Thursday, September 27, 2007

Trip to China: Part 8

Well I just had the dream. I guess the nightmare. I woke up in a cold sweat with "Like Father Like Son" stuck in my head, and an inspiration to work on my lines. In my dream I'm coming home from my trip and going straight to the theatre for Aida rehearsal. As I am walking in I realize that the SHOW (not rehearsal) has already started. There is a set, and costumes, and some other guy playing Radames! (For some reason it's not Jon, my actual understudy, or any other current cast member. I think it's one of my old roommates. Back off, it's my nightmare.) Apparently the show is playing to a rehearsal audience, and they are in the middle of "Like Father Like Son". I go running back stage to change and go on in the next scene, but I realize I have no idea what my lines are. I realize I'm essentially not in the show, and have a moment of panic attack as I wake up in a cold sweat. Ok, so I had lots of Indian food and a few beers last night right before I fell asleep. Does that mean I have to have a horrible nightmare? Huh?!

Let's start this blog over with an inhale ... and an exhale. Now I'll open as I planned to since I left the hotel yesterday and was welcomed to the outdoors by clean air and sunshine:

Ahhhh. Yesterday I walked outside and there was a light feeling of cool dampness. It had rained the night before (the first time since we've been here), and I had no idea what the implications of that were until we started to drive down the road and I looked at the sky. CLOUDS! Clouds mixed with one of the most beautiful and appreciated shades of blue my eyes have ever met. Since we have been in Beijing, the sky, and everywhere around us really, was cloaked in a grey vale of smog. But oh, how the rain changes things. I was nearly in tears with thankfulness that I got to see the city in THIS light before I left it. It was so beautiful, I couldn't stop taking pictures of it. It was really almost as if the sky was as grateful to be seen as I was grateful to see it. We passed some mountains that were the foreground to a blue and white background and I longed to go the the Great Wall again and see it all this way. As I type this I am reminded of a poem I wrote and posted to this blog in March. It was the first good day I had had after a few weeks of terribly dark days. To make things even better, it was the first very sunny day of the year, and the culmination of these events made my heart cry with joy of life, and I pulled over while I was driving and frantically scribbled this poem down. When I got home I posted it. Poem-wise it's nothing to write home about (ha I just realized I'm writing home about it), but it holds a very important place in my heart as a landmark for my first good day in a long time.

Ah yes, just to feel
to soak sun and breath life
I trade my sunglasses
for a stinging glare that
warms my soul.
I am overcome with thankfulness,
renewal, and life
tears rim my eyes
and I smile.
Ah yes, just to feel!

This is a similar kind of emotion I had while looking on the beauty of China through a God-sent and much needed cleansing.

Every day as we pass a certain woods on the way to work, I have had another unique pleasure. On the right side of our car, there are fairly small trees (with trunks probably 3 or 4 inches in diameter) and all aligned on neat rows. About 40 feet back from the road there is a dirt trail. Beside the trail, a few of the trees have a piece of wood attached to them horizontally, about the size and shape of a sparing sword, but I really can't tell if that's what they are. Hanging from this wood is a khaki sport coat. Beside the tree is a man, in his early 50's, wearing khaki pants and an undershirt doing some sort of Martial Art dance or work out. It's a really beautiful moment that I'm glad we catch every day on our way to work.

Beijing is teaming with bicycles. I have said this before back home, but I really wish our society embraced bicycles more. I think it would be great to have bike lanes up and down the streets of Canton. I think I need to get myself a bike, but the roads just aren't very conducive for riding in Ohio. When drivers aren't used to watching for a bunch of bikes, you are more likely to get nailed on one. I don't have any statistics to back that up, but I think it's a pretty safe bet. It's totally not weird in Beijing for someone to be riding to work on their bike and another person is riding side-saddle on the rack behind them. At home, you'd look homeless or weird doing that. Stupid! Let's not be so arrogant at home, ok? I'll try if you do to. Deal.

Last night after work I ran around my hotel buying things at the stores in the lobby. Not many things, mind you, so don't get your hopes up, but a few people asked for very specific things, and gave me money for them, so I obliged to buy them. I use commas a lot, deal with it. After this mini shopping spree, I walked around aimlessly wishing really hard that I had a friend in Beijing to eat dinner with. Nothing sounded good, and I really didn't want to go back to my room and order room service like a loser and watch National Geographic again while eating spaghetti in freaking China! I came to a corner on the ground floor of my hotel that I had forgotten was there that had escalators leading up, and promising me some new restaurants. Yay! At least there were new and strange places to eat. I chose an Indian restaurant and as i was seated at a table for two, they quickly grabbed all the silverware and place settings across from me, making it a table for one. Thanks. I ordered my new favorite beer, Tsing tao (I think it's the same as Tsungtao, but it's all really too confusing to even blog about the beer conversation with the female engineers I had). It was my last night, so I ordered an appetizer and a meal. Hopefully I'll get some pictures on here for you to see it, but it was spicy and delicious. And lonely. Did I mention lonely? The manager asked me if I wanted something else with it, implying that I didn't order enough, or that it was strange for me to order the meat without rice or vegetables with it. There were vegetables in my appetizer,so I felt justified in my order, but he was making me feel weird about it, so I ordered some rice and lentil. This was literally after my meat was delivered, which made the whole transaction even more awkward. Then, when he delivered the check, I wanted to make sure that service had been included in the price, as it said in the menu. He said, "No no, just sign". In English land that implied that it was not included, but just sign the check without tipping. I was annoyed with and confused by this guy enough, and I had a few beers in me so I really didn't care, and I took my chances that it was included and just got the hell out of dodge. I got back to my room and abruptly passed out with timezone, full belly, and beer all working in tandem on a deep sleep. Unfortunately they were also working on an abrupt wake up call for this morning via a nasty nightmare.

So that was yesterday! Today I leave work at noon to go to the airport and fly home! It's already Friday here, so I'll be traveling back in time to Friday there. Oh, btw, time travel is a little something I learned while in China. I'd show you how, but back home we don't have the training grounds, nor the magic sand. I'll post one final wrap-up post on Saturday, and hopefully get some pictures up as well. Wish me luck as I fly over the North Pole again! Did I mention the plane flies over the North Pole? Well it does, and I'll tell you about it later.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Trip to China: Part 7

Let's complain, shall we? Many american websites take a long time to load, and when they do they sometimes load strangely, and some don't load at all. I'm very fortunate that works, or else I wouldn't be able to post these blogs, although it's incorrigibly in Chinese for some reason, as I've mentioned previously. While blogger sort of works, for some reason I can't read people's blogs at (where blogger posts). I have a few friends who have posted blogs since I've been here that I haven't been able to read because of this. And they only publish the first few sentences to aggregators like google reader. They also choose not to import the notes into facebook, like I do (although I suspect it would only publish the first few sentences as well). Sorry for the geeky talk, the biggest problem is, I can't even see my own blog once I've posted them unless I wait for it to import to facebook and read it there. Stupid? Yes, very stupid. I also suspect, as I will very cautiously hypothesise, that it has something to do with the gof-erm-ent being comi-you-nest (I wrote that in code in case this blog is being scanned electronically). I am 86% serious, btw. I remember reading something about Ch*na blocking certain websites. Blogs would be an obvious target, where someone could potentially read other people's negative opinions about the gof-erm-ent. So I continue to work around the frustrating roadblocks. I'm like a ninja that way. And other ways, like how I can lift rocks with my mind. Oh, I'm like a Jedi too. Like how I can talk to animals and control fire and my skin is silver. Oh, I'm like captain planet too. Like how I have no eyebrows and dreads of power. Oh, I'm like Whoopie Goldberg too.

