Thursday, March 3, 2011

Return to Wafangdalian

Sunday Jerry invited me back to his home town. It was his Grandma’s birthday. He said his family wanted to see me again. The last time I went there it was a blast, so I said sure. Jerry was going to drive this time. He’s bought a car since last I was here. There was one problem…it snowed Saturday night and was still snowing Sunday morning. That means the Chinese shut down the highway. They shut it down whenever the weather isn’t sunny, basically. So Jerry couldn’t drive. He said we would have to take the train. We took the train last time; it was fun, so I said sure. We were joined by Tony, another Rockwell Ex-Pat. We took a taxi to the train station, bought tickets and got on the train.
The ride out was fine. It took about an hour and a half. The snow wasn’t bad at all, they got maybe two inches, but the win was whipping. It was kicking up the snow and swirling it around. We arrived in Wafangdalian and it was freezing! We found a taxi and took it to Jerry’s grandparents’ house. We walked in and there everyone was! I went around the room saying hello and giving everyone hugs. Everyone looked the same as last time. As I finished passing out some love…..there was one more person standing in the kitchen doorway. It was Jerry’s uncle. The master of the Gumbai! Which means in English…”Bottoms Up”. He had this serious smile on his face….like he was sizing me up for drinks. I smiled and said, “Gumbai!”
He smiled and gave me a big hug.
For those of you that don’t remember, Jerry’s uncle was bound and determined to drink me under the table last time….a task he almost completed…the man can drink! So can his wife.
Jerry’s grandparents live in a very small apartment. It’s two bedrooms but is TINY! Everyone was buzzing around preparing for the meal. Jerry’s Dad was in the kitchen cooking, Jerry’s uncle was guarding the four cases of Tsing Tao beer…once again it had a Thanksgiving feel to it.
They set up a table in the living room. Then they started bringing in the food…tons of food! So much food that plates were being stacked two high on the edges of other dishes! It was quite a spread! Jerry’s Dad made his famous pork in Coca-Cola sauce. There were two fish dishes that was basically the fish laying in a sauce of some kind…head, tail, and everything in between. I stayed away from those.
“GUMBAI!” Jerry’s uncle screams before I have my second bite of food…..and so it starts. I lift my bowl of beer…that’s right…bowl of beer. Each bowl holds almost a full beer. We start the day off fast!
Next Jerry’s Grandpa wants to do a gumbai; he’s 82 years old! So we do a gumbai! Things just start collapsing from there. Jerry’s uncle is on a real mission this time. I can see it in his eyes…he wants to put me down! Every few minutes we do a gumbai it seems. I set my bowl down and Jerry’s Uncle is filling it back up. Everyone is having a good time. Tony is also doing gumbai’s, but Jerry’s Uncle is not so concerned with Tony’s intake. He fills his beer up every time he drinks it, but he’s really only concerned that I’m pounding the beers. There is a lot of beer being drank…I mean a LOT!
I can’t tell if Jerry’s uncle is really drunk or not? I can’t tell if he’s slurring his words…he’s talking in Chinese…but who the hell knows? Right?
So as dinner winds down Jerry says his uncle wants to play Ping-Pong again. I laughed; I’m hammered by now…a walk in the freezing cold sounds somewhat sobering. Tony really wanted to see the ping-pong gym. So we decide to go, from there we are going to go back on the train. The ping-pong gym is really close to the train station.
It’s about a ½ mile walk to the ping-pong gym. The wind is freezing! It feels like we are on a forced death march. Finally we get to the ping-pong gym. Jerry’s uncle tells Jerry to get some more beer…which sounds WONDERFUL! Just what we need…more beer.
The uncle gives me a bootleg looking paddle. I just laugh…”No, no, no…I want a good paddle to beat you with.” He knows. That one didn’t need translation.
So he tells us to start warming up….”Um…I’m already warm from the beer.” Jerry tells him and he laughs.
So my first opponent is Jerry’s Dad. He beat me last time, but it was really close. This time I beat him 11-5. I started down 4-0 then rattled off the comeback. So one down, I’m feeling pretty good about things. The next opponent is Jerry…last time I disposed of Jerry pretty easily…he’s been practicing. He beat me 11-8. A tough loss to Bad Noodle!
All of the sudden Jerry’s uncle appears at the table…he’s ready….it’s time for the showdown. I tell Jerry to let him know that this time is going to be different. It certainly has a showdown feel to it.
I hit a volley for serve and Jerry’s uncle lets it go by him. He tells me that he doesn’t want to volley, I can have the serve….interesting…he didn’t even take a hit at it..or stop it…
So I take the ball back and serve a shot to the corner..the ball goes by him..THEN HE TAKES HIS SWING! I almost fell over laughing…he starts laughing….Jerry starts laughing. I look for Tony…he’s talking to a little boy, I yell, “That’s not legal in China either!” Tony starts laughing.
Then I look back at Jerry’s uncle…he’s still standing there crouched, with a big drunk smile on his face. I serve another shot, this time right at him. It hits him in the chest! I start laughing again….he starts laughing…I look at Tony, “You gonna leave that kid alone?”
The game never improves. I beat him 11-3…but I’ll take it! I then played a game against Tony and beat him 11-8. So all and all, not a bad days work on the pong table….3-1.
