Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Seattle Seven!

So today is my last day in China. I'm still in Dalian. I've got everything packed, just finished! I fly to Shanghai at 1:30, then I have a dinner with two Rockwell people. We are going to do some follow up on a couple of sales calls we made, then tomorrow I head to the airport and leave at 10:00 AM.

I got a nice surprise this morning as I started packing...The Big Lebowski was on! I LOVE THAT MOVIE!!! "I was a roadie for Metallica...Speed of Sound Tour....bunch of assholes." Or. "You ever hear of the Seattle Seven? That was me...and six other guys." Great movie! I'm always baffled when people say they haven't seen it, or they don't like it. That's amazing to me. Nice treat on the last day of China!

Yesterday my boss in China, Cathy Langlois, came to Dalian. We did a final download on my time in China and reviewed all the people I worked with. Then we met with the China manager Nancy. I gave her a download, then we went to the plant to meet with Goodyear management. Goodyear is extremely happy with Jerry's improvement. So that was a good thing. We then had dinner afterwards, and I said goodbye to most of the team. I'm meeting Jerry and Tracy for lunch today before I leave.

I'm going to miss writing this blog...it's been a lot of fun. I hope you've all enjoyed it! I know a lot of you have said you did...thank you for the compliments! When I leave country...we'll do it again!

I hope to see you all soon!

This is the Pudgy Panda signing off! Good night America, wherever you are.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Getting Close

The trip is almost over. I spent the whole weekend checking out things in Dalian. Jerry was nice enough to take me around and show me some of the different things. We went to Tiger Beach, which has an aquarium, beach area, battle ship, and a pier on a cove. That was really cool.
A funny thing at Tiger Beach. The swimming area had a guy selling kids rides in plastic balls. The kid gets zipped up in them and can run on top of the water. The ball doesn't seem to be THAT big and I wondered how the kid was suppose to get more air. Jerry asked the guy, he told him that they don't stay in it long enough to be a problem. However there is nothing keeping the kid from pushing that ball way out into the water. It just looked like a train wreck waiting to happen.
I also went and saw an area of Dalian that has old Russian style buildings, from when Russia owned Dalian. It was pretty cool. It's filled with street vendors who are selling a bunch of stuff...Once again I found myself negotiating for things I didn't even want...I'm beginning to think I have a problem. I can't help it! I see the street vendors and I get excited to bargain! I don't know what I'm going to do when I get back to the States.
I know I'm getting good. Jerry was amazed at the price I got for something. He said, "Wow! I can't get that price...you good."
"That's how Daddy walks Jerry."
We had dinner at a new restaurant in Dalian. It's called Life Is Good BBQ. It was pretty sweet. Jerry loves the place! He looked like Pavlov's Dogs as we waited for a table. I thought I was going to have to hold him down. He was excited.
While we were at dinner, Jerry had the waitress bring a special sauce for me to try. He said it was REALLY spicy. I have yet to have anything in China that is so hot I can't stand it. I know it exists somewhere, but I haven't found it....and I don't like things blazing hot..so I know it's not me. The sauce was warm...not hot. I made Jerry eat a banana pepper...it was hilarious! He starts fanning his mouth, "Holy Moly! That hot!" He grabs his beer and starts drinking.
My jaw about dropped, "Jerry! It's a banana pepper, they're not hot."
"Yes" That made me laugh
So I'm down to my last 3 days in China. I'm very excited to come home, but sad to leave. I've met a lot of nice people and enjoyed my travel.
Here are some pics from the weekend.

Kid in the ball. That string isn't very long, and the guy isn't holding the other end. Hilarious!
Shot of the cove. The battleship was sweet! We went on it.
This is the front entrance to Tiger Beach.

Friday, May 1, 2009

To Wafangdian Thanks For Everything

Friday was a holiday in China. It's the same as our Labor Day. So Goodyear was closed for the day. Jerry has been after me to visit his home town and meet his family. So we scheduled to do it on this holiday. I asked him how we would get there and he gave me three options: Train, bus, or taxi. I chose train! Most people know I'm a huge fan of trains! I think they're great and should be used more in the US. Especially between near cities....anyways, that's another story.

So Friday morning we are suppose to leave at 8:30 AM on a train to Wafangdian. Jerry calls me at 7:30 and says he can't make the train that early. He wants to take the 9:30 train. Now, Jerry had told me that if we didn't take the 8:30 train, it would be packed at 9:30...but I said, "OK, it's your city!"

Jerry arrives at my place at 9:00, we take a taxi to the train station. I look out the window as we get close...it's just a sea of humanity, buses, and taxis. Mostly it's humanity and buses with taxis trying to sneak through. We get out of the taxi enter the chaos! Jerry has a worried look on his face..kind of scrunching his nose, "I don't think we take train." He points at the station, and it is over flowing with people....just waiting to go in the station and buy a ticket. I agree and ask what our next option is. Jerry says we should take the bus.