-SIDEBAR is Whoopie Goldberg Jewish? This thought popped in my head the other day for the first time in my life, and it flipped my world upside down. All the evidence is there. She hangs out with a bunch of Jews (Billy Crystal), she's a comedian in show business (sort of), and her last name is freaking Goldberg! Think about it!

So I don't have tons more to report because my Chinese "friends" bailed on me for karaoke again. God must know of a man waiting for me at karaoke with a gun poised to strike, because he's making it very unlikely that I'll go. I can see him now... "I kill next irriot who sing stupid Jesse's Girl." All I want is to do the robot while singing Mr. Roboto and grabbing an old Chinese man by the shirt while screaming in his face "Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto!!". I know it's Japanese, and that's especially why I want to do it! He likely wouldn't know what I was singing and be scared out of his mind! Please God, PLEASE let this happen!! But alas, my Chinese friends have to work 57 hours a week. Well boo-freaking-hoo. Actually that sucks, and I can't imagine how they do that every week, but still! STILL!! DOMO (domo) ... DOMO (domo).

So I'm going to delve into a little bit of funkiness, so miss Jackson, if you're nasty, take a seat, but get the kids out of the room. Are they gone? Ok, the toilets here are a hole in the ground. Literally. I don't completely understand how they are supposed to work. I think it's a squatting sort of situation. You ask how I still don't know on my 7th day here? I have a huge large intestine and a sphincter like a steal trap. Just kidding, and that was really gross. The bathrooms at the hotel are western style. But sometimes at work, nature calls and I must keep nature at bay. I tried once, and if it's not too graphic, nearly pissed all over my pants. I gave up on any further transaction and ran for my life. Chinese people must have thighs of steal and amazing aim. Or they crap all over themselves. Guys, I understand not wanting to become too western, but Jesus, a hole in a log is better than this. I hope the gof-erm-ent is reading this part and drafting a law as we speak. The Constipation Proclamation is what I suggest calling it guys, if you are reading this. Also, please let me leave the country Friday cause I've got a show to do back home. Thanx :)

So that's all I've got for now. I hope you guys are keeping Ohio the same, or better than when I left it. Upon my arrival, I expect trumpets and handmaidens. And someone call a juggler, but if he can't make it on short notice, that's ok too. Those guys are hard to book.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Trip to China: Part 6

Well I expect today's post to be rather short. Comparatively speaking, yesterday was rather unevenful. There were, however, a few points to discuss...

I don't believe I have highlighted this laundry service enough yet, or how it has affected my life in positive and glorious ways. Truly, if real life had a laundry service that was included in the price, it would improve my quality of life ten-fold. Included with the rooms in the Executive Club (hehe) are 140 RMB credits a day for laundry (that works out to about $18.62, don't get too excited). It's enough to get a shirt, a pair of pants, and a t-shirt cleaned without an extra charge. This is plenty though, because I had most of my shirts cleaned before the work week started anyways. While this might not seem exciting to you, laundry is something that plagues my life like a tumor that grows and grows in my room until it's too much to even clean all at once, and the walls around me start to cave in. So I'm a little melodramatic, but it's almost that bad. But oh, if laundry was cleaned for free. To be my own master, such a thing would be greater than all the magic and all the treasures in all the world! (credit: Aladdin Copyright (c) 1992 The Walt Disney Company) So I need to either get a wife, or a team immigrants. Or an immigrant wife. Preferably from Spain. They can cook and are hot. Wild generalizations I make, and offending? It's what tiggers do best. Why have I quoted Disney twice in one paragraph?

Breakfast Yesterday: Amazing. I'm not good at a lot of things, but apparently I have an innate ability to concoct delicious breakfasts out of foods that other people cooked. I know, I know, I'll teach you some day. We ate and were off to work again at 8 o'clock.

Work was draining yesterday. For most of the day, Bill and I hammered away at questions the girls threw at us. Many of them were very good questions that they had every right in being confused about. The biggest cause for confusion on my part of the product is that it was set up to be fabricated by our american shop, but because of schedule (and to be honest probably cost) it was moved to our Chinese shop. Well the Chinese do many things differently than americans. They eat duck feet, they say "s" when they mean "th" (sank you!), and they build throat panel assemblies differently. So the point is, they are trying to figure out how they will build this monstrosity based on drawings that are set up for a different process, written in english, and without all the information on it that they need. To make matters more frustrating, their engineering department has to deal with me, who pronounces Chinese names very well, but that's about the extent of my Chinese. So for the girl who is devoted to my product, who doesn't speak very good English, it is obviously a constant struggle.

We hammered away, trying to understand each other until about 4:30 when we all were getting mentally exhausted and needed a breather. We started rapping about music. One of the girls told me to sing an american song. "Yesterday Once More" I couldn't think of any popular songs by this title. All that kept popping in my head was "Makes Me Wonder" by Maroon 5. They had no clue who Maroon 5, or really any band that I liked was. I jumped on google and typed in Yesterday Once More. It's the freaking Carpenters. "Every Sha la la la, Every Woah-oo-woah-oh" Yeah. They still listen to the Carpenters. I'm all about oldies, and Karen Carpenter has one of the most freakishly soothing and beautiful voices to hit pop music, but really? You expected me to have that one in my back pocket? So I tried not to laugh too hard because this was the same girl that was already pretty frustrated over my drawings. Instead I told her that she could sing it at karaoke (which is not happening until tonight, btw) (in case you still want to come)

Last night Robby and Steve (Two of the American gentlemen from my company that Bill and I met up with out here) said their goodbyes to us because they are going home later today. That leaves Bill and I alone to fend for ourselves in Beijing for 2 days. We finally ate at the Texas Steakhouse last night. The food was pretty great, but everything else was a little disappointing. I expected more ridiculous mock-texas things to happen (like being greeted by "How-dy ye-all" or terrible line dancing) but all I got were funny uniforms and people that could barely speak english well enough to take my order. I ordered a tenderloin, and they bring it to your table raw to show it to you. That's fine I guess, but it's not like I'm going to say, "no, I want a different piece of flesh brought here first". Then they ask you if you want them to cook it now. Um, what are my options here? Seriously, do people say no to this question? When they brought it out, they dished a helping of this hot pepper sauce on it and it was really quite excellent. Overall, though, I kind of wish I hadn't gone to the Texas place, because my hopes of rampant ridiculousness were shattered into a million little buckaroos.