After that we headed over to the train station. Jerry’s uncle, father, and mother walk us over to the train station. When we walk in the station it is absolutely packed! There are soooo many people in there! You can’t imagine! It’s standing room only. It is not looking good for our return trip. Jerry has told me stories about the train being so packed that people lay on the floor under the seats..just for a place to ride. We are looking around worried….AND we still have another hour to wait for the train. Then Jerry tells me his Dad wants to introduce me to someone. So I follow he and his Dad towards a cop….not exactly my favorite thing to do in China…but I’m trusting. It turns out Jerry’s Dad and the cop have been friends since primary school. I shake his hand and he starts leading us somewhere. I follow and he takes us to the police office in the train station. He tells us we can wait in here until the train comes. It is a dingy looking place…but there are seats and it beats standing for the next hour. So we all pile in here. While we are sitting there we see two different people handcuffed and being walked out the back…not sure what they did…don’t want to know…good job officer!
There is a giant picture on the wall of all the police that work there. There not happy pictures…no smiles…guys that look like they can get the answers they want! So as we sit there…I ask Jerry if we can drink a beer. He says sure, it is allowed. So we crack a cold one and hang out. It’s now official, you can drink a beer anywhere in China. Jerry’s uncle is so drunk he’s swaying on the bench seat. I smile at him, “If you mess with the bull, you get the horns.” Of course, I’m not much better than he is.
After twenty minutes or so I have to use the bathroom. Jerry says he’ll show me where it is. So we walk into the bathroom…this next part will not be for the squeamish.
Upon entering the bathroom…IMMEDIATELY…There is a guy dropping a deuce in a hole in the floor…right in front of me…I just see him deucing in the hole…dropping right out of him into the hole. I’ve never seen a grown man actually in the act of deucing. I was planning on going my whole life without seeing that….I can’t say that now.
I yelled, “Oh my god!”
Jerry says, “Yeah, not good to see.”
“You think?!”
The bathroom smells like that scene looked. I quickly took care of my business…it was horrible…I think I’m scarred…just a bad scene…and tons of traffic coming in there to deuce. I couldn’t leave fast enough….washing your hands would definitely leave them dirtier than they were entering. We walked back in the police station.
Tony asked, “Where is the bathroom, I gotta go.”
I tell him where it is, “Going in there might change your life.”
He looks at me weird…he comes back….”It changed my life”.
After another 20 minutes or so, the police officer comes in and tells us the train is almost here. We walk back out into the sea of people, and we head to the check in line….there are SO many people.
The train arrives; we walk out. You can see in the windows…it is absolutely packed. We walk all the way to the end of the train..each car is packed. We climb in and immediately can’t move. We are stuck standing between car connections…it’s horrible…Chinese people as far as the eye can see. There are no seats. The car aisle is stuffed with people. We can’t even stand next to each other. We are just wedged into the space. You can barely move. It’s hard to describe. I can’t believe they sell that many tickets for this thing. It was the longest ride ever! For a day that was so much fun…the last two hours were horrifying! Having to see a deuce dropped was bad enough, but then you add the crammed train car…and you’re talking painful!
All in all a great day….
By the way it’s Thursday night and I am in Shanghai. I will catch up the rest of the blog tomorrow. Sorry for the delays! Lots to do and little time to do it.

Monday, February 28, 2011


It’s been a few days since I blogged last! It’s Monday night in Dalian. The trip is winding down. I have less than a week left.
Thursday was a long night. Friday was a short night. Saturday was a long day and night.
I met up with Tan Dan on Saturday afternoon. He wanted to get some lunch, so I hopped in a cab and gave the driver the phone. Tan Dan guided him to wherever he wanted me to go. We end up arriving at one of the shopping malls. I get out, call Tan Dan, and he immediately appears. Sneaky Tan Dan!
He has his girlfriend and another girl with him. He brought the other girl to meet me. Her name is Lucky…”Yes you are! I’m an American.” (JK) So we walk into the mall….I’m not sure why…but we do. Tan Dan wants to go to a Brazilian BBQ place. It’s on the 5th floor of this mall complex. There are escalators that just keep going up…it seems ridiculous, but I guess with so many people…you can’t just have a bank of elevators. So we go up a flight, walk around a corner, and then we go up another flight…..repeat process until desired level.
We get to the top and the place is PACKED! It’s a huge restaurant but it’s packed and there are at least 50 people waiting to get into the place. Hmmmmm….Tan Dan thinks it’s a long wait…I agree. I tell him let’s go somewhere else, maybe a regular Chinese restaurant?
REAL QUICK: I’m now going to call Tan Dan- T.D….just makes it easier.
TD thinks we can go to a different BBQ place. So we all hop in a cab and start driving. We end up at another mall. The malls are extremely frustrating. Every Chinese person is trying to go there on a Saturday. It’s massive gridlock, no cabs, and to many people to count. It’s just not a good seen. So I stop TD and say, “I’d really rather we didn’t eat in the mall, let’s just find a Chinese restaurant. “ You wouldn’t think that was asking too much.
However, TD has a look of disappointment on his face. I think he really wants to make an impression here. So we do the 5 escalator thing again…get to the top…and…just as packed. I just rub my face. It’s now almost 2:00. I had no breakfast and an apple for dinner the night before. I’m getting hungry. Again, I stress to TD that anything will be alright…I think the girls are in agreement. So we walk downstairs….6 escalators….we went to the basement this time.
We end up eating at a weird place that was kind of a buffet.... it was hard to describe. It had a grill in the center of the table for you to cook the food. You had to go to the front and pick out the meat that you wanted to grill. Once you picked out your grilling choices you sat down. I asked Dan if they served beer?
“You drink as much as needed.”
“Yes”, TD then pointed at the drink counter that was stacked with Tsing Tao beer!
