Friday, June 8, 2007

June 8, 2007 – 8:30 PM local time – Beijing China

OK, again I have been somewhat of a failure at blogging. I mean well, but it is not easy to make myself do it! Anyway, here is an update from the past few days…

Back in Tanggu (more precisely TEDA [Tainjin Economic Development Area]) we began the day on Wed with quite an adventure. After meeting in the lobby for breakfast, my collogue and I went to get the concierge to write down the address to the office. Well, he did, but because there was a conference in the hotel, and there were many people trying to get out of the hotel, we decided to walk to the office. It should have been 10 min from the hotel. Well, we started out OK, and we wondered down, just like the hotel said. At some point we got to where we thought we should be, but we could not find the office. There were no marking, nothing to help us figure out where to go. Well, we started wondering, and not finding the office, decided to ask the locals for help. We took the card that the hotel had written down for us, and started showing it around. Each local looked at it, and pointed us in a different direction. We even had a nice older man try to communicate with us by using some body language, much like you would expect from cherades! Anyway, after a few attempts, we finally found a lady that could speak a little English, so she pointed us in the right direction and after about 45 minutes we found the office and got started about 30 minutes late. Class itself went very well, although as usual, most of the time they all look at me with this look of “how am I going to do this while I do everything else?” but they were all very nice about it. You know, in every class there are one or two that stand out, and that was true here, as well in Beijing. Lunch was traditional Chinese, they call it Pizza. Evidently the Chinese love pizza! At about 3:30 we went ahead and stopped so that we could take the opportunity to go to the shore base. It was about 30 minutes drive from the office, and during the trip we passed by the Central Production Platform and Platform B that they are fabricating at the yard there in Tanggu. They were impressive! We toured the warehouse, saw some of the drill bits that they used to drill the wells which are still in storage and visited the dock. It was a very worthwhile trip. For dinner we went with a former supervisor of my collogue. First we did a little more shopping though, this time in places that spoke no English. We ended up in this place with open stalls and got some wonderful prices on a few gifts. At dinner we went to a place where you boil your own food. They bring you out a pot with water and then bring the food out raw to the table. We had beef, fish balls, veggies, tofu, and potatoes. You take the food, put it into the water, leave it for a while, and then dip it in sauce. It really was pretty fun, and tasty. The only problem, is that with an open flame, you get hot, and let me tell you, most of the places here are hot to begin with! So that was the end of the day, overall very good, a little of an adventure, but fun!

On the second day in TEDA, we were smart and had the ConocoPhillips van come pick us up from the hotel. That worked a lot better. Oh I forgot to say that the day before on the hotel card that they put the address for us, they put the wrong address, so we would probably have not gotten there, even in a taxi!!!! (It just said that it was inside TEDA, which is the whole district!) The day in class was good again, although I always feel bad as we tend to speed up at the end of the training, but I digress. Today they did have a more traditional Chinese lunch, and I was feeling pretty good, like I was really getting a handle with the concept of eating with chopsticks. More on how that was probably wrong later! We ended around 2:30 and got Beijing by around 4:30 or so. We were planning to meet up with some of the class from the first session, and so after getting settled into the hotel, we went out with them to get some Peking duck. Well, let me tell you, this was most definitely a day of firsts for me! First, I don’t think that I have every really had duck, and really that in itself was not too bad, but I didn’t just stop with the duck. I tried the Scallops, which was not too bad, but real fishy, and then I tried the fried duck, again not to bad (really pretty good), and the duck wing (kind of a cold shredded version), but then I had the duck liver, which I have never had. Then for the piece de resistance I ate Duck Tongue. That right duck tongue. I must have been crazy! If you want to know, the taste is not too weird, but it is so very chewy… you just have to chew and chew! I only ate about half of one to be honest… Well, all in all, an interesting meal, and experience. After dinner, we headed to the Silk market for some more shopping, where I did a bit of shopping (I think my bargaining skills started to go down at this point!) Norma did much more shopping, so it was fun to hang out while she spent money. Back to the hotel we went, for the end of another successful day!