I must say that I really appreciate the feedback on these notes from you all. It makes waking up and typing it all out a lot of fun. Sorry if today's was light on the awesome, and hopefully karaoke tonight will inspire insanity to come into my life. Until then, zai jian!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Trip to China: Part 5

Wow. Wow wow wow.

Last night was a lil rough, but let me start in chronological order.

So I woke up yesterday way too early because I crashed in the afternoon and slept through dinner, remember? Good. Well I woke up at midnightish, blogged and such, and then went back to bed for 2 hours until 6 when I got up and started getting ready for work. My routine went well again yesterday, save that my laundrin wasn't delivered from the night before because I had put a do not disturb sign on my door for my nap that turned into sleeping all night. I had a groggy 10 minute conversation with 2 front desk ladies about it because laundry services was not yet open but neither girl could speak english to save their lives. Now, I can't speak Chinese, but I don't work at the front desk of a Chinese hotel in America. I wish there were other people hearing the conversation because it was quite humorous, and I don't remember all of it. I know that the first thing I asked her was "What time does laundry services open?" She asked me what I needed, and I explained my sitch as best I could. Then I think she forwarded my call to the receptionist on the Executive Floor. It happened very fast and they sounded the same, so I wasn't sure that I was really talking to a different person. After hesitantly explaining it all to this girl, who may have been the same girl, she kept saying that it would be double charge if I needed laundry done this morning. I kept explaining that it is already done, I just needed it delivered this morning. Finally, she either told me to call laundry services in 10 minutes when they open, or she said that she would call, I couldn't tell. Thanks, so they open in ten minutes, that's all I asked in the first place. And, as expected, the laundry was delivered while I was half naked from showering. Sweet.

So breakfast was another winner, although I must say that had I known the food I was going to eat last night, I would have gone much easier on the breakfast. We were all set to go, and our driver picked us up right on time at 8am. Off we flew down the highway. Holy crap. It's like New York City driving but with less general care for loss of life. I find it's better when I engaged in conversation instead of looking ahead at the road, but the conversation was usually about the road.

-SIDEBAR This trip really makes me appreciate/miss New York. Really, that city is great, for lack of a better descriptor. How they can have all the hustle and bustle without all this air pollution is beyond me. You think New York stinks? Try Beijing. You clear your throat all day long. Best of luck to the Olympians next year. And New York, you have a gorgeous skyline. Look up in Beijing, or out a tall window, and you see a grey fog similar to that in a bad 3D video game that only lets you see so far away. Grossies.

-SIDEBAR 2.0 ick, I keep tasting all the crap I consumed last night. Read on!

So we arrived at BWBC and were literally greeted with a red carpet and many formal greetings and bright smiles. I'd make fun of it, but it was really quite flattering and a wonderful way to start our work day. We sat in a meeting room at a large, dark cherry board table and watched a presentation about the company that was in English. I would give the English an 8.9 out of 10. Then the President made a dramatic entrance and everyone stood until he sat and everyone sat. It felt like a movie, which was cool and annoying for some reason. He was an incredibly gracious and friendly host, so I took a liking to him. He was very much in control, and a bit of a salesman, which are traits that I don't normally like, but for some reason he wore it well and didn't push it too far, so I liked him a lot. He spoke the best English I've heard since I've been here that didn't come from an American.

-SIDEBAR I think I resent people that are controlling because I grew up with a few control freaks, and I have some of those tendencies in me because of it that I try hard not to give in to. It works for some people, and they get a lot done with these traits, but I tend to try doing things different ways. I remember when I was young I would pin my little brother to the ground til he had no way of getting loose and tickle the crap out of him. I thought it was all fun until the first and only time my mom yelled at me for it. I'm getting physically ill recalling this story. I just saw this act for the control trip it was and it made me sick with guilt. So yeah, I've got issues, and I may take the nice guy approach too far sometimes, where I then have to counter it and be more assertive, but I'd rather be a little too much of a push over than a little too much of an ass. I'm not sure where the disdain for rampant salesmanship comes from. I guess the other thing I have come to believe in my travels is that being false is not worth it. You can only sell the fake you for so long until people see what's going on. I try really hard to be the same person to everyone I meet. Probably the most difficult part of that journey is when you realize who you are (which is never who you were when you were growing up), you either continue to act like what you used to be in front of your family, or you slowly let them in to the person you really are. That can be really tough, because you're always going to feel like you're disappointing someone. Especially in my family, we tend to riddle each other with guilt complexes, and it can really be crippling. But I try to show my family the real me, without shoving it in their faces, because I want them to know who they actually love, not their idea of who I am.

Where did this post go? I guess I needed to get that stuff out to the world, because I feel better now.

So we took a car to the back of the property where the Engineering building was located. "Pay up, buddy" is all I kept thinking to myself. Not much got done before lunch, mostly because of IT problems with my laptop, and introductions were still happening. After a simple and rather tasty lunch is when the work really began. It was far less formal in the Engineering building, and I really liked it. The people in the room with Bill and I most of the time were 2 female designers, about my age I'd guess, who's names I can't remember without reading them off the drawing board we used as a cheat sheet. I have gotten many kudos by different Chinese people on my pronunciations though. It makes me especially happy to get those because I go to great efforts not to sound like an american spitting through Chinese words (which is what some of my colleagues rather sound like), but rather a person trying to speak Chinese. There was a third girl and one guy that came in a few times as well. I liked him even though he didn't speak much English. I feel like he's my good friend Kurtiss' Chinese counterpart, and I don't know why. The language barrier was certainly there for everyone (none of them spoke great English, but the girl who spoke it the best translated a lot) but it was only frustrating to me for social reasons (not work reasons). There was point where we all were getting through a lot a problems and I really started to feel a community. I saw little things in their conversations with each other (which I didn't understand) that looked so much like conversations that designers would have back home. We were really similar kinds of people working towards the same goal with this stupid language thing in the way, but I really started to enjoy it. It helped me a lot that everyone on their team is young too, because most of the people I work with at home could at least be my father, if not grandfather. It was the first time I got to work on a design with a whole team of young people and it was really great. It helped my ego that I knew all about the design, and also helped to keep my ego in check when they found an error on one of my drawings. Touche, China, Touche.