“My Man!”
I cracked one open and poured Lucky and I a beer. “To American, a land you may never see.” I just made up that toast…but I thought it was funny. (I did crack open the beer….I’m sure a lot of you find that hard to believe.)
We were sitting in a booth enjoying the beverages when I noticed something float by my right shoulder. I turned to look and it was a bunch of yellow little rafts floating around the whole room; then back into the kitchen. They each had a basket with appetizer like food on them. It was just like the rubber duck game at a fair or carnival…you pick up the duck and get your prize. Only here you grab a basket and get your prize…off the little yellow raft…really strange. TD thought it was strange that I thought it was strange….strange.
So we enjoyed lunch and a few beers…..
After lunch TD wanted to go to a Chinese place for tea. So the girls went to walk around the mall and TD took me to the 4th floor (5 escalators). Then we walked into a tea shop. While we were going up to the tea shop TD told me that his uncle was going to meet us. He was thinking about moving to Australia and wanted to know what I thought of Australia…..
”Uh…TD….I’ve never been to Australia. I’m an American. The only things I know about Australia are Crocodile Dundee and Kylie Minogue.”
“Yes, but they speak English, you can speak about culture.”
So we walk into this little tea shop. It’s actually a store/tea shop. TD tells me where to sit down. So I do that. Then his uncle walks in right behind us. I’m introduced to his uncle…who speaks no English. I’m pretty buzzed from the beer…but figure someone might try to sell me a Mogwai…so I figure I better wait and see….so while they talk Chinese I sip on a cup of tea and try to remember the three rules for a Mogwai.
1. Don’t feed them after dark.
2. Don’t get them wet
3. Don’t put them in direct sunlight
I was pretty proud of myself for remembering the rules. I felt a lot better about buying one. Just while I was thinking about how to get him through customs, TD pokes me.
“Now you talk to my uncle about Australia.”
“What does he want to know?”
“TD, I don’t know anything about Australia…I have a few friends in the States who have been there. It’s too late to call, but we can write?”
At this point I’m on my 5th or 6th cup of tea. They serve it in shot glasses. They had made like three different kinds of tea. There was a big difference in taste between the teas. We drank a bunch more. TD’s uncle apparently is rich. He’s responsible for all the signal towers that go up in this province, apparently that pays well.
I ask a bunch of questions about the tea:
Which one is the most expensive? You wouldn’t think tea could cost that much
Which one did Confucius drink?
How many times can you use the tea leaves?
Do you eat the tea leaves?
So after while I decided I wanted to buy the whole set up. I wanted to be able to make Chinese tea at home. TD asks me which kind of tea do I want?
I light up a smoke. “Do you have any that cures hangovers?”
“All tea good for health.”
“That’s not what I asked.”
So TD checks with the owner for a hangover tea. He shows me one that he thinks will be best for that. I buy it and the one that Confucius drank…just because it will be funny.
I then all the accessories….so now I can have a tea party! It’s actually a pretty sweet little set up. All top secret Chinese stuff.
After the tea, we met up with the girls again. I needed to go home for a nap before the evening festivities. So TD found me a cab.
I jumped in the cab and we drove two blocks, then the cab driver picked up another passenger. This happens from time to time in China. This guy gets in…against my best protest. He’s just a tiny looking dude. He has on an over-sized black dress coat. His head is just poking out from above it. His head looks like a turtles head on those old cartoons…the one where the turtle and hare race.
He’s crunched in the corner. He’s talking on a gold cell phone and smoking a cigarette in a cigarette holder. He’s looking very feminine. His voice sounds like the Chinese guy in The Hangover…only a little whinier. VERY STRANGE! Especially since I’m carrying a tea set on me.
We finally make it back to the hotel. I wish the tortoise well and head off to sleep. Later that night I met up with TD, his girlfriend and Lucky. We had a good time. I’ll try to catch up the rest of the way tomorrow!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Come and get your Tan Dan!

I like Snakes On A Plane. Do you like?
You like Madonna? She has many childrens.
Where Mickey Mouse live?
These were the three top questions from Tan Dan today. Our friendship grows every day. Today Tan Dan gave a cup of his personal stash of tea… offer not to be refused from any Chinese person. Tan Dan also asked me if I wanted to get a beer this weekend…”Of course we can go have beer this weekend Tan Dan…I am at your service.”
Tan Dan also started singing Elton John’s song “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word.” I couldn’t resist, “Tan Dan, you know that Elton John is gay right?”
Tan Dan got this confused/shocked/terror look on his face. “You not tell truth!?” The comment came in a tone that suggested I was pulling his leg. I just shook my head…
“It’s true Tan Dan, it’s true.”
I tried to soften the blow, “Tan Dan, he’s still a good singer/person; there’s no reason not to like him.”
Tan Dan mulled that over for a while. Then he said that The Queen likes Elton John. Again, I couldn’t resist! “That’s because One Queen loves another!”
Tan Dan looked confused. I tried to explain, but I think it was lost in translation. It was pretty funny though! It turns out that Tan Dan lived in the UK for a couple years. I can’t wait to go out for drinks. I think it will be good times!
So I have another story that I’ve forgotten to blog about. This one happened about a week ago. There is a new development with Mr. G, my driver. It turns out that Mr. G has a DVD player built into his car. It has a screen in the front console between the seats. One day on the way back, Mr. G pulled out a pile of DVD’s and said something in Chinese. I assumed he was asking if he could watch a movie….seemed risky…but what the hell.