Today was pretty eventful. The first thing that happened might have been about the worse thing that I could have ever pulled off! Although it all turned out well… It all started when I decided to send some laundry out for cleaning. I got it all ready, counted and put in bags for the service. As I left the hotel, I went by the front desk and let them know I had laundry in the room to be done… OK, simple enough… until I got to the office… it was at that point I suddenly remembered that I had left my passport in the back pocket of the pants! I was in so much trouble!!! I turned around and went back to the hotel. When I got back, the laundry had already been picked up, so I went to the concierge and told them of my problem. They called the laundry and fortunately for me, my stuff had not gotten down there yet. I went to my room and 10 minutes later I had my passport. What a scare! Anyway, I have kept it much closer today! I got back to the office, joined in on a conference call and did some email. We went to lunch with the procurement supervisor at a local shop, enjoyed a Chinese meal of dumplings, peanut chicken and a very tasty bean and chili dish. After finishing, we headed back to the hotel, Norma left for Singapore, and I decided to head out and do a little more shopping. I went back to silk street where I spent all the money I had allotted in a very short period of time, but I got pretty much everything I needed to get. I almost spent to much money though, and came close to not having enough money to make it back to the hotel! But I made it back about 3:30 to the hotel. I decided to watch a movie, and ventured out to dinner and ended up back at the Hard Rock café. That about does it… my adventures in China are about complete! Now I am traveling onwards to my next stop, Singapore then onto Jakarta.

Until next time!

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

6/5/2007 – 9 PM local time – Tainjin China (Tanggu)

Well, I have not done as good of a job of blogging as I would have liked, but I will take this chance to try and catch up on what has happened over the last couple of days…. First.. After the tour, I ended up meeting up with my collogue Norma, who works in Singapore. We decided to go get dinner, and ended up going down to the Hard Rock Café. It is strange getting Western food in China, but it is pretty comforting. The hamburger was good, if not a bit expensive! (100 RMB or about 13 USD). We decided to walk back to the hotel, which is a few blocks away. It is amazing how safe it feels in a foreign country like this. We made it back without any problems and I got to bed at a pretty decent hour for starting the training the next day.

The next day, we started the training bright and early. The training went pretty well, although everybody was pretty quiet in the class. They had lunchboxes brought in, which was a decent chicken dish with rice and veggies in a box… It really was pretty yummy. After work, Norma and I decided to go shopping, and went down to a local shopping mall. From the moment that we exited the taxi, we were hounded to start buying stuff… hey mister, 15 socks for 10RMB, hey movies for you? And they were persistent, they follow you and push up against you, but once you get through them into the store, it is not too bad. Once inside, this building is a 5 story building, with different types of good on each floor. Once floor had purses, bags, and the like, the next floor had polo shirts, jeans, and other clothes. The next floor had more clothes, winter jackets and the like. The next floor was jewelry, some electronics and misc other items. As you walked around, the attendants, mostly young ladies, start asking you, hey mister you want…? Hey mister I have bigger sizes? Hey mister you need a watch? How much you give for? When you do decide to buy something… you say… how much? They give you a price, and you then give them some much much lower price, say 30% of the price… then you haggle… typically to a point that you are ready to walk away because they will not come down that last little bit, and you go to walk away and hey, all the sudden they give you the item… Now realize that in truth, you probably still paid twice as much as you should have had too, but you ended up with a pretty good price… My collogue decided to buy a bag, and this is when we found out the there is a difference in what they sell in terms of quality. For the good stuff they would not haggle that much, they would keep saying, hey this is real, I guarantee it is real, and on the other stuff they would give you a really great price. Norma got a carry on bag for 180RMB, or about $23.5. A pretty good deal, even if it wasn’t real! Anyway, I didn’t buy that much stuff this time, but I will have time to go back, and since I don’t’ really want to convert my RMB back, I will probably have a good time with myself in there when I go back! Anyways, when we started to go home, we ran into some problems with getting back to the hotel… None of the taxis wanted to take us back to the hotel.. they all just said, no and pointed us to another taxi. Finally after about 4 taxis we got one back to the hotel and since it was getting late we went ahead and went back to the Hard Rock Café. Not original, but it was quite a safe choice.

