their car acting as an unlicensed taxi. Looks just like a totally normal car. They'll drive up and roll down their window asking if you need a ride. I've never taken one before (I think it's a bit creepy), but some people do. They must be cheaper or something.

Not that not all green/red taxis are licensed; some people customize their car to look like a taxi. I'm serious! I've heard they go a shop to get their car painted, install one of those taxi signs on their roof, and install a meter in the car. I'm still not really sure how to tell which taxis are real and which ones are fake.

3) Taxi's here have the strangest interior. Some taxi's have television screens built into the back of the headrests, so you can watch commercials/PSAs while you sit in the backseat.

And for some reason, all taxis have a headrest cover that tells you the day of the week. I've asked a few people why and no one seems to know. Personally I think it's pretty stupid and pointless. Note that this headrest says "Saturday":

Then there are some taxi's that feel like a police car. The have this metal mesh wall surrounding the driver seat from the rest of the car. There's even a little window so you can slide the money to him (By the way, this headrest says "Friday"):

I find taxis to be a cheap and convenient way to get around, especially since I don't live near any metro/subway stops. Oh and they are really quick since they tend to be the craziest drivers. And I'm from Los Angeles; I thought we were bad. Next time I'll discuss just how crazy driving in China really is!

Click here for the transportation gallery!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

At work, I'm currently straddling two projects:

1) The Apple Project (of which I'm sworn to secrecy)
2) The cell phone Project (of which I'm sworn to not as secret secrecy)

Now the cell phone project is something I just started as part of my new "training." Basically we manufacture that little tiny piece of glass that covers/protects the lens in your cell phone camera. Making such a seemingly easy/worthless component may not sound that interesting, but I'm just excited to actually have real work. (Reading google news, wikipedia, and ESPN does not count as real new.) Oh and I get to work in the clean room and wear a bunny suit everyday. I love getting dressed for work.

In addition to actually having work, I get "VIP treatment." (That's my co-workers phrasing, not mine.) I basically a really expensive and well paid factory line worker. Everyday I come into work and learn about some new step in the manufacturing process flow. So today and yesterday I learn about ultrasonic cleaning and got to play with all the machines. I have this crazy pounding headache though from all the buzzing though. Last week I was learning about physical vapor deposition and painting. I get to do all the same work that the regular workers do. It's fun for a day, but I can't even imagine doing it everyday for hours on end.

The best part of all though is that I'm actually learning Mandarin. I'm not sure if I'm actually learning that much Mandarin, but at the very least I'm becoming more comfortable/confident in speaking the language. Until you get used to it, speaking a new language just sounds weird. I've had no choice since my coworkers can barely speak English (if at all). It's a nice mutual exchange though. I teach them some English and they teach me some Chinese.

The first couple of days were really rough because I was so accustomed to being able to speak with my other coworkers purely in English. To "converse" with my new coworkers, I would get out my cell phone dictionary to show them what I meant in Chinese. Gestures and drawings can only get you so far without words. I finally just got a real dictionary the other day. Using my cell phone all the time was terrible for the battery life. At the end of the day, I compile all my notes and make a cheat sheet of vocabulary (You have no idea how hard it is to find technical vocabulary like ultrasonic cleaner, deionized water, or sputtering.)

The weirdest thing of all is that I think my English is getting better as well! When I speak Mandarin I need to be more articulate with less words. I don't have time to look up phrases/sentences in a dictionary. I only have time to express the big ideas in a word or do. Being mute/deaf really makes you think before you speak. So when I speak English now, I really think about the clearest way to express my thoughts.

Monday, August 4, 2008

As I mentioned before, I spend last Friday night at Longhua Park again. For once, I got home from work when the sun was still up. So I decided to make the most of it and try to photograph the sunset from the top of the pagoda in Longhua Park. Unfortunately, the sunset shots weren't all that great (it was too cloudy sadly). But that was okay because I found some other cool stuff there:

Here is a picture of the steps that lead up to the pagoda. It looks awfully similar to the other picture that I took.

This is the interior of each level of the pagoda. There are four doors that lead out to a balcony on each level. There are eight levels because eight is a lucky number in China. It sounds like wealthy or something like that. You know Chinese people and their superstitions.

Here is a framed picture of the view from one of the doorways:

After huffing and puffing up eight flights of stairs, I made it up to top floor. Here is a picture of the roofing. (Use of negative space around the bell for the win.):

Low depth of field for the win! This is the balcony of the top floor of the pagoda:

As I walked up, I decided to walk around the balcony of each floor. When I got to the fourth floor, I accidentally bumped into a young couple making out; they were hiding in a niche off to the side. I just turned around corner and then I quickly turned around. Ah to be young and in love.

I didn't think too much of it until I reached the top level and took a closer look at graffiti. Now most of it was in Chinese, so I just kind of ignored it as I was walking around. But then I spotted this one:

Yeah, it says "I love you very much." I thought it was a bit odd, but I've seen odder. But as I began to look more and more, I began to notice a trend. All the graffiti I found written in English was somehow related to love. There was a lot of graffiti (you can't see it, but in the middle it says "I'm luckly girl"):

Oh and here's some more Engrish: "I lova you"

So I guess this place must be a hot spot for young couples in love. I guess it's a Chinese equivalent of a dark mountain make out point: people making out left and right and love notes scrawled all over the walls. Anyway, let me just end with a sunset shot. I just thought that cloud looked cool.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Much to my surprise, I got Sunday off today. It was only the second Sunday (out of four Sunday) that I got off since I arrived in China. The last Sunday I got off ended up just being a lazy day. So today, I was itching to get out and and actually do something! I mean I've been in China over 3 weeks now and have barely even explored China.