Mr. G pops in a DVD and it starts playing Chinese music videos. John Xie was still with me at this point. He would sit up front for navigational purposes. So I watched between the seats and enjoyed some weird Chinese videos. One of the songs that came on had a chorus of “Nobody, Nobody, but you!” It had a catchy beat and at least had an English chorus…so that one was pretty good.
It also was in a story format where the band, The Wonder Girls, saved the day when the male star didn’t make it to a performance (They are the backup singers). He is stuck sitting on the toilet before the show starts, because he doesn’t have any toilet paper….So they jump up and sing the song…not exactly as ground breaking as Thriller, but easy to follow.
The next day Mr. G puts the DVD back in the player. I ask John Xie (She-ah) if he can play the Wonder Girls video…John looks confused. I try to explain the song…I sang the chorus…Mr. G pops to life, “Ah! Nobody!” Then he and John start talking…finally the song is played again…John Xie is enthralled! He sits there watching the video like a child. Then when it ends, he immediately starts it over again. We listened to it three more times on the ride home.
The next day, Mr. G already has it cued up for the ride home. So now we hear “Nobody, Nobody, but you!” on the way home each day. I had a new American, Tony, ride with me today. He was a surprised by the DVD player firing up right away on the ride home. He asked me what was going on…I said, “Just sit back and listen to the smooth sounds of DJ-G.” He liked the song. You should try to find it on Youtube, the band is actually from Korea. Today, John Xie sent me a text and told me he bought me a DVD for the Wonder Girls and was mailing it to my hotel! Thanks John.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Middle of The Week (Tit-Bits I’ve forgotten To Post)

It’s Wednesday evening, work is becoming more and more complicated. No one here knows what the hell is going on. The plant doesn’t have there storeroom built yet, which complicates things even more….there are barely any machines running…the Dragon project people and the plant people keep pushing responsibility on each other.
It’s going to be a tough road for the guy I’m training. I’m hoping he can think on his feet and stay ahead of the game…..time will tell….Oh well…enough about work.
Today was decent day for adventures. (Meaning the wind was only blowing 15 MPH) We decided to venture out into Pulandian for lunch. I can’t stress how bad it sucks to be working in Pulandian instead of Dalian. There is no food at the plant (Which wouldn’t matter anyways…prison food would be better). So there are two choices for lunch. You can either order food at the front gate…you have to have your order in by 10:00, or you can go into Pulandian’s downtown for lunch. The front gate is the key. We now have it pegged to be over a kilometer walk….so if you are walking that far anyways, you might as well take a taxi to get something better to eat downtown. It’s really cold in Pulandian. I think I described it before, but the walk into and out of the plant is horrible. The wind howls because it’s right on the ocean; it kicks up dirt, dust, and little rocks. Then the road turns to a dirt path full of rocks and dips. It’s not a lot of fun. So we made the walk down to the gate; we then caught a cab into town.
The town looks really small for one that is supposing to house 877,000 people. There are a few factories…I think one is a sugar refinery. The downtown is very plain. There isn’t much happening…I didn’t see a big market or anything. It just seemed like a quiet sleepy town.
We had lunch at a restaurant that was in a hotel. It was a pretty good spot. The food was really good, very clean…wasn’t what I was expecting. (Not that I ever know what to expect) We had some dumplings, pork, mushrooms, and some kind of sea weed that was actually spicy and delicious!
There is a Goodyear guy here that is the receiving clerk. He has an AWESOME name. Are you ready for his name? Are you? It’s……Tan Dan…..that’s right! And he has an insatiable desire to know all things Americano! Here are a couple of his questions:
Why Michael Jackson like little kids?
Gay get married?
What wrong with Brittany Spears?
I saw to lesbians in UK, why lesbian?
How rich is Justin Timberlake?
Where is hotel California?
Why is California? (Didn’t understand that one)
You vote for Mr. Obama?
Do you remember 9-11?
You like Tom and Jerry? (That made me laugh hard considering I watched Tom and Jerry waiting for dinner in Shanghai!)
Dan Tan is a riot! Everything that comes in the plant has to pass through Dan Tan. So there are constantly Americans trying to get the things they need to complete projects….and Dan Tan isn’t the fastest, plus he is constantly talking on a blue tooth. So someone is trying to be patient with him and get there part…when he just stops the conversation and starts talking on his cell phone. There’s a high level of frustration that is funny…it’s like people can’t believe it goes on this way…so they are mad, but laughing. Good stuff! I’m a big Dan Tan fan! I’m thinking of making the T-Shirt. I’m going to take his picture….DAN TAN FAN.
I had forgotten how annoying Chinese people are with cell phones. They are constantly on them. They all have crazy ring tones that blare loud as hell. The worst part is if they are on a land line they just let the thing ring and ring and ring! I’ve become use to it again, but for a few days it took some getting used to.
Here’s another funny thing. I recently bought a Livescribe pen. It is a pen that has a built in infra-red camera that records as you write, so you can upload your notes into your computer. It also records conversation as you are writing. It’s really saves time when you are trying to review your notes and backfill them.
I showed this pen to Steve Wu, who is the storeroom manager. He was amazed by the pen! He absolutely loved it. So he started telling other people in the plant about it. So everyday I’ve had at least one Chinese person come looking to see “The Magic Pen”. ….That’s what they call it. Someone will walk up, “Excuse me, you have magic pen?”