Jerry starts leading me through the sea of people, constantly getting ran into, bumped and almost hit by buses and taxis. The best way to describe it would be a real life game of Frogger at top speed. Your just trying to avoid everything and get across the street...you don't even care where you end up across the street, as long as you are out of the way of the vehicles.

We walk over to the bus area. Bad Noodle finds our bus, "It's just boarding now...one problem."

I start looking around...it seems to be running....I'm not sure what could be wrong, "What's the problem?"

Jerry points towards a building...then I see the problem. It's a massive line that goes at least 100 yards. They are all waiting to get on the bus that we need. UNBELIEVABLE!!!! It looks like a line the day after Thanksgiving at Best Buy, waiting for a chance to buy 1 of 10 WII's.

I look at Jerry, "This dog ain't gonna hunt!"

Jerry looks at me confused, "What dog? No dog here"

"Never mind, what about the taxi option...I'd rather do that then the bus anyways?"

So we have to find a taxi now. Easier said then done. Since it's a holiday weekend all the taxi drivers want to charge what Jerry thinks is a to much....300RMB or 45 bucks. After we try to find a driver like 7 times...I ask Jerry how much they want...at this point he tells me 300 RMB.

"Jerry, that's fine, my treat!" Mind you, his hometown is an hour and twenty minutes away. I pay almost that much to go from my place to Mitchell airport in Milwaukee. So I think it's a good deal.

We get in the cab and Jerry asks if a classmate of his can ride with us. She wants to go back to her home town to. I said I didn't mind, I had met her once before, nice girl.

So we head out. The driver is listening to techno music...the whole way. It's hilarious! Here I am riding in a taxi with three Chinese people listening to techno music....just like "A Night At The Roxbury". I start bobbing my head like the SNL skit...they didn't get it.

We finally arrive in Wafangdian. It's a really small town by Chinese standards...maybe 1 million with the surrounding area. Pretty decent sized for the US, but Chinese consider this the sticks.

The taxi drops us off at Jerry's Grandparents house. That is where we are going to eat. The whole way to their place Jerry is anxious because the Rockets are playing. I know the NBA had no idea on this one, but because the Rockets were playing in Portland, the game came on at like 10:00 AM...so it was still going right as lunch was being made. EVERYONE was interested in the game. It had a Thanksgiving vibe to the whole thing.

So we walk into the apartment, actually it's a condo in China, but has more of an apartment feel. There are a whole bunch of people here...Grandparents, Parents, Aunt and Uncle, some kids...a few more people that I wasn't sure the relationship.

Everyone is very excited to meet me. Jerry does a great job of translating for me. He really speaks great English. I get introduced to them. They all remember my friend Greg (Co-Worker) and ask how he is doing. I tell them he is good. (Everyone says hello Greg.)

We watch the end of the Rockets game, the Rockets won! They advanced passed the first round for the first time in a long time. The funny part is that everyone is watching the game, but they barely show any emotion when Houston won...it's weird...just ho hum, on to the next thing.

During the game we had started lunch. They had a big spread of food, all kinds of stuff. It was all good. While this was going on, Jerry's Uncle broke out the Tsing Tao beer. Jerry says something to him in Chinese..next thing I know, I have a bowl sitting in front of me. His uncle fills it with beer.

Jerry then tells me that he told his Uncle I can drink a lot of beer. I am a little confused...."Why did you tell him that?"

"My family can drink much beer, he will want to challenge you."

"Jerry I didn't come here to get plowed...I thought we were coming for a nice holiday dinner?"


Now I chuckle...there was my favorite answer...Jerry knows it too! He starts to laugh, "We eat and drink!"

So his Uncle is sizing me up then he yells, "Gumbai!" (Gum-Bay-Bottoms up) So Jerry, his Uncle, Grandpa, and I all gumbai. I think each bowl holds roughly one beer.

We start to eat and talk during lunch....every couple of minutes I hear his Uncle yell, "Gumbai!" Bottoms up again!

I end up getting to talk to everyone over lunch because Jerry is a great translator. It works out really well. Just every five minutes I hear "Gumbai!" So as dinner goes on I'm getting loaded on Chinese beer! It's starting to seem that if I say something, gumbai is going to be the answer....

So as we attempt to finish every bottle of beer within 40 miles, I notice that ping pong is on the TV. I ask Jerry if his family likes Ping Pong. He says they do. He asks me if I want to play?


"At Ping Pong gym"

"Ping Pong gym? Of course I want to go to a Ping Pong gym."

He says something to his Father and Uncle, the return answer from his Uncle, "Gumbai!" So I have some more beer...then he smiles and tells Jerry we can go there.