Today I had a nice day with my coworkers and an Apple customer. We all went into downtown Shenzhen to have brunch and go shopping. Hey, there's nothing wrong with spending my Sunday shopping. And of course I brought my camera along; I haven't had an opportunity to dedicated a day to taking photographs in a long while.

I woke up early and took a cab to the downtown area to meet the Apple customer at his hotel. Let me tell you, it must pay off to work for Apple. The guy was put up in a grand ol' 5 star hotel: the Sheraton Shenzhen Futian Hotel. This sounds kind of sad but was the most beautiful hotel I'd ever been in. I don't travel or stay in hotels much :( Check out these various pictures of the interior:

Check out this revolving door exit! There's a huge vase of flowers inside the revolving door as it rotates:

The customer showed us the most hilarious thing from his hotel room. Here are men's and women's "emergency kits." Now what would you put in an emergency kit?:

Well apparently, in an emergency men need condoms and "anti-intoxication," whatever that is:

For brunch/lunch, we hopped on the Shenzhen Metro Line, and headed to a different hotel (Shangri-La Hotel) to have a Sunday brunch. (I could write an entire entry about the trains, but I'll save that for another Traveling in China entry.) Man another amazingly nice hotel. The extravagance is a bit overwhelming and excessive, but I could get used to living large like this.

It was a dim sum style dinner; I'm not sure whether or not that was a "traditional" Chinese breakfast. Oh man, there was so much food there. I think we must have spent 2-3 hours there just sitting there and eating away. I think my co-workers actually just ordered one of every dim sum item on the menu. Chinese people love to eat :) Anyway, see it for yourself. I think mouth-watering pictures will do the food more justice than my words:

Mmm, mooncakes. Yay for the Mid-Autumn Festival AKA Moon Festival!:

The coolest part of the meal was the "tea-master." Basically when you first sat down, this guy would come around and pour the hot water for your tea leaves. First he'd bow, chant something, twirl his arms, and then pour the water is an exaggerated pose. It kind of reminded of some sort of Power Rangers pose. "Red Ranger Power!" (see below):

At first I thought maybe they did it for tourists, but honestly the Apple customer was the only non-Chinese person in the room:

This is deep fried, sliced almond battered shrimp. I don't even like shrimp, but I like this picture:

While we were eating, this cart came around offering BBQ spareribs. A waiter dressed as a chef would cut the spareribs in front of you and put them on a plate:

What would dim sum be without cha shao bao. They are my favori

Wait till you get a load of these next bad boys. These "hedgehog-shaped" treats are deep-fried and filled with some sort of sweet gooey deliciousness.

Warm gooey mochi balls covered in almond bits. Yummy!:

When we finally finished, we headed out to shop. Now we didn't go to like some normal mall or outdoor market. This was one of those bl4ck m4rket c0unt3rfit goods type of market, full of Rolex's, designer handbags, cheap DVDs/CDs, and more! Again I'll save that for another day. I think there's more than enough reading and pictures today. I really need to start catch up on all my processing. Well at least you all can expect picture updates all next week :)

Click here for a gallery of more images of Downtown Shenzhen. These photos are only half of the ones I took. I'll be uploading more over the next coming days.

Last time on Photo Essays from China, Alan Wong found himself minutes away from Hong Kong Airport. Armed with a few Mandarin phrases and some luck, he begins his search, hoping to rendezvous with the mysterious Apple representative...

1:25 P.M. - Arrive at HK Airport

"Well here I am. I managed to make it here in one piece! The guy won't be here until 3:30 P.M. though. Ugh, how am I supposed to kill two hours in the airport. Now I know how that guy from "The Terminal" feels. Well kind of at least. I'm just glad to be here. I don't have to worry about not making the delivery.

It's so strange being here though. I haven't seen this many non-Chinese people in a real long time. And I'm not just talking about seeing white and black people. It's also weird to just see other Asians: Japanese, Koreans, Filipinos, Indiasn, etc. It makes me miss the "diversity" of the US and California. Honestly though, I have this strange urge to walk up to random people who look American and just talk to them in English :("

2:15 - Popeye's Chicken for the win

"Man, they have a Popeye's Chicken here at the airport food court. And they speak English there!"

2:30 - Popeye's Chicken for the loss

"Okay, I just finished lunch and now I'm disappointed. Bland fried chicken. I was expecting some flavorful spicy food. So much for my theory about fast food in China being superior to fast food in the US. Well, it's still nice to have familiar food. I still need to visit the Colonel though."

3:15 - Mission Accomplished

"Mission accomplished. I just me the guy and made the delivery. The worst part was that I was late. How could I get to the airport two hours early and still be late? Well he told me he was leaving his hotel at 3:00 P.M. (and the hotel is 30 minutes away from the airport). So I figured I could show up at like 3:15 P.M. and be fine. I was out walking around and shopping in the terminal actually. What a lame reason to be late. I figured that would be a great way to kill two hours. How bad was it that I showed up late and I was holding some shopping bags?"

3:45 - Heading Home to Longhua

"I totally could have spent the day in HK, but I figured it was better to get back before it's too late. In addition to not know where to go in HK, I didn't want to take the risk of staying out too late and not having a way to get back. How sad :( I guess I'll have to save my non-work related HK adventure for another day. Maybe one of my non-existent Sundays."

4:35 - Customs: Welcome Back to China

"Overall, it was a good day. I don't care if this was work related. It was just nice to get out of the office and explore somewhere new. I guess I'll count this as my Sunday off. I might even be able to get home before the sun goes down. That would be wild! Maybe I'll try to get some sunset pictures from atop that pagoda in Longhua Park."