“Yes. I have a magic pen.” Then I show it to them…usually a crowd of three or four will gather around to look at it a second time. Everyone is amazed. Then one of them was looking at the docking station and noticed that it was made in China (Surprise). That sent everyone into a tizzy! Steven Wu wrote down every piece of information he could find on the pen. I’m sure one of them will show up with the same pen soon…..only they paid 10RMB for it (1.60). It’s been pretty funny. It’s actually been a good way to meet more people in the plant.

Forgotten Xian Story

It’s Tuesday in Dalian. The last blog I made mention of Bill Clinton and I crossing paths more than once. Once I was done visiting the Terracotta Warriors, you leave past the souvenir shop….not to be confused with the souvenir stands….which are my favorite, you can negotiate at those.
Woody tells me that one of the four villagers who discovered the Terracotta Warriors is in the gift shop signing copies of his book about the Terracotta Warriors….I look at Woody (Remember this is in the country side, most people can’t read or write…much) with a “Come on” look….”Write the book?”
Woody starts to laugh, “Of course not…but he sign the book about the Warriors”.
So we go in the store, and there is this little old guy sitting behind a giant stack of books…..just sitting there.
I am instantly attacked by a lady trying to get me to buy a book and have him sign it. (Which I want to do) I tell her to calm down…that’s what I’m here for. She then goes into a blathering chatter about how he’s very old and doesn’t come here much to sign books anymore….basically hyping that I’m the luckiest Westerner in the world….I happen to be here on the ONE day that he is here! Imagine my luck! I laugh and tell Woody we are fortunate, because he would only be here 6 more times in any given week. Woody laughs, “I think you are correct sir.”
So I’m trying to find a coffee table type book about the warriors to have this guy autograph, but they don’t have any….just a soft cover…it’s still nice. I then see that there is a picture on the wall of Bill Clinton on the wall, he’s shaking hands with the guy that I’m about to shake hands with. I thought that was kind of funny. It brought my six degrees of separation with Bubba down to 1. I explained that to Woody and he thought it was funny.
Monday night was a lot of fun. There was a big meeting for Goodyear on Tuesday that brought Woody and Simon to Dalian. Simon is a local Rockwell guy that you might remember from my last blog. He’s a great guy! He’s a lot of fun and I enjoy being able to spend time with him.
He arrived Monday evening; we met in the hotel lobby. Woody was still an hour out of arriving, so Simon and I walked around the corner to a German themed bar. The food is so-so, but the beer is good! We had giant beers and caught up. Then we called Jerry to see if he wanted to come out….he did, so finally it was Woody, Simon, Jerry and I. We had a great time. We went to another restaurant for dinner, and then had a few more beers. It was a great evening with good friends.
Today saw the departure of John Xie. He is one of the guys I have been working with from the local Rockwell team. We went and had dinner at a hot pot restaurant. We had a nice time. He was a really big help and he was a very nice guy. After dinner, I met Woody at the hotel bar to say good-bye to him. He is heading out tomorrow morning. Woody is one of my favorite people in China. He is a good friend. That’s the update for now….

Sunday, February 20, 2011


It’s Sunday night in Dalian. I just got back from Xian (She-on). I flew there early Friday morning. The flight is almost two hours from Dalian. When we landed, I couldn’t see the ground until we almost had the wheels down…which I thought was odd (More later). It was a great weekend, lots to share.
So a Rockwell distributor picked me up, and drove me to their office. I met Woody there….you may remember Woody as my host last time I was in Beijing. Woody is a great guy! I was really happy to see him again. Xian is so remote from the rest of the country, that our distributor has a much greater role there, than anywhere else in China….a little more along the lines of the American model. So I gave a presentation that I had put together the night before. It was a little hard because most of the distributor people did not speak English, but Woody did the translating. The meeting lasted for about two hours. Once it was over, Woody was able to borrow a car from the distributor for us to use Friday and Saturday. So we drove to the hotel, so that I could check in and drop my stuff off. We stayed at a Sheraton…which was nice, because I could collect some frequent stay points there!
Once I dropped my stuff off, we were out the door.
Xian is the ancient capital of China. It is located in the far west of China. To the northwest are mountains and to the southwest is a desert. Xian is the gateway to the West. It’s the first major Chinese city you come to if you come from the East. This is the start of “Silk Road”. Marco Polo came here in the 1400’s. The city is well over 3,100 years old.
The first thing you notice about Xian is the SMOG! It is horrible! You can’t see very far at all. It’s terrible! It’s the worst I’ve ever seen in China….and that’s saying something! Smoking would be the least of your problems here long term. I still can’t believe it. It amazed me every day. Once I can post my pictures you’ll see what I mean. It’s impossible to take a good long range picture.
HOWEVER! Don’t let that deter you from a visit to Xian. It is a wonderful place! The city is not developed compared to modern cities like Shanghai and Beijing…even Dalian. Which is cool; it’s like stepping back in time 25-30 years. There are very few skyscrapers by China standards. There are maybe 20 or 30 buildings over 15 floors….in a city of over 7 million people. It has more of a LA feel. It has a small downtown compared to the sprawl of homes and businesses. It’s really cool. Everything is very old, tons of scooters, bikes, and three wheel trucks!
I saw three accidents on the road in my three days there. Woody says it’s because cars have just started to become popular there. So they are learning to drive on the fly. It looks like the China you would see in the movies during the 80’s. Everyone is scurrying around on bikes with trailers attached that have boxes stacked to the sky. There are lots of street markets. The restaurants only serve food during specific hours. Then they are closed till the next meal. Most of the stores don’t stay open past 9 on the market streets. It’s like time forgot about this place until now. The only foreign hotel is the Sheraton.
That all being said….they are doing their best to catch up for lost time. There is construction everywhere!