The style of this operation was exactly as I would have liked it to be. Bill and I sat next to each other at a large table in a fairly dingy conference room and as people had questions, they would sit on our other side and we would work with them on it. If Bill or I needed to consult each other, or needed help wording something a different way in English, we could just turn to each other, work it out, and then go back to our issue. We got a lot covered, and I felt completely prepared for everything that was thrown at me. More than that, I feel that it would have been very difficult to do over a phone of even video conference. I'm glad someone made this trip in person to answer these questions (and I'm also glad it was me :) )

After work, we packed up and took another excruciatingly long car ride to a restaurant where we were wined and dined by the president and most of the people that I met that day. This restaurant was the nicest I had been to yet, and maybe ever in my life. We took an elevator to a room with a large circular table. There was a large wait staff and no other tables but ours. I wish I could have taken pictures of the dinner, but it was not that type of an event. Throughout dinner, the president would make jokes and keep things lite. He also told me a few times not to feel bad if I didn't like the food and only eat what I wanted. This was relieving to some extent, but it was clearly all very very expensive, so I still felt obligated to eat almost everything. It was something like a 7 course meal consisting of things that were amazing and things that made me want to heave. That's how most of the big meals here are, which leaves you feeling ill and longing to have only eaten a few of the amazing things that were served. There was no lazy susan involved this time though. This was a much bigger circular table and each course was delivered to you. So much for skimping on the stuff you don't like. Let me list the things I remember:
-some sort of cooked pork skin. They were 2 pieces of crispy skin about 1" x 2" x skin thickness. It was pretty gross.
-a plate of 2 spring rolls, tuna (sushi style), some pork thing, and other tasty stuff. It was really good, except for the raw tuna (bottoms up)
-lobster bisque. If you don't know, I'm not huge on seafood. I was hoping the lobster bisque would be good because I love tomato bisque. Unfortunately, it has lobsters instead of tomatoes. It was like cream of fishy flavor - now with chunks!
-the most amazing steak I have ever tasted. Australian beef that was incredibly rare, and so so good. No words. I wish I had just gotten it and a potato and a beer.
-bowl of rice. It was a bowl of rice. It seemed weird as it's own course and after I was so full already.
-fruit and moon cake. The fruit was fruit. The moon cake was something they have for a festival over here of the largest full moon of the year. It was pretty good.

Interwoven between all this food were many shots of some clear, nasty, but probably expensive, alcohol. Every time someone felt moved to drink to someone else (which was about every 15 minutes) everyone took a shot. It was really rough. I'm a beer and wine sort of guy. So that plus a few glasses of wine and I was feeling pretty good. And ill. It was quite a day and after a much shorter ride to the hotel, I went back to my room and crashed immediately.

I'm excited to see what today has in store. Last night the president happened to mention that karaoke is very popular in this town. My ears perked up. He noticed and quickly instructed the designers to take me out karaokeing this week. So, yeah, he's awesome. I have been writing this blog for hours now, and need to ge cleaned up and go to work, so sorry for the abrupt ending. God Bless!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Trip to China: Part 4

Sunday morning felt great for some reason. After the fears of dying subsided, I just had a great morning. I think it's because I'm getting used to my routine. I hate day one in a hotel because I don't yet have a routine, and EVERYTHING takes so long to do when you're figuring it all out. Especially for me, because I'm the type that will spend a little extra time deciding how to do things the first time so that they are more efficient every subsequent time I do them. For example, brushing my teeth here is a rather labor-intensive task. I don't use the sink water, so I have to find my toothbrush, paste it, dribble bottled water on it, brush, rinse the brush with sink water, pour bottled water in glass, rinse brush again, sip from bottle, rinse mouth, spit. If I'm groggy it would be easy to accidentally suck down some sink water, and while it probably wouldn't really hurt me to drink a little, I would be so mad that I went to such great efforts not to and then accidentally did.

The point of all that rambling is that yesterday morning I got my routine down. I now, wake up way too early, blog, get cleaned up, check my work email, and head down to breakfast. Here's where I really became a pro. The breakfast spread is so big that the first time I went I couldn't possibly have done it right. But sweet sweet yesterday, I ordered eggs from the egg dude, ordered a waffle from the waffle lady, then made some toast for myself all in immediate succession so they all were ready one after the other. I also am strangely intrigued by porridge of late. Grossies? I know, but it's kinda good.

We were met by a new cast of Chinese tour guides from our sister company after breakfast, one with a new fake american name. Zhong Yuming and "Cassy" were waiting for us in the lobby as I came back from a last email check in my room. Off we went to the forbidden city. I must say that most of the forbidden city was not nearly as cool as the Great Wall to me. We saw Tiananmen Square and lots of big red buildings. This place was a palace for the Emperor, and no one but his servants were allowed in it. It was seriously probably a mile long and a quarter mile wide surrounded by a moat. It was ridiculously big and every building in it pretty much looked the same. Even the room with old musical instruments didn't turn my gears too much. The one moment of relief that I had from red, gold, and blue paint on huge buildings was near the back of the palace in the garden. I can't describe the relief I felt walking through the last red wall into a lush green and brown area. I was assaulted with fresh growing smells and twisting old trees, which was so different from the smell of old bricks and dusk. Some of the trees were 300 years old. That's older than the United States for you history buffs. Insano. But just as I was starting to enjoy the Forbidden City, my old colleagues were ready to go. Sigh. The other thing of note were the beggars. These were not New York City beggars that have a quirky sign like "Who am I kidding, I need a drink". These were people with diseased and crying children with obvious physical ailments on display and outstretched hands. It was one of the more horrible things I've seen. Then some guy that was missing a hand started hitting us up for money. Dude, did you see the kid with boils? Get outta here, lots of people have no hands. So yeah, that was all weird.

I realize I haven't yet described the air in this city, which has had a huge effect on me physically. Let's put it this way, any car that you walk past that has been parked for more than a day is caked with a layer of god knows what. I've been told it's just pollution. They have little to no regulations on what they put into the air, and it really shows. We drove past a power plant in the middle of the city yesterday. A coal burning power plant, right next to a seafood restaurant. Yum! I have been riddled with sinus issues since I got here, and hack like a smoker a couple times a day. It's pretty awful. It really affects the amount of time it takes for me to be done with outdoor activities. Some people walk around wearing masks on their faces. I don't blame them, and if I were staying for a long time I would probably do the same. I sometimes pretend those people are singers and they are protecting their voices. Sorry, it just make me happy, don't judge.

We went to lunch at a different restaurant next. It was so good. I don't know if it was especially good for me because I better described to our guides what I wanted to eat, or just luck of the draw. Either way it was the best meal I've had in the city. Let me describe restaurants in China as I now understand them from having been to 2. I don't know if they're all like this, but both of ours were. You pull up to the front door, and the building is literally the size of a hotel. There are many rooms on different floors and they each have 1 to 5 circular tables in them with a "lazy susan" type spinny thing in the middle. Your party sits around the table, and the one who sits at the plate with the napkin sticking up is the "host". They are also supposed to pay for the meal. After someone orders in Chinese for a long time, food starts to come out. A plate of food of questionable origins is placed on the spinny thing and spun to be in front of the host. He then dishes for himself and spins to the next person. This goes on and on as more plates of crazy looking food are brought to the table. No exaggeration, yesterday I think we had 15 to 20 different plates of food. Most of which were really good. It's a very different way of eating that lends itself much more to conversation. You only eat a little at a time, and then spin and take a little more, then eat a little more. It's a nice change from the way americans eat, but I wouldn't want every meal to be that way. There was a plate of broccoli, a plate of noodles, and a plate of spicy beef that were all very good. I just didn't understand why they were not all mixed together on my big american plate so I could chow it all down and stop talking so much. Confusing. Oh, and on the way out of the restaurant the leader of our team of servers stopped me and said "Excuse me sir, you speak Chinese?" I said no. She then gave me a card that was in Chinese and said "My name is Liu Jinli" pointing to is as if I could read it. Then she flipped it over and it was English on the other side, or I wouldn't have remembered her name, silly. She then pointed to the number and handed it to me. I think I got my first Chinese digits, but she could have been trying to get me to by her child, I really have no idea. I said "xie xie" (si-eh si-eh) which means thank you and boogied outta there.

