Wednesday, October 29, 2008


A little while back i went to Tianjin for work. We spent two days there and visited two current vendors and five potential ones. My company just bought a van and we have a driver to take us around in comfort. I am enjoying this part of my job, largely because i get to see vast stretches of China outside of the main cities. This is a really big and beautiful country. Here are some of the things i saw.

Maybe this isn't so strange; i've never lived in Nebraska, so it's possible this is the way people actually transport cattle.

But i'm positive this is not how they transport recycling back home. It's like a horrible porcupine of trash. A trashcupine?

This is also strange to me, but on some level it must be perfectly logical. That is corn you see this man hoe-ing. They remove the corn from the husk and let it dry in the sun. On the shoulders of every road. Sometimes making four lane roads only two lanes. They literally put it wherever a vehicle is not presently parked. Clearly this is not for human consumption (please let it not be for human consumption) so that means it's for farm animals.

Here you see a very important traffic sign, "House and Tree". Thank you, forward thinking Chinese, for the warning about the presence of lodging and foliage in the area. This is particularly helpful, as the sign itself appears to be under attack from one of these menaces, with another one lurking in the distance. Run, save yourselves! Seriously though, no one in our car was able to tell me what this sign means.

People don't have dryers in China. Also, um, they put their lettuce and vegetables on the sidewalk.

This was just a nice picture. Notice how evenly spaced all the trees are along the side of this road in the country. Surely they were all placed there. And China keeps it's people employed.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Stop Following Me!

I happened upon this shirt in Thailand. In general, the tourists shops in Thailand have lots of amusing shirts. It was like walking through the comics in the sunday paper. You can also find brand name everything for cheap... Alpine Lowe backpacks, Billabong swimsuits, Keen sandals, etc.

I did not buy this shirt. I did, however, buy three pairs of sunglasses, Ray Ban and Oakley, for $5 each. Or were they Roy Ban and Oatley?


Sunday, October 19, 2008

All better

As suddenly as my foot stopped working, it rebounded. I took it easy all week, and skipped all things ultimate. Limped around work, even partook in a two-day work trip to Tianjin. Visited seven factories in two days, lots of walking. I was sore. We returned friday night and on the two hour ride back to Beijing, i slept. When i woke up, we were home and i got out of the car. No pain. I walked to the supermarket, got some groceries, cooked dinner and went the bed early. My foot wasn't a 100%, but i was walking with minimal issue.

I decided to go to Big Brother practice saturday morning, early. Woke at 6:30 and after fighting the urge to return to sleep, i dragged myself out of bed. Walking to the bus stop, the pain returned. I went anyway. Practice was good, but i was slow, and very conscious of issues. I was back to limping after practice... but on the other foot. At some point i realized my left foot no longer hurt, and it was the right that was sore from a week of overcompensating.

Later that same day, i went to a second practice. This one was for Beijing Bang, the Chinese team (as opposed to ex-pat) i'm playing with now. I felt 100% on both feet. I have no explanation for this recovery, other than i just needed to get off my ass and work out whatever was hurting. I wonder if any of it was psychological. It's sunday night and there's no trace of pain in either foot.

Saturday night we had a pajama party. We headed out to Nan Lou Gu Xiang bar street in full nighttime attire. We amused many people. I sported a $15, matching two piece getup i found at a department store. It was straight out of a bad 70's movie., and i love it.

Also: i am mustachioed these days.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Hospital

I went to the hospital today. I woke up yesterday with the ball of my foot hurting really bad. Small aches and pains are common during ultimate season; you'll wake up with sore limbs and tight joints. No big deal. This was different though, because it was really bad and i was sure i didn't injure it playing over the weekend.

Anyway, yesterday it was bad and today, it was terrible. No visible bruising, but i couldn't put any weight on it. Lydia was great and came by to take me to the hospital. Here are the steps i went through to be treated.
  1. I filled out a form with my name, sex, age, birthday, address and phone number. That was it, and all of it could have been made up. Nothing from my passport, insurance info, history, etc. I thought it strange and wondered how i would submit to my insurance.

  2. Gave the form to registration, they printed me a card to keep for future visits for fast service. Cost: 2 RMB

  3. Took the card to the reception to explain the problem and get an appointment. Paid upfront for the doctor visit. Cost: 4 RMB

  4. Went to see doctor on the 3rd floor in a room called "Traditional Chinese Medicine". He checked my foot, verified no broken bones, determined there were no torn ligaments. Just a bruise. Gave a prescription for some pills for pain and inflammation, and prescribed a shot as well.

  5. Took the prescription to the pharmacy on the first floor in the hospital. We paid for and picked up the medication AND the shot. I've never done this in any hospital before. Cost: 49 RMB

  6. Went back to the 3rd floor (stairs are not your friend when it hurts to walk) and waited for the doctor. We went into a room called "Acupuncture". Within that room, he adminstered the single most painful injection i have ever received in my life, directly into the bottom of my foot. With one of those thick needles, 2 inches long. It was excruciating and i swore at the top of my lungs. Only Lydia fully understood the words, but the doctor could guess the meaning; no one exclaims "hooray" when experiencing mind-numbing pain. Acupuncture my ass. That was just plain puncture. This is a case of the cure being worse than the illness.

  7. Doctors orders are to rest it for a few days and i'll be fine. Also, come back next week for a check up and see if i need another shot. Yeah, no.

There was no other cost for the visit. Total cost was 55 RMB, or about $8. I won't be submitting this one to the insurance company.


Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Starings

Every morning i have a pleasant 8 minute walk to work. This is far better than many of my coworkers. The shortest commute is about 30 minutes, and most come from 60-90 minutes away by bus or subway. It's not that they live abnormally far, this is just how long it takes to get from one end of the city to the other during rush hour.

