Friday, August 22, 2008

As I was sitting in another boring meeting, I decided to crack open my dictionary. That’s right; I was so bored that I wanted to read my English-Chinese dictionary for fun. I decided to look up how to say grandparent. As I began to read, I started having flashbacks; these names were very similar to ones I used to use when I was a kid:

Grandma (maternal) - 婆婆 (Pronounced: "po po" like in PO-lice)
Grandpa (maternal) - 公公 (Pronounced: "gong gong" like goong)
Grandma (paternal) - 奶奶 (Pronounced: "nai nai" like die, but with an n sound => nie)
Grandpa (paternal) - 爷爷 (Pronounced: "ye ye" like yueh)

(It’s actually a little more complicated than than this. In Chinese, there’s an elaborate breakdown of family titles based on maternal/paternal, older/younger, in-law/non in-law relatives, etc.)

It's kind of sad that somewhere along the way forgot those names. I have really fond memories of being a child and hanging out with my grandparents. There's one particular memory that's always been particularly vivid:

I was with my po po and gong gong in the backyard of their home. I was walking with them across a small footbridge listening to them talk in Cantonese. Suddenly, I had this spontaneous urge to try to speak Cantonese too and I tried to repeat what they said. One of those monkey see, monkey do types of reactions. I don't think I was ever fluent in Cantonese, so it must have sounded really terrible. But I remember my po po looking at me with this really surprised look on her face. Then she smiled at me and they just laughed together. I must have been about four or five years old.

The more time I spend here in China, the more I think about my grandparents. Rediscovering my roots/hertitage was the last thing I thought I would find here in China, but I'm continuously reminded of little memories like that one all the time. It's funny because I live pretty to close to where they all came from. My grandparents came from a city called Taishan in Guangdong Province (aka Canton in English). (I'm living in Shenzhen city, but its also in Guangdong Province.)

For the ones that passed away, I wonder what they would have to say about me working here in China. And as for the ones that are still around, I should really ask them. This entry is for all of them.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

What's the first thing that comes to mind when you look at this picture?

Well obviously basketball. Maybe the NBA. That silhouetted figure looks awfully similar to the NBA logo. Or maybe you thought of Michael Jordan. It also kind of looks like the Jumpman logo. And you would have thought correctly.

The name of this clothing chain is 乔丹 (PRONOUNCED: "qiao" = chow, "dan" = don). That's the Chinese transliteration of Jordan. Kind of sounds similar, right? Well sort of anyway.

Actually the first time I saw this place I immediately thought of Jordan. Apparently in China, everyone else thinks the same thing. I mean the store is called "Jordan" and there's a picture of a silhouetted basketball player. Go figure. The funny thing is that this store has nothing to do with Jordan. It's not affiliated with him or Nike in anyway. Yet everyone in here believes that it's his store. Only in China!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

As I mentioned many weeks ago, I went to a “street market” to go shopping with some coworkers. Since it was located underground inside a metro station, I guess “subway market” would be more accurate. In either case, I had always imagined that China full of these types of places: bustling spaces with aggressive vendors hawking counterfeit goods and other trinkets:

This particular market is located along a popular subway exit that leads to a shopping district. With a location like that, it’s no wonder the place was so crowded. When we got there, the first thing my coworkers did was tell me to watch my bag. It’s a really crowded area that just breeds pickpockets. Trying to keep a low profile, I left my camera in my huge backpack and held onto it for dear life. (My coworkers love to tease me about that thing and ask if going camping.)

It’s funny because there really is an art to buying stuff from these markets. I spent the whole time just watching my coworkers go back and forth with vendors. It always opens with a price. It’s always some outrageous price too: you and the vendor both know it, but it’s all part of the game.

Then it’s your turn to shake your head and/or throw your arms up in the air and repeatedly shout “Too expensive!” or “太贵” (Pronounced: “tai” = tie, “gui” = gway). After that, the vendor will ask you to name the price. Somewhere around 30-40% of their price is always a good place to start. Then it’s the vendor’s turn to complain about it being too cheap. They’ll accuse you of trying to cheat them and tell you about how great the quality is.