We left the restaurant very full and I began my habit of slipping into a comatose state. It gets to be about 3 in the morning Ohio time with a full belly and a few pints of beer in me. This usually means that it's time to crash. But instead we headed to the Pearl Market for some shopping. I was intrigued by the idea of 5 floors of haggling, so I woke up quickly when we got there. Most of the items were pretty forgettable. There were lots of knock-off brands like fake puma shoes and fake iPods. (I really wonder if they work at all) As I walked down the shoe and bag isle, I couldn't keep a straight face. Young girls were yelling from every direction at me and pulling my arms to look at their crappy fake shoes and bags. It was just so weird and funny I literally laughed the entire time. I couldn't even look at anything to consider buying it because of the assault. "HEY! You buy from me, I give you best price. HELLO! What you buy from me?" It was just funny, until I passed a girl that didn't make a sale and she got a very harsh glare from her mother. Sigh, and in comes the downer. All in all I spent probably $20 and bought a T-Shirt and a fake Diesel bag. Not too shabby. I had no interest in the pearls or fake Rolexes, because I have no interest in pearls or real Rolexes. Supposedly the pearls are real though and are very cheap. Bill got some for his wife because that's what men do. They buy things for their wives, even when it doesn't make sense, because it makes them happy. This is a life lesson I really need to swallow, but I've never been good at it.

Off we went to the hotel, and my afternoon nap. We planned to meet at 7:30 again for dinner. The guys called me at 7:45 and woke me up asking if I was coming. Then they said don't worry about it, they weren't that hungry anyways. So, I just kept sleeping. That's why I woke up at about 12:30 and started typing this post. Dammit. I need to fix my sleeping patterns.

So today is the day of reckoning. The day I pay the piper. They day I earn my keep. The day I prove it was worth it for the company to send me here. I must say I'm nervous because I don't really know what the work day will entail entirely. I'm nervous because I'm afraid they will ask me things that I can't easily answer. Most of all, while I'm unloading my insecurities, I'm nervous they will look at me with a face saying, why the hell did you travel thousands of mile to come here if you can't answer my questions. I think these are all irrational fears though, because the truth is, I know a lot about my product. I'm actually very glad for ever time I asked questions back home to the point of annoying my seniors because I wanted to understand something. It's a part of my nature to try and define something entirely in my mind, sometimes to the chagrin of my explain-er. But it's because of that nature that I know a lot about my product and will be able to confidently answer questions. Hopefully.

Anyways, thanks for travelling through my yesterday with me. It wasn't as exciting as the hookers for me either, I know. I've not really gone out drinking since I've been here and hope that after work today some people will want to go out. Then I will have grande stories of great drinkiness. So, pray for me as I earn my keep today, and know I'm fondly looking forward to seeing all your smiling faces again :)

Much Love,
Your Weary Traveler

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Trip to China: Part 3

I wish I hadn't been warned. I wish I had walked into the Pig and Thistle English Pub on my own accord, as it was the only bar in the hotel with any patrons, and bought a beer as I looked around and slowly figured out what was going on. I wish I had suspected nothing as I started to tip back my first swig of Tsungtao and my eyes scanned the room to quickly compile the patterns that made me start to question my surroundings. "There are a lot of 40 and 50 year old men in this room talking to a lot of young and slutty looking Chinese women." I wish I had had that moment, the only moment from the movie Blade that I remember, where the ravers look around the room and suddenly realize they are surrounded by vampires. "Hookers!", I wish I had thought. "This room is full of hookers!!"

It would have made the story so much better. And it would have made me look less creepy for having ventured into the Pig and Thistle at all. The truth is, I was warned. I was sent a light-hearted email by someone from my company that highlighted all the do's and don't's while entering the country. It told us how to get a cab if we needed one, and what to do when we got to the hotel. It also half heartedly warned us to avoid the "Pig and Thistle" bar or the "working girls will get [us]". I had a conversation with the senior guys in my group about the Pig and Thistle and they said I had to go just to experience it. Almost like it was a zoo, or a freak show. In a way it was.

So last night when the old guys went to bed, I blogged my brains out, then headed downstairs to see what troubles I could get into. I had more than the P&T on my mind, but it was certainly on my list of sights to see. I had no interest in leaving the hotel without someone that I knew, so I had 5 places to drink at that I knew of:

1) The Executive Lounge, which was closed when I ventured out of my room at about 11pm. This surprised me a little.

2) The Lobby Bar, which was a fancy looking bar located above the lobby restaurant where we ate breakfast that morning. It's also where I got the coffee drink that day. It also happens to be the bar that had no patrons besides me, and 5 people served me my coffee drink. As I walked by it, from the ground level it sounded and looked dead again.

3) My brightest hope for a good time, the Texas Steakhouse of earlier blogging fame. If this bar was for some reason packed with people, it would have been a hilariously good time, I have no doubt. I passed the P&T on the way, and there were patrons literally spilling out of the bar, including a man and woman of indeterminable national origin, he a European looking and sounding man, and she a dark skinned black or Puerto Rican looking woman, talking "business". She was the fairest of the hookers I saw last night, but you'll hear more on that later. For now I was on my way to the Texas Steakhouse. My biggest disappointment of the evening. The Steakhouse was closed. And all my dreams of Chinese cowboys and cowgirls looking funnier and funnier as i polished off more and more Tsungtao vanished like a tumbleweed across the hotel hallway.

4) The Outside Bar where we ate the first night. "Buffet a la Roach" if you recall. I figured that if I stuck to bottled beers, I was golden. Plus I was there without the company of my older traveling companion who likely would not have taken the joy in mocking the band through enthusiastic singing and dancing and in term start to love the band in a not-mocking way. It was my responsibility, nay, my solemn duty as a member of my team of friends, to go it alone and be the only ass "enjoying" the band. I stiffened my lip and headed out the doors to the bar where a few hours earlier I had seen the same band from the night before butchering some more classics from the great american songbook. What's this?!! There sat the empty stage as the workers packed up the last of the barbecue items. Closed for the evening.