The first place Woody took me was the Wild Goose Pagoda. It is an ancient Buddhist temple. It was built in 652. It is 7 stories high and has an accompanying complex full of halls. It was really cool. Woody got an English speaking tour guide who directed us around the complex. There is a hall where the walls are covered in story of the beginning of Buddhism. How the one they worship came to be and his accomplishments during his life. The entire picture is made of Jade and painted ceramics. It is really something to see.
After the tour they took us into a building where they sell paintings to support the temple. They are all done by local artists. They have a lot of copies of the same pictures but they are all a little different…they are all originals. Woody said it was the real deal, so I felt OK buying one. I bought a sweet cartoon looking picture of a Chinese guy with a giant sword. He is the Chinese version of Robin Hood.
After I picked my painting, they showed me how they wrote their language over 1000 years ago. They used rice paper and ink that is actually in the form of a rectangle, and then they rub it into water in a special bowl (Almost looks like an ash tray). There is a special property to the bowl, where the water won’t freeze once the temperature drops below 32.
The guy wrote my name, and then I wrote my name…pretty cool. I got to use a brush that was made the ancient way. I then got him to write both my nieces names in Chinese. Amazingly this was all free! (Rare for anywhere in China)
The next place we visited was the “City Wall”. The first wall was built in 194BCE. The wall was then rebuilt in 1370. It surrounds the original city. Once again, Woody got a translator to give me the tour. The wall was great! You can walk all the way around it if you want to. We walked one of the long sides. At 7 o’clock the lights come on…which is really cool. It was cool to think that Marco Polo once came upon this place. Oh! Also the South entrance is where Bill Clinton came through on his visit (I came through this entrance.) This is not the last time Bill Clinton and I will cross paths.
After that we had dinner with some Rockwell people. It was at one of the hotels…the food was good…except they ordered seafood (Not good in China). After that we had drinks in the hotel bar…listened to a Philippine band. We called it a night around midnight.
Saturday we went to another Buddhist Pagoda. This one was 1-1/2 hours out of Xian. Woody said he wanted to take me there because no foreigners ever go there. It’s big among the Chinese. Once we arrive…you can make out this giant diamond looking thing through the smog…which means it must be huge, because we are WAY away from it. We also now have a guide to direct us to the sites. Her name is Shine….I asked her if she went to jail for Puff Daddy to help him beat a wrap with J-Lo….she looked confused. (Some will get that reference…some will need help)
This place is way out in the country. There are no towns or villages around….just little clusters of homes. These are poor people…probably don’t know how to read or write.
Once we pull into the parking lot about 50 old Chinese women start chasing the car. I mean they are going as fast as they can…I’m a little nervous….I look at Woody…he could care less. They surround the car. I ask Woody what they want; he says “Probably sell something”.
I get out of the car….and they ATTACK! The best way I can describe it, is they look and sound like Jawas from Star Wars! They are all over me…none taller than 4-1/2 feet… fact….they sound JUST like Jawas. All of them are poking me with what I think are fireworks….bottle rockets. I ask Woody if they are leftovers from the Lantern Festival. Woody laughs, “They sell incense.”
They still look and sound like Jawas….and they are getting annoying. I can’t get away from them. I started putting some fake moves on to get away from them. I’ll never be confused for Barry Sanders, but I did get a couple to spin all the way around. Woody and Shine were cracking up. Finally another car pulled in…that got rid of all but a few.
So as we got to the front of the temple, there was one persistent Jawa. She started putting them in my pockets, yelling, “No Pressure! No Pressure!”
Hmmmmm….seems like pressure?
She followed us all the way to the gate, then she told Woody they were free, because she thought I was good luck….I broke down and gave her 20 RMB. I’m sure I gave her 20 times the value…but she was persistent…have to reward it with the equivalent of 2.80 U.S. money.
Once we got in this temple it was pretty impressive. It’s actually a site that the Chinese government spent a lot of money to restore and improve. They built a giant structure and new temple to compliment/dwarf the original pagoda. That’s the giant diamond looking thing. It’s HUGE! It’s actually a pair of hands as if they were put together overhead. It dominates the skyline…I wish it was clear to take a good picture….It had to be 30 to 40 stories high. It stood at the very end of a VERY long walkway. Along the walkway were GIANT Buddha statues. There are 8 of them set in opposing pairs along the walk way, each one is a different god. They are really something to see!
The walkway has to be close to a mile long. We end up taking a golf cart shuttle that takes us half way up the path to where the original pagoda is. I can’t remember the name of this one, but it was destroyed in an earthquake….then rebuilt using as much original stone as could be salvaged. The real attraction here is the discovery that happened after the earthquake.
The earthquake revealed a secret structure under the pagoda. This contained all kinds of artifacts. They had a museum that housed most of the artifacts. They were all over 1000 years old and truly impressive. There were b owls, boxes and small chests…all made from metal and rare stones. The craftsmanship is insane! It’s amazing to think that this level of skill existed 1000 years ago. It’s so detailed; it’s hard to think it could be done with hands and basic tools. The major discovery was a finger! I believe one of the fingers of the guy that began Buddhism…the equal to Jesus. It was really cool to walk around. I didn’t go to the new Buddhist temple. We still had another site to see.
We left the pagoda and went to lunch. It was a nice place…We had steamed broccoli that had a great taste to it. No one could tell me what created that taste…but it was the best broccoli I ever ate.