So we head out for a walk to the Ping Pong gym. I could use the fresh air. I'm HAMMERED!!! The place was about a half mile away...all the better! I was cherishing that walk.

We walk into this really old looking building. The bottom floor is a pharmacy...we walk up three flights of stairs and into PING PONG HEAVEN!!!!!

There are tables everywhere! It's absolutely hilarious! Each table has barriers around it to keep your ball near. Most people are dressed like they are going for a workout. They have gym bags, special ping pong shoes, and everyone has their own paddle.

Once everyone noticed I was there...I became a celebrity. This town doesn't see many foreigners...and definitely not any as big as me. So I shook hands with just about everyone in the place.

On the way over, Jerry tells me that his Uncle is the best player in the family. He has a membership at this club/gym. None of them think I will be any good at Ping Pong.

So my first opponent is Jerry "Bad Noodle" Wang. We play to 11. I dispose of Bad Noodle 11-4. As soon as I scored the 11th point, I dropped my paddle on the table and yelled, "ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED!" (Line from Gladiator when Russell Crow waxes the whole group of gladiators by himself) Everyone starts laughing! I know they didn't understand what I was saying, but they saw the big smile on my face and knew I was having fun.

My second opponent was Jerry's Dad. He use to be the best player in the family, but he had a stroke, so his brother has passed him. He's still good. He has a crazy serve style. It's hard to see which way that thing is going to come....could have been the beers too! I beat him 11-8, he was tough though. I then played him a second time, he beat me 11-8.

The whole time these games are going on, I know that Jerry's uncle is sizing my game up. He wanted to see what I had before he played me. I picked up on this quick, so I didn't use all my serves. I saved a couple special....

So his Uncle and I square off. His uncle is good! But he plays every day. I haven't played in probably 4 years. I started off by using a chop serve...so there is lots of spin on the ball. He had no answer for that. He kept hitting it back in the net. I was feeling pretty confident. However, I didn't win. We played each other 5 times, he took all five. They were always two point games..one went to 16-14, but I didn't win. I'm sure if I played for a couple of weeks, I would be able to beat him pretty regularly. I'm glad I didn't win actually, because I could see that ended up being a big thing for the family. They were all really proud.

Chinese play Ping Pong weird. They don't use a lot of spins and they are always looking for a kill shot. So if place your shots to get them out of position, it's pretty easy to score. Plus a lot of them hold the paddle weird. They hold it upside down, between their fingers...so it makes it hard to back hand.

It was a great time though!

Then they had a friend drive us around town and show me everything. After that we were suppose to go back to Grandpa's for dinner. So we had to stop and pick something up. The guy that was driving us took us to a restaurant. He left, we went inside. They wanted to know if I liked frog...I've never had frog but said I would try.

Jerry points to a bucket on the ground, "Pick them"

I look down, there is a big bucket of frogs...HUGE frogs! "You want me to pick which one we are going to eat?"

"Pick three."

So I go down to take a closer look at the frogs..I lean in "3 of you are marked for death." I'm no judge of frogs, but I got high marks for my picks. I used a method of size and color.

Jerry patted me on the back, "You pick good frogs"

"Thanks Jerry" We sat and had a couple of cups of tea while we waited for the frogs to be cooked. Jerry's uncle told me that because I lost at Ping Pong there would be more Gumbai! I laughed, "Great, can't wait."

We went back to the house, everyone else was still there. They already had the table set for dinner. Immediately Jerry's uncle yelled, "Gumbai!" So I started my drinking again...and it was just about the time I was coming down from the last round.

During dinner Jerry's Grandparents gave me pictures they had taken at lunch. It was REALLY nice of them. They asked about my family and I told them what everyone did for a living. Jerry mentioned that my Mother had passed away, and they wanted to know more about her. So I told them what she did, and that she always helped people that were less fortunate. Jerry's Grandpa said something in Chinese and Jerry told me that he admired my Mother and wanted the whole family to do a special gumbai for her. I thanked him and everyone lifted their drink and we did a gumbai for Mom.

So it got to be around 7:00 and we needed to catch a train back to Dalian! Of course I'm loaded again! But I was excited to still get my train ride. The whole family walked us to the train station...except Grandma and Grandpa. I gave them both a big hug and told them I would miss them...they said the same.

We got to the train station and said our goodbyes. Jerry's Mom made me a doggy bag of dumplings and some other stuff. We caught our train and went back to Dalian.

This trip was great! So much fun! Chinese people are some of the most hospitable people you will ever find.

Jerry's Uncle "Gumbai!!!!"
Me and the neighbor's kid. She had never seen an American before. They wanted her to meet me.

My prize frogs...off to the slaughter!

I call this one, "The Untouchables". It reminds me of the picture they took in the beginning of the movie. When they are all sitting around smoking cigars. left to right: Jerry's Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, and Uncle.

Jerry's Grandpa and I doing a Gumbai!