Everyday, during my walk, i pass many people, restaurant owners, shop keepers, etc. I don't notice all of them, but they all notice me. I get a variety of different stares which i can break down into 4 main categories: men, old women, young women, and children. Let's go into more detail, shall we? Yes. Yes we shall.
  1. Men- The men will stare. They are why staring gets a bad reputation. They will watch, turn their heads as i pass, and if i make eye contact, they will continue to stare. It doesn't matter how close i get to them. Mostly, I break eye contact first because i'm not used to it. If i smile and say "ni hao", they will reply happily, albeit amazed i can speak at all. Young Men are a subcategory but do pretty much the same thing, although are maybe a little more conscious about staring too long. They have not yet gained the confidence of the Old Men.

  2. Old Women- The old women are stealthy starers. They catch me when i don't see them. If i do meet their eyes, they will normally look away very quickly, as though they were just surveying the scene, and didn't particularly notice i was the only non-black haired, non-brown-eyed, big-nosed person for kilometers.

  3. Young Women- The women from about 18-30 want to stare. Oh, do they ever. But they are so bashful. When i catch them, they look away, giggle with their friends, and look back to check on me. It's cute, and probably flattering. I'm not sure, as i'm also too embarrassed to stare too long.

  4. Children- Children are great. They will walk right up to me, tug on my pants, and say "Mommy! A foreigner! Look! Ni hao foreigner!"... all in Chinese, mind you. They will stand at the end of my table during dinner, and watch. They break the ice and give me a chance to show off my Chinese. I like them because they generally speak slowly and use words that are in my vocabulary. I will talk with them a little and, yes, my Chinese is just about at a kindergarten level. Actually, probably Preschool. To be fair, preschoolers probably know the names of all the zoo animals and parts of the body. But i know swear words! So let's call it even.

So yeah, those are the common ways i get attention as a foreigner. Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's bad. And since it's all about me anyway, it usually depends on my mood. When i'm in a good mood and i'm all smiley and "ni hao"-ey, they are all happy to see me, their friendly neighborhood foreigner! But if i'm in a bad mood or not feeling well, i'm frowny, and then i'm their strange, unpleasant foreigner.

There's an honorable mention slash 5th category, but it shouldn't qualify because it's the opposite of a stare. It happens when i go out with someone who looks more Chinese than me. When i speak to another Chinese person, even if it's a very simple question spoken in my reasonably competent Mandarin, they look at my friend as if to say, "Can you translate that?". They can't help it, they just don't expect Chinese to come out of my mouth.


Monday, October 6, 2008

Thailand: Days 4-6

A beautiful sunrise the morning i left Koh Phangan.

I spent about 72 hours on Koh Tao, and 6 of those hours underwater. I completed my advanced open water training with a series of five technical dives (plus two extra fun dives)... night, navigation, deep diving, photography, and multilevel planning. Pretty cool. The deep dive was to about 100 feet and it was a completely different world down there. The current was strong and the flowing debris gave the impression of wind. Down there, watching my dive partners milling around the ocean floor, it felt like we were walking on mars. A completely inhospitable place where man was just not meant to be. Wow. Maybe it was the nitrogen narcosis. Just kidding, i was fine.

One thing i will remember fondly about Thailand was the food. There is an incredible restaurant right next to the dive resort i was at. I ate 6 meals there in three days and never had the same thing twice. Everything they served was gold and everything for $2.

So here's a handful of pictures from the last few days.

p.s. Congrats to me and my 5oth post! Holy crap 5 months goes fast.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Thailand: Days 1-3

I've arrived safe, happy, and relaxed. This place is a paradise. It's cheap (lunch from $1-$3), it's beautiful (ideal weather at 78-85F), it's fun (traveling the islands by moped), and it's soothing. Here's a recap, as best i can with short time.

Day 0.5 Arrived Bangkok 10pm. Went to hotel. Had delicious food and a thai massage. Slept.

Day 1. Early flight business class to Koh Samui (Koh means island). Took boat to smaller island of Koh Phangan, pictured below in a photo from the plane.

Found great place to stay, The Chill House. My bungalow had an unobstructed view of my private bay just down the hill. Literally, mine. I would not see another soul down there the entire time i was there. My bungalow is visible in that picture, on the peninsula off to the left. And here's my view.

I just relaxed and visited the island. That night we had a BBQ at the place i was staying. I mixed Rum and Cokes and i shared the cuban cigars i bought at duty free. Furthermore, i played with their four adorable puppies.

And here's me doing my best Hunter S. Thompson impression.

Day 2. Spent most of the morning in my hammock, sleeping, reading (re-reading Life of Pi and loving every page of it. Do yourself a favor and buy it now!). Lunch, some snorkeling, more relaxing. Went our for a fantastic dinner... a Thai BBQ buffet. All the fresh meat, seafood, vegetables, and noodles you could eat for less that $3. You get to cook it yourself over hot coals. Indescribably delicious.

The forecast before i left called for 6 straight days of thunderstorms, but we've only had one, it lasted for 15 wonderful minutes, and left this in it's wake.

Day 3. Just came to Koh Tao this morning. It's about noon. I'm going to begin my Advanced Open Water Scuba Dive Certification... AOWSDC? No, i doubt that acronym means anything. And, that acronym contains an acronym, can you do that? So yeah, i'm going to focus on night diving, navigation, and underwater photography. This is also shark season! They've been spotting 6-9 meter long whale sharks all september. Excellent. Did i mention whale sharks are herbivores? They don't have teeth. Please let there be whale sharks.

Life is good.