Next, we went to the tomb of the only Empress of China. Now those of you that might say…Ah! Wait, there was an empress in the Qing dynasty in Beijing! She was not legit, she stole it from her son. So the Chinese don’t recognize her as a true Empress….so now you know.
The tomb was about an hour from the pagoda….it was worth the trip! This place was awesome. It doesn’t look like much when you arrive….you can see giant wide ancient gate towers and a big mountain at the far end…but not much else…then you walk through the ticket gate….and your draw drops. You are standing halfway between the first pair of gates and the second pair of gates. The mountain is at one end 200 yards behind the gates. You are standing on an original giant stone path. When I say giant stone, I mean it is giant pieces of stone flattened and pushed together…almost like granite blocks. Along the sides are very large statues of warriors and different animals that protect the tomb. The total length of the path is probably 1/4 to just short of ½ a mile long. It is really impressive….
When you get to the top of the gates in front of the mountain, there are two large lions guarding the entrance. On each side are a bunch of headless figures…all life size. They are all dignitaries from other countries that came to pay respect for the Empress. The mountain is actually her tomb. It was dug out from the side of the mountain. It has never been disturbed. The government was going to excavate it, but there are large detections of Mercury. It is believed that a replica river full of mercury is buried in the tomb. The ancient Chinese were obsessed with Mercury. They used it for lots of things….never realizing it was killing them.
Woody had told me he was going to take me to some special places. He knows that I like to experience real China, things that the Chinese, see, do, or like. I always want to see the big stuff, but I like to get off the beaten path too. At both these sites I was the only foreigner that any of us saw. Woody said that foreigners rarely go to these places…they don’t know they are here. I appreciated that he took the time to take me to these places. It was really cool.
After that we went back to Xian. We dropped Shine off at her home, and then Woody took me to dinner. I asked him what we were having…he said he was taking me to “The Dumpling Feast”…..I am down with dumplings!
We get to this place…and it doesn’t look like a restaurant…I ask Woody what it is…turns out it is a Xian Opera House. We are going to see a Chinese Opera. We go in and it’s a good sized theatre. We are seated and they start bringing the dumplings….honestly the dumplings aren’t that good. I ask Woody if he likes them…he says, “Do you like them?”
“Not really, I’ve had better.”
Woody starts laughing, “I agree, I was putting on a good face for you!”
The show started at 8:00. The set up had three levels. We were seated on the back wall of the second level…pretty close to the stage. Once it got close to show time I noticed a lot of Chinese people were filling in the third level…which had been empty until now. They had brought some snacks and were talking as they ate them. I asked Woody what was going on. He told me that they just came for the show…not the dinner….smart Chinese!
The show was a traditional Tang Dynasty Opera. It had ten different acts…to display different types of music, stories, and action!
My favorite one was the warrior dance. This giant demon head came down from the ceiling and it’s eyes flashed red, while all these dancers wore dragon masks and danced and clapped their hands in unison. It was cool…kind of had a Klingon war party feel to it….maybe the night before they attack the Federation. It lasted about an hour and a half. It was a good time…I took lots of pictures. The music and dancing were great. It was a really nice experience.
Sunday! Today we went and saw the Warriors! All weekend I’ve been quoting the movie Warriors…which is great. “Warriors!....Come out and play!!” Woody has no idea what it means….might even be slightly annoyed by it….but I like it!
We checked out of the hotel at 8. My flight to Dalian was at 3:15; Woody had a flight to Beijing at 3:45. Shine met us at the hotel and we took off.
The Terracotta Warriors are a 2000 year old statue army of over 8,000 warriors, 130 chariots with 520 horses, and 150 Calvary horses that guard the tomb of the Emperor Shi Huangdi, the first Emperor of China. They were discovered by a four village farmers that were digging for a well.
The first time I came to China, this is one of three things I immediately thought of…and the Forbidden City and Great Wall of China…..So I was extremely excited to finish the hat trick!
The pits are numbered 1-3 in the order of discovery.
Pit 1 is the largest, and it is the pit discovered by the villagers.
I don’t like to use that word a lot. It seems everyone uses it to describe just about anything…especially on Facebook.
“I went to dinner with my BFF…it was AMAZING”.
“Had dinner with the wife at a new restaurant the food was AMAZING”
“Watched little Johnny’s play….it was AMAZING”
It’s just a played word…it’s used so much out of context, that I don’t know if most people would know amazing if it hit them.
Anyways…back to the warriors…sorry!
It holds an estimated 6,000 soldiers. They are in ranks in a giant room! It’s big enough to put a football field in….maybe two. Each soldier is unique. They are all different…faces, slight height differences, body types…no two are the same. The level of detail is incredible. The bodies and heads were made separately then assembled once placed. It really is something to see. It’s even more amazing when you stop to remember that they are all over 2000 years old! The attention to detail is so great that the archers that are kneeling have details down to the sole of their shoes. There was a roof that protected the warriors, sometime in 2000 years the structure gave way and collapsed. Only one warrior is completely intact (Original). The other ones might be missing a hand or arm…or a chip out of the armor. Archeologists have put a lot of them back together where you can’t tell. It really is something to see. The completion of the army took 38 years!
The site is still active. Archeologists are working there still, uncovering new pieces, and putting together pieces. There are large portions of the site that remain buried. The warriors were also painted, but when exposed to air the paint faded quickly. So they are leaving them buried until a technology can be developed to ensure the paint remains.
Pit 2 is the cavalry and archers. Pit 3 is the Generals. Shine said that when it is tourism season, the entire site is packed, all the rails are covered with people. You have to wait to take pictures because it’s hard to get to the rail. While we were there, there were barely any people in the place. I could take pictures from anywhere I wanted. I am glad I got to go when I did.