5) It seemed the Pig and Thistle's fate and mine were to be crossed that night by some alignment of the stars or will of the gods. I stepped through the patrons that clogged the doorway, and very quickly looked for a place to sit, grab a beer, and watch the rugby game where I could clearly view the goings on in the room without becoming a part of it. Unfortunately the bar was so packed with customers of the bar and customers of the ladies that there was no such place to be found. "Think quickly my boy, you've been in tougher spots, but you don't want to be spotted in the doorway looking around like your realizing what is going on in the bar and are deciding whether or not to leave. There, a spot at the bar you can squeeze into to buy a beer, then turn and watch the rugby match. Go now!" **see the sidebar below after you read this story** I staked my claim on the nook at the bar, and was within earshot of an entertaining conversation. A German man was actually haggling with a Chinese woman on the cost of her going back to his room, all in bad English from both sides. It was way better than watching Chinese HBO in my room [no porn joke intended because there's not porn in chinese hotels] [only hookers apparently] [I don't know how I know that] On it went. They started off holding hands. She whispered something in his ear. He replied, "No no, I think it cost too much" (I'm not making this up, people) He let go of her hand so she put it on his chest and whispered something else, presumably a lower offer. He seemed vexed with the moral and financial dilemma. If you know me, this is the kind of moment I live to see. I was front and center for one of the most awkward transactions that takes place between humans. It was happening all around me I suppose, but I was now invested in this particular episode. He said he would think about it and come back. As he walked away her sweet and smiling face melted to a cold and longing look. I assume she gave that face to her dad a few times growing up as he walked out the door. Too honest? Sorry, I'm way too deep into this blog to fluff it up with feel goods. I very much wondered if the guy was playing hard ball and was really going to come back with a counter offer. I'll never know. I put down my beer and headed out of the bar. I saw everything I came to see that night.

On my way back to my room, I saw the lights of the Lobby bar were still on, though it still sounded dead. I actually took about 3 steps up the large curved staircase before thinking "What's the point" and headed back to the elevator that would take me to Jackie Chan on TV and my comfy bed. I began rolling around at 3am and was up at 4 again, typing this post. Then I almost died as you'll read below. What a night! And now I am going to start my day. The Forbidden City and the Pearl Market. This trip is sounding more and more like Indiana Jones. What adventures lie ahead today with my fearless tour guide Zhong Yuming (or "Bob" as I dubbed him before I could remember his name). Stay tuned!!

**as I typed this story I heard someone bump into my door. It is 5am now and no one has any good reason to be trying to get in my room right now. And yet, there is my door, shaking with someone on the other side quietly trying to open it. I really had no idea what was about to happen. All I knew was that my room is pitch dark, and I am sitting at the desk typing as my silhouette is highlighted by the computer's glow and I was frozen looking right, waiting for the handle to turn. I'm not a very good fiction writer people, if this is freaking you out, know that it's because it is real and I was rather shitting my pants a moment ago. The quiet shaking of the door stopped and the shadow under the door moved away. I finally breathed. It occurred to me that yesterday morning someone hung a newspaper on everyone's door in the hallway and I was immediately relieved. My startled and tired mind must have exaggerated what I heard into someone trying to open my door. I tip-toed to the door and opened it to find my door handle, and every other door handle, bare of a newspaper. Shit. I closed the door, and a few seconds later my door started to shake again, I shit you not. I'm likely giving you a play-by-play of my murder as I type. Cool! (but I guess not really likely) This time I made my way to it, but the person walked away before I got there. I clearly heard a man say "Damn" as he walked away. When I got to the door, the eye hole had a piece of paper jammed in it from the inside, so with a trembling hand I quickly removed the paper and shoved my eager eye to the hole. No one. I wanted the man to come back so bad so I could, A: see him and B: hit the door loudly to scare the shit out of him and make him go away. There is one irrefutable fact, a second ago some man wanted in my room enough to try it twice. My rational mind is now telling me it may have been some drunk guy trying to find his room. But I'm in fucking China people, and I'm groggy and jet-lagged in a dark room alone. [Boom] I just heard another room door open and shut rather loudly. This tells me he probably just found his room, and if he was looking for a random room to kill someone, he was being very loud about it. {phew} Sorry for those of you who read this before finishing the hooker story. It may now seem boring. Back to that.

Trip to China: Part 2

I forgot to mention that for some reason, when I view, it is entirely in Chinese. Relax, geeks, I checked the language options, I even made sure i was being directed to the English blogger site instead of the Chinese one. No dice. So I'm finding my way around posting these blogs by sense of smell. I sort of remember where all my main buttons are, and if I'm not sure, I can usually tell if I hover over them and read the destination of the link in the lower corner.

Enough nerd talk.

This morning, as you know, I woke up hella-early and blogged. I was on the computer from about 4am until 6am when I started to get ready for the day. We went to the lobby restaurant for breakfast instead of the Executive lounge.

I guess I've not really explained how sweet my set up in the hotel is yet. There are 5 floors to the hotel. I am on the 5th (the Executive Club) and at the end of the hall, we have our own receptionists and a lounge full of free snacks, desserts, and drinks. It's also full of foreign people and a couple TV's with CNN on them but you can't really hear what's going on. I did see a cop taser the hell out of some woman though (check the news, it's harsh but rather funny).

So we have the option of breakfast at the Executive lounge or downstairs in the lobby. The more knowledgeable co-workers that I'm traveling with, that we met up with this morning, said the lobby was a better spread. Boy were they right. They had everything you could think of for breakfast, plus sushi for people who are disgusting and need sushi for breakfast. The guys that Bill and I met up with today are Robby and Steve. They're quite a bit higher up in the company than Bill and myself, so along with my slightly groggy breakfast, I had to put my business face on. They are incredibly down to early guys though, and we had a great breakfast/day with them.

We met up with "Sally" again and another BWBC (Babcock and Wilcox Beijing Company) employee "Maggee" and her 6 year old son "Frank". I almost feel like a jerk using their fake pseudo-american names. If I was them I would likely resent it a little. Steve is around 60 years old and kept making nearly off-color comments about the written language and such (like, "I noticed the license plates are written in regular script"). I would cringe a little and glance to the girls saying in my mind "he means English" but they were not even phased by it. I guess I am the product of one of the most racially and religiously sensitive generations probably to ever walk the earth, so when I hang out with older guys and they start down certain paths in a conversation I sometimes want to climb under the rug when maybe it's not that offensive of a thing to say. It also seems that the Chinese in general have no qualms about acting nearly subordinate to Americans. I just hope a little bit for their own sake that it's an act and they go home and make fun of us for saying things like "regular script". At any rate, Steve meant absolutely nothing offensive by it and the girls didn't seem to notice, so the only one affected at all was sensitive Barry, so who gives a shit.

