Saturday, August 30, 2008

My French Toast

My french toast is legendary. It is literally a culinary miracle. It has the power to heal the blind, raise the dead, and cure hunger. Er, well, at least the third one. Here are some of my past world famous recipes:
  • Grand Marnier and Orange Zest
  • Ron Zacapa 23 yr Centenario Rum (personal favorite)
  • Traditional Nutmeg and Cinnamon
  • Bailey's
  • Cream Cheese and Strawberries (still in beta stage)

Today, a new recipe was born. I awoke with a stroke of brilliance and immediately put it into action.

Behold: Dark Chocolate and Honey!

It was sweet, but perfect when coupled with the salty balance of an Onion, Peppers, and Potato hash. I love breakfast.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Handball and Olympics Wrap up

I'll be honest, the Olympics took a lot out of me. I was used to taking it easy during the week (except Tuesday pick-up, the best weeknight of the week!). My usual routine is: leave work at 6, walk home, drop off stuff, relax, go out for dinner, return by 9, relax, go to bed. But just about every work day during the Olympics, i found myself rushing home, grabbing the first cab i could find, and heading out for 6 hours of whatever was on the menu. There were going-away parties, Olympic parties, events (parties), and parties. I was so burned out that i didn't take a single picture this weekend.

I saw my last event on Sunday, the last day of the Olympics. Handball! Handball is actually pretty sweet, and I found myself getting into it regardless of being hungover. Yes, i've glossed over Saturday, but will detail it when Tao gives me all his pictures.

Anyway, if you don't know what Handball is, i'm not going to try to explain it. Simply put, it's like water polo. Minus the water. We saw Spain win the Bronze (yay!) and France overtake Iceland in the finals. Honestly, the most amusing part about this was the announcer. We are reasonably certain he had never announced (or seen!) a game of handball before. And he kept making up nicknames for the Icelandic players, presumably because he was exhausted from saying their actual names. These factors coupled to give us such gems as:

"Here's someone we haven't seen in a while, Ingimundur Ingimundurson,
The Falcon!"

"They've given it to Big Foot, the big man in the middle!"

"That was a great Handball play!"

"Iceland's scored to bring the game to within 8 points! Now they just
need 9 more plays like that one! In a row!"

"Another score by Bjorgvin Gustavsson, The Falcon!"

All things considered, it was amazing being in Beijing for the Olympics. I'll probably never be lucky enough to reside in the host city again, so i'm thankful i came when i did. It would be a real shame to have missed this experience by a month, or to have been dealing with culture shock at the same time. It was also really impressive to see everything Beijing had done to make their city cleaner, more modern, and more efficient. The Chinese are the worldwide benchmark of efficiency, as this event has demonstrated. They can literally accomplish anything when they want to.

I suggest you all start learning Chinese. Or start playing Handball; they seem to like that too.


Sunday, August 24, 2008

Soccer and Wrestling

I went to a few more events this week. On Monday night, Sandy called me at 6:15 and said she had an extra ticket to Women's Soccer, USA v. Japan, Semifinals. There was a small group of my friends going and they were decked out in true sports fan style. Face paint, wigs, and American flags. It was pretty great. In fact, it was amazing! We were celebrities. There was a line of Chinese people wanting to take pictures with us outside the venue. They just kept coming. Inside the venue it was even worse. People were climbing over 10 rows to be near us for a photo. This guy in our group (visitor, can't remember his name) was exceptionally excited to accommodate everyone who wanted a picture. Which was everyone.

Look at how many people are taking pictures of us. I assure you, we weren't doing anything particularly special, aside from being American and chanting Meiguo Jia You (Let's go America- Literally: America Add Oil). Oh, we were also drinking lots of beer...

The game itself was incredible. When we arrived, Japan was up 1-0 at 15 minutes into the first half. USA scored shortly after and ended up winning the game 4-2. China and Japan have a pretty fierce rivalry, and not a friendly one. My friends here openly declare their disdain for the Japanese. It's an almost universally held opinion. This fact directly impacted our enjoyment of this game, as literally EVERYONE was cheering for USA. I actually felt a little bad for the Japanese. But, then again, Japan defeating China in the previous match so I'm sure they were looking to the USA to avenge their loss. We did the wave, we cheered, and the crowd interaction was impressive. On multiple occasions, we stood up, turned around and started chanting... everyone joined in right on cue. So cool.