This goes back and forth until a price is agreed upon. If you really want a good deal, you can try walking away. Vendors absolutely hate this; they’ll often chase after you and offer a lower price.

Now the main attraction of these types of markets is the bootleg merchandise.

Rule number 1: Anything that can be bootlegged, will.

Of course there’s the epitome of bootleg goods: movies and music:

But you can also find Blu-rays, video games and computer software. (My personal favorite was the copy “Microseft” Windows XP.) And there’s also “soft goods” like luggage, wallets, and purses for the ladies. (I have coworkers who go shopping for bootleg Coach/Prada bags every weekend.) And along those lines there are the fake designer watches; here’s a $20 Folex:

Oh and for your amusement, here are some “Nintendo Wü” knockoffs from my apartment:

At the end though, my favorite shop was this tiny store just outside of the market. You just bring them a picture of someone and they’ll put his/her face on a figurine:

Isn’t that crazy? It’s like having a little caricaturized mini-me! I’ve actually seen a number of similar stores since that day. I guess there must be decent market for these things. Personally, I find them kind of creepy, but deep down I secretly want one.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Last Saturday I had dinner with some of my FIT coworkers. (They are some of the other people who came with me to China). They wanted to have Chinese Tsingtao beer with the meal. I didn't want to be the party pooper, so I obliged even though I can't stand the taste of beer.

At first I didn't even realize that this was Tsingtao beer. I'm so used to seeing "Tsingtao" written on the bottle with Romanized letters:

Here's one of my coworkers about to take a drink. I should have extended the depth of field instead of just focusing on the beer bottle:

And then they wanted to take turns taking pictures of each other. (Man my hair is getting so long that I can't spike it up anymore. I was going to get it cut here in China, but all my Taiwanese coworkers suggested I wait until I go to Taiwan next month. I'll take pictures of my crazy hair before I cut it. Or maybe I'll grow it out really long and get it cut back in the US.)

I don't see my FIT coworkers that often, but it was really nice to see them. It's funny because I thought I would be relying on them a lot more because I'm the only one who didn't speak Mandarin. Seeing them helps me put this trip in perspective because we all started in the same boat. We were new college graduates with no idea what we would be doing in China. Now we've all gone our separate ways here in China. It's interesting to compare our experiences/perspectives on China. One of my coworkers told me, "I just have to keep reminding myself: If you can make it here in China, the I definitely can!" It's good to hear that I'm not the only who doesn't really like it.

Anyway, we had dinner at the RT Mart mall and went grocery shopping afterwards. They had an imported goods section with products from Taiwan, Japan, Europe, and the U.S. I saw a Fruit Punch Snapple with only English packaging and I thought, "I'm home!"

The best item was a package of cheese Ritz Bits. It was in the "U.S.A." section but on the packaging it said "con queso." I just started laughing. I wanted to take a picture but I was stopped by a RT Mart employee. She spent the next 5 minutes inspecting the packing trying to figure out what was so special about those damn crackers.

Here's some of the goodies I bought:

Ooh, Frosties (i.e. Frosted Flakes). They're great!

Here's a collection of Pringles. The flavors are Pesto Italiano, Greek Mezes, Aromatic Crispy Chicken, and BBQ Steak. Yeah, you read that right: pesto flavored. Dude why don't we have that in the US. They were delicious. I miss pesto :( I wonder if Gypsy's delivers from Berkeley:

On days when lunch/dinner looks especially repulsive and nauseating, I head for the local convenience store. Today’s lunch was one of those days. Now this “Mom & Pop” shop is located off the factory grounds. To leave the factory you have to pass by two guarded inspection checkpoints.