Once we got done there, we went back to the city. We dropped Shine off at her house, and then Woody took me to an old part of Xian. (This is funny…being over 2000 years old) We walked around for a little bit. It was cool, lots of little restaurants and shops. Woody said we were going to get dumplings for lunch. He pointed to a place that looked as run down as possible….we walked in….this place couldn’t pass a health code inspection in Somalia! It is rough!....So I know it’s going to be good eats!
Woody tells me to sit down at a table….I look at the table and there is a guy sitting there. I point this out to Woody, he says, “Yes, we must eat at same table, no other table open”.
Of course! How could I have been so stupid! So I sit down. There is a girl across from me sitting on a stool with a cigar box of money. I notice that it’s not big denominations for China. They are the smaller bills…meaning less than a dollar. (If Jack Gray is reading this blog…I gave you one of these bills…it’s the small purple/red bill with three people on it.) I think it’s like 50 cents. I know this means we are not having an expensive meal…or even a cheap meal…we are having a poor meal….GAME ON! Let’s try it!
There is a little old lady working three large kettles in a room no bigger than a bathroom. She is flanked by her husband who is working two kettles, smoking a cigarette, and screaming out order numbers to the wait staff of 2. There is lots of noise and organized confusion going on. We get our food. Each of us gets a giant bowl of dumplings in a spicy red sauce/broth. They are delicious! It’s a huge portion too! Lots of dumplings!
I’m always amazed by people that won’t eat in these places….missing out on so much of life!
Finally we headed back to the airport….Ah!!!! Home! The one consistent thing in the world…the airport! They all work the same! It’s the most American part of travel….we invented it! This is REALLY when travel perks work the best. I fly China Southern in China. They are part of Delta’s Sky Team Alliance. So I can use the priority line…instead of getting behind 200 confused Chinese people…who may or may not be standing in the right line…but won’t know till they get to the front and argue for 30 minutes.
Security is funny in China. The first couple times I took anything metallic off and went through…it would still buzz; then I realized it buzz’s no matter what you do. You’re going to get the wand. So now I just take off my watch and throw the loose change in the holder….I leave my belt on…why go through the hassle…you’re still going to get the wand.
Closing message….if you are ever in China…go to Xian! It’s worth the trip! Even with the smog. Now I am back in Dalian…ready for another week of work.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Lantern Festival

It’s Thursday night in Dalian. Today was the end of the Chinese New Year. It’s been like the Fourth of July since 5:oo PM. There are more fireworks going off than you could imagine….way more than we set off on any holiday. The end of the New Year is celebrated with the Lantern Festival. The whole city has lights strung up across the main roads. People are firing fireworks like they are going out of style…EVERYONE has a firework. It’s crazy! I’m not talking about little fire crackers…I mean the big ones, that shoot way up in the sky. People are setting them off in the middle of the street.
We went to dinner at a Korean BBQ, which is cool. They basically have a little charcoal grill built into the table, then you roast your meat choices on top of it. It’s a lot of fun. I was at dinner with two RA guys. John Xie (She-ya) and I were having a little bit of a power struggle over the grill until he announced that he was paying the bill, so he runs the grill….cool in my book!
The restaurant’s front was a glass wall, so I could see everything going on outside. So we sat there grilling the food and watching fireworks go off. Now Dalian is about the size of Chicago, so we aren’t looking out at a normal street. This street has high rises reaching for the sky. The smallest one is probably 25 floors.
As you watch out the window, you see people standing in the middle of the street, setting up fireworks. They all launch out of boxes, but are HUGE! The one’s you see on the 4th. They make giant explosions that cascade down, some of them have the little twirly bursts that flutter to the ground sparking.
The traffic is heavy during all of this. There are city buses rushing by, cars, trucks, people on scooters, and on bikes. Then you see these rockets rushing into the night sky…right as a car goes by. Then there is a giant explosion above! Sparks are shooting everywhere! It’s crazy! The Chinese are living on borrowed time with this program. I can’t believe China hasn’t burned down every year with this going on. It’s insane!
Then on every corner….I mean EVERY CORNER! There are kids running around with a HUGE thing of fire crackers. They look like they are carrying M-60 ammunition to the next foxhole. These things are massive. Once they pick out a spot (I couldn’t figure out what a good spot was for this arsenal). They would drop them on the ground and light them. (The kids are maybe 8-10) Then the explosion starts. I witnessed the start of these at the beginning of two red lights….they were still going when we pulled away. I timed one at dinner and it lasted a minute and 5 seconds. It’s crazy….AND sooooo loud. You have to raise your voice in the building as they are going off in the streets… I don’t know if it’s because they are so loud…or poor construction……they are loud.
It was something to see, the whole city was intent on burning itself down.
I also have some exciting news! I am going to Xian tomorrow. That is the ancient capital of China. It is also where the Terracata Warriors are. This is a sculpted army that was created to protect the emperor’s tomb. It was discovered in the 1970’s. It is the one thing I didn’t get to see last time in China. I’m VERY excited. This is a big one! There is more history there than in Beijing. I have a meeting on Friday at our Rockwell office, then the weekend to explore! My friend Woody is there so he will be my guide. He is from Beijing, and we really hit it off last time. He had me to his home where I attempted to make dumplings. So it will be a great time! My plane leaves at 7:30AM, so I had to cut my Lantern Festival short….well worth the sacrifice. We’ll that’s it for tonight! Warriors! Come out and play!!!