So that brings us up to today. Not much for the day itself.. Got done with the class about noon.. they served us Pappa John’s pizza… you know sometimes I would swear I was in Houston, not China! We checked out of the hotel, and I decided to leave one of my bags there at the hotel since I will be back in a couple of days. A ConocoPhillips China driver took us the 140KM or so to Tanggu, a town around Tianjin, southwest of Beijing. This trip took nearly 3 hours.. it was not that the roads were bad, but at a few points we had bad traffic and congestion from highway construction. Tanggu is a smaller city, but very interesting architecture around the city. The hotel is nice, and really busy since there is a conference (or two) here. We went to eat at a Tai/Indian place called Someplace Special. It was really quite good… I ended up with a dish that was much like sweet and sour chicken. After we got done eating, we decided to go shopping again, so we hopped a taxi and went to the shopping here in Tanggu. This is a different experience. Here all the prices were fixed, and this was not set up for foreigners. I think that I might have been the only westerner for about a mile around! Truth is that in these places, a lot of the prices on things like electronics were higher than back home! Well, we didn’t buy a thing, and so we hopped a taxi back the hotel, leading me to this point, where I am writing this blog.

So that is about it… I am getting pretty tired, so I am headed to bed… Until later!

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Next stop was the Ming tomb. It was a very peaceful place, and very beautiful. Again the details were amazing! We saw some incredible artifacts. For some reason these pictures wont upload, so I will have to try later!
Next stop was lunch. It was pretty good, a chicken dish with a peanut sauce, and a soup and dumplings… then some fried rice, it was not dark like at home, but it had a ton fried eggs, it was good. I was pleased that I didn’t have too much trouble with the food. This was also at a shop that had all sorts of stuff to buy. This was the place that Chin told me not to buy anything… and there was a lot to buy.

Final stop was coming up.. the great wall. OK let me just say, this is an amazing place. I could not believe how much effort that had to go into building this wall… by hand… in the place that we went, the wall was on a mountain, and not just a hill, but a very steep mountain. I tried my best to scale the wall, climbed up about ¾ of the way to the first tower, but it was just too much for me, I am in such bad shape. I have many pictures and some are below. It is hard to put into words, probably will be easier to talk about in person. My legs are killing me, it was so hard to get up to the top, I will be sore tomorrow!

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Anyways, back home I came to write this up… Again, a great day, a great tour… until tomorrow…

Beijing Tour (Part 1)

What a day! Today I took a tour of the city, and saw so much in such a short period of time. It was well worth the price of admission. The day started at around 9 am when I met with my driver and guide, his name was Chin. We started our tour with a trip to the Forbidden city. Along the way, he pointed our all the buildings and their functions, from the national TV station to the Ministry of Culture. Our first stop was the Forbidden city. This was a place for the Emperor and his Empress. It was a walled area surrounded by a moat. When you go in, there were some beautiful and elaborate work. See the pictures below for some examples.

After leaving the Forbidden City, we drove by Tiananmen square and the Temple of Heaven. See below for more pictures of that area.

We then stopped at the silk outlet, where I got to see how they make silk thread and other silk type things. I even got a chance to “help” out in the process. As you might imagine, they are there to sell you something, and I just hope I didn’t make a mistake by buying something there. I was disappointed as they did not haggle there, and my driver told me that the silk shop was a place they did not haggle. I was never sure if he was truly honest, but as time went on, and he told me where to and where not to haggle, and even where not to buy, I think he was steering me straight. (although I am sure that these are regular places he steers people to!) Anyway, on with the show…

Next we drove by the Olympic park that they are building for the 2008 Olympics. It is hard to believe how big the effort is. Chin told me that they are spending $50 Billion on this effort, and I am not surprised given the scale of the effort. The opening ceremony stadium was beautiful, a true work of art, but it is one of many, many stadiums that they are building. With the games one year away, I am not sure that they will get it all done! See some pictures below! I asked Chin about the rumor that the government was going to shut down the industry to try and clear up the air before the games, and he told me that they have already started that effort by moving all the heavy industry out of the town. Only light industry is left in the town… on that note, I am amazed about how they build things around here… they appear to be building the highways by hand, Chin said that the didn’t use steel in buildings until 2002, so it is just amazing what they have done.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