We arrived at the great wall, and were swarmed by vendors selling useless crap. The funny thing was, from the ground all the way to the cable cars that took us to the wall, there were hundreds of numbered booths, and nearly all of them were selling the exact same products. I just couldn't figure out how so many people could make a living selling the exact same thing next to hundreds of people selling the same shitty T-shirt that said, I've climbed the great wall. One gentleman had an idea of how to "stand out above the crowd" (sited: A Goofy Movie). Now Robby, who is traveling with us is a large man. He probably stands 6'3" at about 230 lbs by my guess. The little Chinese vendor runs up to him with a huge T-shirt saying "I have big big sizes for you. XXXL. You buy from me, big big sizes." He was lucky Robby doesn't seem to be too sensitive about his size because Robby could have probably snapped the guy in half. Being the gentle giant he is, he kindly said no thanks and kept walking. The little guy was not so easily deterred. He followed us much of the way up the hill until he got out a pen and paper and made Robby write his name down for the guy. He signed it "Fred". After a few more yards the guy finally left us alone. To be continued...

We reached the lifts and hopped in. We got to the top and had just a little more climbing to do past some horrid smelling toilets. Finally we reached the entrance to the great wall. It was a large courtyard area filled with families and tourists (most of them asian with some obvious americans and a few Europeans intermingled). At the far side of the courtyard was a small narrow stairway that led up to an entrance to the wall. The wall stretched for miles in either direction (as you've likely seen in pictures and will likely see in my pictures and videos when I return) and for whatever reason, we decided to turn left and start out along the wall. We might have reached the second guardpost (not sure what they're called) when the older guys decided they had gone far enough. We may have gone a quarter mile at this point. I could have gone many miles along the wall if, again, I was there with some of my friends back home. Unfortunately my friends from back home were back home. Still, the girls and little "Frank" (who the older guys kept calling "Fred" which I thought was amusing because they were screwing up his fake american name) and I went along probably another mile of so. I got lots of cool pictures and some video. I was also amazed that I had cell phone reception, so I made a few calls :) The later it got, the hotter, and more crowded it got, which attracted many many bugs of undetermined species. The real bastards were the gnats which were everywhere, but there were also some awesome looking bugs that didn't bother us at all, including a few praying mantises (praying manti? praying mantiseseses?) Eventually Frank and the girls and I headed back so as not to keep the old guys waiting too long. On the return, the gnats were nearly unbearable, so i was actually glad to get the hell off the wall. On the way down the hill (we actually decended down a different trail than we went up mind you so I don't know how this guy found us) the little Chinese guy came running up to big "Fred" (Robby) and telling him to buy the big big T-shirt. I really have no idea how this guy spotted us and remembered the fake name that Robby gave him. Persistence is apparently the key to sales though, because Robby and Steve, after saying no a few times, ended up buying a few shirts from the guy. I was glad for the guy to have made the sale, and yet disappointed that his obnoxious tactics were being rewarded. I over-analyse, it's what I do.

After the descent, we drove to the site where they're building a huge crazy stadium for the Olympics next year. "Sally" said they called it the bird's nest. I'm not sure if that's because it looks like a bird's nest (you'll see the pictures) or because it is sponsored by Nestle (which she seemed to indicate something about, but our communication was not working too well so I pulled the old smile and nod). At any rate, it was an amazing design with very impressive construction. That being said, it looks like a big bird's nest, which looked kinda stupid.

Then came lunch. Wow. I would rather just post the pictures. There was a "lazy susan" style spiny thing in the middle of the table and everyone sort of grabs what they want and eats it. The specialty at the restaurant was duck, which I'm not at all opposed to, but the manner of serving it, and the things it was served with were enough to make me a light eater. One of the plates on the table had the duck's head severed in two. (enjoy!) Another was literally stacked with duck feet. Duck Feet. It wasn't gross though, because for those they removed the bone. There were also whole shrimp, which some of my readers would not be grossed out by, but I was. Especially when all their curly antennae where hanging off the plate into other plates and their little cooked black eyes were staring at me. ("why I can't see no mo?" they asked me) Thank Jeebus there was beef and chicken that tasted like it would in an american Chinese restaurant minus the vegetables. Oh, and we had a few beers (Tsungtao?) that were REALLY good. Like, I would gladly order it when I got back home. Sort of like a Heineken. After food and beers it was about 3pm (3am back home) and Barry was turning into Narcalarry (that one's for Jen and Lacey). We went back to the hotel, left the girls and "Frank""Fred" and split up saying we'd meet at 7:30 for dinner.

"That's enough time for a nap, a workout, a swim, and a little Aida rehearsal" I said to myself. I was awoken at 7pm by a man walking in my room asking if I wanted him to turn down the bed. I covered my half-nakedness and looked around confusedly while answering "no thanks". I was lucky that he woke me up though or else I would have definitely slept through dinner. I went downstairs to the lobby a little early and hit the bar up for a drink with some espresso in it to kick me up a little. (at the Executive lounge I had asked for Red Bull and they didn't know what it was. Then I asked for Mountain Dew and got an equally blank stare. I then asked for pop and they said "what?". I gritted my teeth and asked for soda and they were baffled by my wordage. I asked for a coke and lights went off all over their face. I ended up leaving the coke for the coffee drink at the downstairs bar.) We all met up and walked down the road to a restaurant for a well-deserved american style burger. They had rugby playing on the big screens and pretty but stinky waitresses. It was like I was back home. Sort of. We enjoyed a few more of my new favorite beer, Tsungtao and quickly were presented with our burgers. I, foolishly ordered mine Medium. The nearly raw patty was a bit like chewing on bubblegum without the fun bubbles or the tastey flavor. I didn't dare send it back to the kitchen, though. I just ate around the outside where it was the most cooked and drank my Tsungtao deeply. After 2 beers, we all headed back to the hotel, and the old guys called it a night. That's why I'm here blogging at 10:34 on a Saturday night.

I suppose it's time to go grab a beer and start some adventures to tell you about in the next post. Until then!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Trip to China: Part 1

Ug, I'm wide awake at 4 in the morning, so it's probably a good time to blog.

It is Friday, September 21st, Beijing, China and my brain is a little frazzled. Our flight yesterday (2 days ago? I don't know, time zones confuse me) was amazing, let me highlight the entire process.

First let me explain that I am in Beijing on business (how cool is that) so it's expense-paid (how much cooler is that?!!).

Thursday night, Ohio time, I went to Aida rehearsal and got to experience singing "The God's Love Nubia" with our incredibly talented cast about 5 times. While this was a gut-wrenchingly powerful experience, it was also rather throat-wrenching. But what did I care, I was leaving for China in the morning! The end of rehearsal rolled around and unexpectedly, the cast presented me with a card that they had signed, and gifts of Excedrin and Imodium for my trip. I was immensely touched, but they topped it all off with laying their hands on me and praying for me. I don't know if you've ever had this experience (I speak to you, reader, like I know who you are) but I have just a few other times in my life and it is really a moment to take with you forever. I went home and started the arduous process of packing. At this point I had about 3 1/2 hours to pack before I had to get showered and go pick up my co-worker and drive to the airport. Sleep you say? No, no sleep unless i somehow got done in time.