I like to bring my iPod with me for the walk to the store. It’s not that long of a walk, but I just like to listen to music when I’m just walking by myself. If you ever saw me walking around Berkeley between classes, chances were I had headphones on my ears. Now normally this wouldn’t be that a big deal. Problem is that you’re not supposed to have MP3 players, cameras, laptops or other devices like that on the factory grounds.

As I’m walking back from the market one of the checkpoint guards stops me. He says (in Mandarin), “Hold it there a sec.” First thing that crosses my mind is: “Crap, they are so going to confiscate my iPod touch. I am SOOO screwed.” My first instinct is to raise my hands in the air. So there I am standing there in front of a security guard with a bad of chips in one hand and Chinese “Vitamin Water” in the other. It wasn’t even like he was pointing a gun at me or something.

He grabs my ID badge and takes a look at me. Every employee working here has an ID badge that must be worn at all times. But my ID badge is an American one that looks completely different from everyone else. I explain to him that I have an American version of the ID badge and tell him that I’m from America. Clearly this confused him: he scratches his head and gives me a funny look. I ask him (in Mandarin), “Do I look American to you?” He says, “No, I really thought you were Chinese. Go ahead.”

Holy moly man. That was a close one. Man I must look really Chinese.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Ugh, it's 2 AM and I should be sleeping. I just finished editing photos, so now I can finally make my daily blog post and go to sleep. Here's the rest of HK in pictures:

Mong Kok Flower Market

This is a sign for the Mong Kok Flower Market, an area filled with shops selling flowers, plants, bouquets and other plant related stuff.

Very pretty bouquets. Here is a customer pointing at something. (It's nice to take photographs of people again. People tend to stare at me in China, but in HK people don't even seem to notice that I have a camera):

Here is an artsy low depth of field picture I took. I thought this flower was really pretty. Nice color:

Yuen Po Street Bird Market
Our next stop was the Yuen Po Street Bird Market. Here one can find hundreds of birds and bird accessories for sale. My friend said that people take their birds for a "walk" bringing their caged bird to this park:

Here is a picture of a vendor changing out the poopy newspaper lining from dozens of cages:

Here is a bird cage attached to one of the entrance doors of the park:

Victoria Harbor
Victoria Harbor divides Hong Kong Island from the Kowloon Peninsula attached to China. While we took the underground MTR to get to Kowloon, we opted to take the Star Ferry back across the harbor. This is a picture of some of the statues next to the Hong Kong Museum of Art:

This is a picture of people walking along the promenade next to Victoria Harbor:

This is a picture of a covered walkway near the harbor. I just thought that the light/shadow and shapes looked cool:

Victoria Peak
Back on Hong Kong Island, we headed to Victoria Peak, the highest mountain on the island. It's one of those popular tourists spots that has great city scapes. I was sad I couldn't be there at night. I can only imagine how amazing the view is then with the city all lighted up. I took this picture while going up one of the escalator. I tried to use the divisions in the glass walls to frame the image:

Inside the mall-like Peak Tower there was an EA zone where you could play video games and buy EA games! Man it was like teenage video game nerd's dream: XBOX 360s, PS3s, every new EA Sports game. I resisted the urge to stand there all day and play because I wanted to head to the roof to check out the view:

Here is a pictures of the various floors of the Peak Tower as well as the escalators that link each floor. I just thought that it was an interesting composition:

This is a picture of one of the last sets of escalators. I tried to use a slow shutter speed to blur the people but it didn't have the effect I wanted:

SoHo Outdoor Street Market
Lastly, on the way back home, we stopped by an outdoor street market. Here is a fruit vendor:

Here is a vegetable vendor. I think the customer is handing here a bunch of green onions. I wish I'd used a slightly faster shutter speed, but I kind of like the blur:

I think this is my favorite street vendor photos. Look! The meat is just sold out in the open and hanging on hooks on rods. That can't be sanitary. It's a bit macabre, but it's one of those fresh images that you'd never see in the US. This is the type of image and subject matter that really interests me!

All my HK pictures can be found here.