The next night was wrestling, which was particularly interesting to me since i wrestled in High School. I watched the lightweight (55Kg and 60Kg) semis, bronze, and gold metal matches. It was freestyle wrestling with international rules. A little different than what we were used to, but the basic principles are the same. The big story from that night was the 55Kg gold metal match, between a Japenese (here we go again) and an American. The American is Henry Cejudo, and although i hadn't heard of him, the guy i went with still followed the American scene to some degree. This kid went from High School directly to the Olympic training camp. He's in college, but never join the college wrestling team. That's pretty much unheard of. He's only 21 and he's the best in the world. He was also the youngest wrestler in US history to win Gold.

This is just about the luckiest shot I can imagine. I caught the throw below perfectly. Not only was it the most spectacular move of the night (12 matches total), but it was the only time I was actually watching the action through my camera. Which is about the only way to catch a shot like this.

Anyway, Henry won and was appropriately ecstatic. We also got to watch the medal ceremony with the Star Spangled Banner played. Really cool. I couldn't ask for a better scenario.

More to come. I'm a little behind on my posts, but with the Olympics ending, I should catch up soon.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Congas, Tunas, Baseball, and Ribbons

This weekend was marked by a few late nights and a spontaneous Olympic event. Saturday night was Chirona's last night before returning to the States. A dozen of us met at Luga's for some mexican and started the night with pitchers of mojito and margarita. The next logical stop was the rooftop bar of Kokomo. It's quickly becoming my favorite place in Sanlitun, not least of all due to the spanish flare and live music. We staked out some couches near the band and settled into some delicious sangria. At some point, I was coerced into approaching the Cuban drummer and introducing myself. In spanish, i convinced him that i actually was a drummer and he let me play the first few songs of the next set on congas. Denise caught it and posted it for your viewing pleasure.

Later that night, Chirona, Denise, Jeff, Matt, Tao and myself ended up at a streetside bar. We ordered a few expensive beers and a hookah to pass the time. That's when I noticed the Tunas. I became familiar with these guys while living in Spain. They are similar to Mariachi bands, which are Mexican. They basically travel around and serenade, well, just about anyone. Tunas are different in that they are usually initiated in college and travel frequently with nothing but their instruments to make a living. I chatted these guys up for a few minutes and convinced them to play a song. Logically, they asked if it was for a girl. Instinctively, I said yes. Questioning, they asked if it was my girlfriend. Truthfully, I answered no. Countering, they said, "but you like her?". Enthusiastically, I answered yes.

So from that, they came up with the name of this song, which they played for Denise. She's the amused one on the left; I'm the bashful one on the right.

Sunday after frisbee, Tao and I got some last minute tickets to Baseball from Sandy. It was a make-up game between China and Korea that would start in the 5th inning. When we arrived in the 8th, the game was scoreless. It wouldn't be until the 10th inning when Korea scored and ended it. Granted, it probably would have gone on much longer had they not been playing international extra-inning rules: each team starts with a runner on 1st and 2nd and no outs. A bunt and a sacrifice fly later and you've got a score. I'm not a baseball fan. At all. But Tao is, and he was entertaining. Also: the beer is cheaper in the venue than at a bar.
After the game, we happened upon a flock of ladies playing with ribbons. We were intending to find a park to throw a frisbee, but we got hung up here. Curious, we were soon all given turns.
My first try:
A quick lesson...
Getting better...
This lady showing off...
Me completely wrecking her groove...
Me being attacked by ribbons...

Poor Tao...

His are ribbon skills only a mother could love.


Friday, August 15, 2008

The Olympics

We're smack in the middle of the most exciting city in the world right now. I haven't had much time to recap any adventures, but i've been really busy. The city has transformed quite a bit. China's been making it rain (!!!) so the skies are beautiful and the last few days have been perfect weather. Traffic is noticeably lighter and construction has halted. Well, constructions has mostly been completed. The area around my house has seen some really amazing transformations. Most notably, the main road leading to the subway has been widened from 2 pathetic and decrepit lanes to 4 luxurious ones.

Crazy though, the week before the opening ceremonies, they just finished everything. It was done. And this happened all over the city. There were hundreds (thousands?) of independent, large-scale projects happening at once. Everywhere you went something was being augmented, renovated, or demolished. This continued from when i arrived until two weeks ago. Then everything was done. Impressive.