Luckily, I remembered that someone at work had said that laundry service was included in my hotel room. Jackpot! I had all the clean undies and T-shirts I needed, but the dress shirts were questionably clean at best. Did he just imply that he sometimes doesn't clean his shirts between uses? Bwahaha. So I threw my favorite dress shirts on the pile (clean and unclean) and was pretty much ready to go. I did have time for a quick nap before I left, but I set 2 alarms and slept with the light on so as not to be an idiot and sleep through my expense-paid trip to china. [It is at this time that the author went back to the beginning of this blog and explained why/how he is going to china. Note: term "author" used loosely] I woke up, jumped in the shower, and was about to run out the door when I realized that while I was so proud to have packed everything in one bag, my suitcase was stuffed to the brim, with no room for Chinese purchases. IDIOT. I decided I'd rather buy a bag in China to put everything in than repack everything have to carry 2 suitcases and a heavy-ass laptop bag supplied by work through the airport.

I jumped in the car and headed to my co-worker's house to pick him up. I got there annoyingly early. Like, nearly 20 minutes early. In my defense, I was planning on getting Starbucks on the way, but realized it was closed at 3:30am. I then rolled through Taco Bell to get some caffeine, and they told me they closed 5 minutes ago. Confused that I woke up and got to Taco Bell when it closed, I ventured on and sat outside my co-worker's house for about 15 minutes. Just long enough for sleepiness to slither up my back and perch itself comfortably in my brain, with no pesky caffeine to ward it off.

We got to Cleveland over 2 hours before our flight, and sat around forever. They design the chairs in such a way as to not allow any real sleep and so I was hating life at this point. Our flight to Newark, NJ was pleasant enough. I go a few minutes of sleep. We were lucky enough to be seated in first class (flying-for-business perk), and to my best reckoning it was the first time I had flown first class, but I was terribly disappointed as the plane was so small that first class just meant slightly more room for your ass. We had a 3 hour layover in NJ which was pretty awesome thanks to our first-class status and our welcome into the Continental President's Club. Free snacks, drinks, and wireless internet. Basically my idea of heaven. Unfortunately it was 9am with very very little sleep under my belt so drinking didn't sound like the best idea. That's why I only had 3 free drinks.

When we boarded the Boeing 777, I realized that THIS is what first class was all about. Technically we were "Business Class" on this flight, but it was identical to first class which was separated from us by a kitchen. Behind us were the lowly commoners in Economy. I sporadically would throw bits of my table scraps through the doorway, and I would hear them all scurry and fight over them. Seriously though, these seat's were sweet. They had 3 positions; Situp for take-off and landing, Chillax back a bit, and Low-rider for sleeping. Note: I made up the names of the positions. They also had other cool features, but you don't care, just know it was sweet. Were were served lots of free food and booze (which again only made my headache worse, so I only had a lot) and after one of the meals, everyone shut the windows and had nappy-time. It was really rather weird. I woke up at one point and sat up, half expecting to scolded for it. I slept off and on (I'm not a great sleeper) but right in the middle of my last and best sleep I was awoken by a shaking from the flight attendant. She wanted to serve me breakfast. Thanks. Oh, I forgot to mention that I had steak for my first meal. I will post pictures when I get back home, just know it was really bad steak. The rest of the food was surprisingly good though, for plane food.

Bill (this is my co-worker who I will now just call Bill) and I got off the plane, and breazed through customs. (I imagine it will be much harder to get into the USA on the way back) When we walked out the large double doors, we were met by a sea of people behind a rope holding signs. I a little bit felt like a rock star. We made our way down the line until I spotted our names on a sign held by 2 young Chinese people. They looked (and I found out they are) recently out of college. "Sally" is 24 and deals with most of the incoming americans, so she goes by Sally. She is thin and sweet with a welcoming smile. Zhong Yuming (I just had to look up his name again) is also 24 and looks like one of the hip Asian students I've seen around NYU or San Francisco. He carried a murse unabashedly as all sensible men around the world do. Bill, I should mention is 58, very tall, completely bald, and very very light skinned. Needless to say he stuck out in our little group, and basically all of China, as we made our way to the waiting driver.

Sally and Zhong Yuming (and some driver) dropped us off at the Hotel (Holiday Inn Lido Beijing) with a promise from Sally to see us in the morning for our Great Wall tour, and from Zhong Yuming (who I will now call "Bob") to see us Sunday morning for our "Forbidden City" tour. Which apparently is not forbidden anymore. Bill and I were left to our devices at he Hotel. I had every intention of hitting the weight room, swimming, and drinking for free at our Executive Lobby. None of these happened. Bill and I looked around some of the stores in the hotel (including a "Certified Apple Reseller" which looked like a questionable claim at best) and decided on a Barbecue (which was hilariously mock-american) that was happening outside. Points of note at the stores: There was a cool clothing store selling expensive american brands very cheap. I seriously wonder if they were fabricated here or stolen or both and that's why they were cheap. They had lots of stuff, but basically only one of each item, so if it wasn't your size you were screwed. There was a Texas-themed restaurant, which was as ridiculous as it sounds. Chinese servers walking around with sheriff badges, big texas belt buckles, denim skirts, and boots. Feel free to laugh heartily at the mental image, because I could not at the time as much as I wanted to.

The barbecue was lame-o. The serving staff far outnumbered the people eating there. Half the food I dished was the first thing dished out of the pans. It was eerily under-patronized. Then I saw a small roach crall across the buffet table. I stuck to my beer from then on. There was a REALLY lame band playing american songs. I don't say this because I was so proud of the american songs that I couldn't hear them any other way. "How Do I Live Without You" sounded like really bad karaoke, and that's not even including the butchered lyrics. If I was there with my buddies, we would have probably loved it because drinks were free and we would have gotten wasted and sung loudly and horribly, but made the place a lot more fun. Unfortunately Bill and I were in no such company or mood. So my head started to spin after one beer at 8pm, and I headed to bed. Realize I had been up for an amount of hours I'd rather not calculate with only a few hours of plane-sleeping to keep me alive. All in all, the travel was about 23 hours from when I picked up Bill to when we got to the hotel in Beijing. Not to mention the day of work and rehearsal before that and listening to "How Do I Live Without You" after that. OK? So I had every right to be tired! I just realized I was justifying my tiredness.

I went to my room and knew I had to stay up for a half hour so I could let the laundry service in with my first cleaned shirt of the trip. I was awoken by the laundry service knocking on the door a half hour later (I was really tired). I then crashed until about 3am when I started rolling around in bed. That's what I do for about an hour until I realize I'm not going back to sleep, and so I got up and started typing the ramblings you're reading now.

Quite a journey, EH? I hope to keep posting these, but I was never good at keeping to a blogging schedule. As I said, I will post the accompanying pictures to these blogs when I get home. God Bless and I'll see you at the Great Wall...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Basket Mirror Boggles My Mind

This thing is amazing. I could spend hours playing with it, and yes I would probably be naked most of that time.