6/2/2007 – 8:00 PM Local Time – Beijing China

Well, I have arrived at my first teaching location. I got into Beijing at around 3:30, and made it through customs and immigration fairly easily. Only trouble I had was due to my passport photo being so old that I hardly look like myself in that picture! But I got through! The ride to the hotel was nice, the roads are very well maintained and modern. The city is well groomed, but there is a level of smog hanging over the city, probably not unusual for a city of 12 Million. I heard that they are going to shut down industry for a couple of weeks before the Beijing Olympics to help with the smog problem. It will be interesting to see if that really happens! I scheduled a tour tomorrow. I splurged and got the personal tour even though it was a bit more expensive than going on a bus tour with many other tourists. I am going to go on tour to the Great Wall at Badaling, to see the Ming Tour and the Forbidden City. It will be an all day affair from 9 until 5 or so, but I am looking forward to the experience. This is where I plan to take a bunch of pictures! I just got done with dinner at the “American” restaurant. A strange take on American if you ask me, also very expensive. I had a chicken dish with a Caesar salad and a desert, all of which just taste a little different than home! Not bad per se, but different. Well, it turns out my fears of having no TV to watch was unfounded, in fact I think there might be more English channels here than in Singapore! Right now I am watching Star Wars Ep. 4, which came right after they showed episode 3, so I am thinking they are having a Star Wars marathon, so that is pretty cool. OK, so I am thinking about heading towards bed, so I will write more after my big day tomorrow! Brian

Here are some pictures from my room in the Hotel…

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6/2/2007 – 1:15 PM Local Time – About 35,000 feet above the South China Sea

Well, my exhaustion took its tool on me last night.. I went to Outback for dinner, something safe, you know and had my old standby, Alice Springs Chicken, yum. It was pretty decent, but I was so tired I don’t think I enjoyed it all that much! Anyway, after a brief attempt at walking around the mall that is right there next to the hotel, I went back to my room, did a little computer surfing and got into bed…at about 7 PM! I figured it was a little crazy, but hey I was zonked! I ended up sleeping very well, I woke up a couple of times during the night, but was able to get back to bed without much issue… I ended up getting out of bed around 5AM, which at that point I had a better level of energy. I did a little email from work and got ready to leave. Traffic was nothing like yesterday, and it was an easy drive to the airport. Ended up getting to check in with the premium lounge, so that was nice as it kept me from having to stand in a long line. After checking in, I went to the business lounge for Air China, and sat until time to board. Security is different in Singapore, they check you through immigration, check you passport etc, and then send you into the terminals. At that point, you are free to roam wherever… Now when it is time to board, you go to the gate and there is a security checkpoint at the gate, at every gate. This means that there are no mass lines to go through the security scanner which makes things a bit easier if you ask me. The Air China flight has been pretty good so far, not as nice as some of the overseas flights, but it is OK in an older sort of way. Everything on the entertainment has been in Cantonese or Chinese, although most have English subtitles. Lunch was interesting, started out with a Salmon patty with an half of a boiled quails egg. It was followed by a chicken dish with Chinese sausage, not sure what that is, and probably don’t really want to know! They are actually showing a movie in English now, Charlotte’s Web. Oh well, only 2 hours to go in this flight and then I am looking towards a true adventure in China! Well until next time! Brian

Here are some pictures from the flight, I think we were just about to cross Hong Kong, but I didn’t know that until well after I took these pictures…

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Thursday, May 31, 2007

6/1/2007 – 2:00 PM Local Time – Singapore, Singapore

OK, I am officially tired, very tired. I figure I have to figure out how to stay awake until say 9 PM tonight, so that is 6-7 hours. Enough whining, it isn’t that productive! Well, it took 30 hours of travel, but I am here at my first destination (albeit it a short say here). I am here for less than 24 hours before flying out to China. The EVA flight was very nice, as it was on the main flight. They really fed us to much food, and I think that is causing some of my icky feeling right now. I lucked out and was able to watch the end of that movie I mentioned before, as well as Wild Hogs and part of a movie about Richard H?, brain is so fried that I can’t even remember the name or who it was, but it was about a guy that was spying for the Russians… it was a bit slow, but I think it was about to pick up as we had to land. I went ahead and shared a taxi with a guy that I rode all the way from Houston with who worked for Weatherford. Pretty nice guy, I have to send him a picture I took of him in Taipei. The taxi ride was good, if not a bit long for my taste, I was really starting to feel a bit quezzy by the end of the trip to the hotel! So here I am, I got cleaned up, changed my clothes and am sitting here watching some TV. I think I will probably make life simple and go to Outback for dinner since it is right next to the hotel. It is raining now, so I think I am going to stay in, at least for the time being. So, in summary… It is a long way here, but it has been a good trip so far… Until later! BriDog

PS. Some pictures from the hotel of the view (during the rain) for your viewing pleasure... probalby will have better Singapore pictures later in the trip!