I went to my first Olympic event yesterday, Beach Volleyball. I saw the last 6 games on this page. There were a few REALLY good ones. Chirona and I started the night with burritos and a strong pitcher of margs... it was my first of either since arriving in BJ. Buzzed when we arrived, we were delighted to see the beers were 5RMB for a can of Budweiser or Tsingtao... that's about 75 cents. It doesn't make sense why they aren't charging quadruple that amount. But i shant be complaining. Other delicious treats on the menu included bread (yum!), cake (cake), and sausage (shrink wrapped, room temperature). Obviously, the big hit on the menu are the President Snack Noodles!!! You know Top Ramen? It's that. They just hand a you a pack of dry ramen noodles. You eat them like that and the little flavor pack is still in there. I guess you're supposed to cook and flavor them in your mouth. The Kiwi chicks behind us got some. They called them Magic Terminator Noodles. Although, to their credit, they actually said Maggi Two-Minute Noodles, but Chirona and I both like the hilarious misunderstanding better than the reality.

Here are the Kiwi's posing with my eyebrows. They were very entertaining.

I also have a ticket to the Lightweight Wrestling Semis and Finals next week. I'm pretty excited about that, given that i wrestled in high school. I'm also still hoping to score either basketball or soccer tickets, both of which i'm confident i can do.

The Opening Ceremony was a crazy night. It started with Frolf in the park which ended with us getting kicked out. I think they are a little less comfortable with our shenanigans during the Olympics. No worries. We ended up watching the beginning of the ceremony on the street, in true Chinese style. A small snack shop set up a TV on a crate and people pulled up chairs, sat on bikes or stood for hours watching the tiny TV. It was a really hot, humid night and we just couldn't take it for long. A few of us went to a nearby bar and bought beers in exchange for air conditioning. Still having to stand, we bailed again. I ended up going alone to meet a friend who was celebrating his 23rd birthday in style. Fifteen of them had a private room in a restaurant and tons of beer. Couple that with ample seating and a big screen TV, and I was happy.

We started with about 35 of us and throughout the night, we split up to 5 or 6 different locations. At 1 am, we all started to regroup and a great little bar in a little known alley. Pretty soon, there were 25 of us again and we took over the bar. It was the perfect end to a great celebration. We'd all been awaiting an Olympics that was approaching with glacial speed. Of course, now that it's here, it feels like it's going by so fast.


Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Dinner Party

I had a small dinner party on this week. It was a combination house-warming for me and going away party for some friends. Such is the nature of the Beijing community. People come here for a few months to study or for an internship and then leave. It's kinda sad, actually. You meet all these cool people, hang out with them for a few months, play frisbee, party, etc, and then they leave. I just got here myself, but since i'm staying for a long time, i'm going to survive this phenomenon many times over.

The house-warming aspect consisted of finally learning how to entertain people in my house. There were nine of us. I learned i have five glasses and exactly nine plates and nine rice bowls. Very convenient. I also learned i do not have a wine opener and the liquor store downstairs doesn't sell them. Tao and Aaron were the heroes that came through. I learned how to use the left burner on the stove, which was not an easy task. I learned that if you take every chair in the house, including the office chair, the recliner, and the recliner's ottoman, i have seating for exactly nine. I learned that i have plenty of chopsticks. I learned that there's a wok under the sink and i learned how to use my rice cooker. I learned how to cook a few dishes as well.

Here are our cooks, Wang Bin and Kelly. Together, they cooked 8 dishes in about 80 minutes. You may remember Kelly, she's my chinese tutor.

Here are the party people. Starting with Tao on the right, counter clock-wise we have Aaron, Val, Eric, Lincoln, Kev, Kelly, Chirona, and Wang Bin. Everybody is leaving within a week accept the cooks, Tao (another month or two), and me.

The food was incredible. I really need to learn chinese cooking. Fortunately, it's really easy.

Watching Olympic badminton.

Tao being picked on. Poor Tao (slowly shake head).

Here's one of the wines i bought downstairs. It was not great, it was greet. Which, it turns out, is not great. It was actually really bad. Like, aweful. But Chirona downed it like a trooper.


Saturday, August 9, 2008

What am I doing here?

Hmmm... i just realized with all my posts so far, I haven't really explained WHY i'm in Beijing in the first place. Here's the story of how I ended up here.

I used to work for Trimble, a leading supplier of high-end GPS and navigation equipment. I was a Product Manager and one of the products i managed was a GPS receiver (Epoch) built in China by US Grant. I had the opportunity to visit them last November and spent a lot of time with the President, Larry Grant. One of Larry's strongest qualities is his dedication to his customers. He absolutely puts his customer first and will go to the ends of the earth for them. After my visit, we kept in touch and he personally called me every week or so to give me updates on critical items. One of things he mentioned was his plan to hire an American to manage the Beijing engineering staff and drive new product development. This guy (and yes, likely had to be a guy for cultural reasons) would live in Beijing full time.

Well, fast forward to now, and that guy obviously ended up being me. I went from being US Grant's customer to Trimble's offshore supplier. And regardless of where i was, I was working on Epoch. My primary responsibilities here are not to maintain existing products, but to work with suppliers on new products. Trimble refers to the beginning of a new project as the "fuzzy front-end". Unclear start dates, re-negotiations, and fuzzy priorities. A big part of what I'm doing is working closely with the supplier and customer to keep information flowing quickly and cleanly. Both the cultural barrier and the time-delay affect the speed at which both sides can react to changes. By having me here, we have someone on this side who thinks like an American and knows what kinds of questions to ask and how to present new information. We are eliminating the fuzzy front-end, or at least minimizing it.

Lately I've been spending a lot of time visiting suppliers and building relationships with them. It's important to get a lot of face-time with them. If they respect you, they will respond faster and with more cooperation. It's been really amazing so far and i'm learning a lot. Turns out i'm also pretty good at it. :)

Here's a couple random pictures from recent visits.

If you look carefully, you'll see a plate of fried grasshoppers.

Jordan and Mayan, two of my coworkers, ganbei-ing(?) some baijiu at lunch.

This was a very important (and successful!) meeting with our most critical supplier.

Some of the China I get to see along the way.

The more i think about it and get settled in here, I realize I am incredibly lucky to have an opportunity like this. This is what i'm built for. Adventures like this one have defined my life so far. I have never regretted seizing an opportunity to visit another country or learn about another culture. Everyone in the world should have an opportunity to see what's beyond their home land. There's so much out there to learn. And a quick shout out to Mike and Joan who instilled this travel-lust in me. You guys rock. Also my parents for supporting it sometimes financially, but always emotionally.


Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Patience Grasshopper

You are too eager, little Grasshopper. It is clear that the anticipation is killing you, no pun intended. But you must exercise restraint. You must control your emotions and slow your mind. Only then can you allow the inevitable future to happen, at a natural pace.

Many of your friends before you have already been selected. They were delicious. Like you, they were lightly stir-fried and then generously salted. Your time, too, is approaching. While ineffective, your enthusiasm is most intriguing. You desire to literally jump on the plate, tiny arms outstretched. Do you forget you are already dead? Because you are. And you are also delicious. Don't worry, soon you too will be eaten.

So yeah, went to a small town yesterday for a supplier visit. We drove around for an hour looking for a restaurant, but at 2pm, they were all closed. We returned to the factory and enjoyed a home-cooked, 8 course meal. Main courses included shrimp, meatball soup, noodles, fried grasshoppers and baijiu. As their honored foreign guest (i suspect they don't get many here), they toasted me repeatedly with 57% baijiu. Basically grain alcohol. It was painful, and frisbee was fantastic last night!

On the plus side, the grasshoppers were delicious. I would not hesitate to try them again.


Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Budding of a new Addiction

Saturday night was chill. I met denise for pizza at a great bar with a healthy selection of beers. I enjoyed a Chimay and she sampled a Kriek, two delicious belgian treats. That may end up being a dangerous place for me. I can see myself sidling up to the bar for a few hours for some pizza and 300RMB worth of killer beer. Which sounds unfathomable to anyone accustomed to the chinese currency, but it's really just about $40.

Here's denise, a little skeptical of my camera.

So yeah, the beer wasn't the new addiction i was referring to. After dinner, she took me to one of Beijing's notorious DVD cellars. We walked in and browsed the front area. The selection was worthless. Not a single movie i was interested in, and very few i even recognized. We asked what the deal was. The dude led us to the back room where a half dozen foreigners browsed photo-albums with pictures of DVDs in there. They had everything. Because of the olympics, they were forced to be a little more cautious about how they display their merchandise. Once in there, you just make a list and they go off and fetch everything. Nice. Here's my booty from the adventure.

Nine movies and the entire second season of 30 Rock for 112RMB ($15).

So far, they all work perfectly, Dolby surround sound works, the bonus features are in tact, the DVDs are laser printed and clean, and the packaging is REALLY nice. The good news is, even if i really go nuts and buy a 100 DVDs, it's still going to only be $100.

Any requests?