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!!!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


So a nice early Wednesday morning…got up....took my time getting ready….it seemed to be going pretty well. Then I went down and got in the car with Mr. Gee. We headed out to pick up Fran (The new AMP). Mr. Gee went through the Dances With Wolves game with me. I said I understood. We get to Fran’s crib and lone and behold the Goodyear Store Manager is standing with Fran. He needs a ride too. That’s fine, so everyone piles into Mr. Gee’s car and we head out.
Once we were on the road for about 15 minutes, Mr. Gee starts talking…non stop…it goes on for like 20 minutes. Fran keeps agreeing, Steven (GY guy) starts agreeing. Everyone knows what is going on but me. Once it was quite, then Fran started talking, then Steven, then a rebuttal from Mr. Gee. Finally I was able to ask Fran, “What’s the deal?”
Fran says, “Ah! You understand!?”
I look at him completely confused now, “No…I don’t understand, what’s the deal?”
“Yes! Problems with deal!”
I slow Fran down, and explain that I have no idea what is going on.
Fran explains that Mr. Gee made a mistake in his calculations on the rate of the ride. He says he isn’t making any money. It’s actually funny that Mr. Gee said this, because I was thinking the same thing yesterday. He drives us an hour each way, and it’s a toll road. So I thought his margins were a little slim.
Fran is absolutely pissed about this predicament. A whole new round of talks starts up. I let it go for about 10 minutes…mostly because there is nothing else to do, and I like trying to see if I can figure out who is winning. It seems to me that Mr. Gee is winning (I expect that from my lady killer driver).
Finally I stop the conversation and ask Fran, “What happens if I say I will only pay the 300RMB? No more.”
“Then, Mr. Gee no drive you anymore.”
“OK, well, how much more does Mr. Gee want?”
“He want 50RMB (7 Dollars), I think that too much!”
“Fran, tell him it’s OK, I’ll pay it.”
Fran was not happy with me the rest of the ride. I tried to keep it light for Fran, but he was PISSED!
We finally got to the plant, calmed Fran down, and made the walk across the bleak waste land. (I took a picture of this stretch…just to prove that I’m not exaggerating.)
The day went pretty well, we got a lot of stuff done. We had to go back to Dalian early for a meeting, but all in all, a good day.
Once work was done, we went to the Peking Duck place in Dalian. It is under the same ownership as the one in Beijing that everyone loves (Including any American that goes there!), but it’s not as good…it’s very good, but Beijing is the best!
I went there with two Rockwell people…one of them was STEEL! He came up to Dalian for some work with Goodyear. I drank a bunch of beer, they drank some….we had the duck! Delicious! We also had Duck hearts…which are awesome! I guarantee if you didn’t know what they were, you’d eat them like they were going out of style! Absolutely delicious! (They are cooked). One nice thing about a return trip is the people you became friends with. Now you don’t have that discovery period. You are already comfortable; it’s just a good meal with good friends. It’s cool to be able to have that half way around the world.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


It’s Tuesday evening here in Dalian. I’m going to try and catch up my blog to be current here. It’s been a couple of busy days. There’s been a lot to do, travel…etc….
I arrived in Dalian on Sunday night. My flight got in at 5:00 local time. I was on an Airbus A320. I’ve flown on those lots of times. In the U.S. the seats are crammed and if someone reclines you’re eating a head rest. Well, in China, you’re still eating a head rest, but the seats are bigger! This is crazy; because the people are generally smaller! Plus, the flight was 1:40 minutes, or ten minutes longer than a flight from Milwaukee to Atlanta. They served a whole meal to the plane (I didn’t eat it of course!). Delta can’t do that in the U.S. Also, I forgot until we landed about the deplaning in China. Every man for himself! Just like the elevators. A guy and girl were racing up the aisle as soon as we started to taxi on landing. An old lady hip checked me back to my seat while I tried to grab my backpack. Standard issue for a Chinese plane ride!
Once I got into Dalian, I had a car pick me up at the airport. The driver had an America n music CD playing for my enjoyment. The second song was Ricky Nelson “Travelling Man”. Great tune! A McConnell classic, both my parents were big Ricky Nelson fans, so all of us kids became fans as well. So I asked the driver to turn up the volume…it took a minute but we got it done. Then I started singing the song and the driver joined in! He knew the words! So it must be popular over here. We sang it all the way to the hotel…played it three times. He liked that we sang together. Good times!
The hotel I’m staying in this time is great! Not that any of them are bad, but this is a brand new hotel. It’s really big. They had started construction on it last time I was here. So much has changed in Dalian since I was here last that it’s hard to believe. There are three new high rises on the hotel’s street. They removed the bootleg Olive Garden and Pizza King (Which is fine). The very end of the street use to have a model ship in the middle of the square. It’s now gone and they are putting in a subway system. That is going to be an entrance. Just tons of change and growth! It’s got to be a very exciting time to live in China.
I met Jerry later in the evening. He is the guy I trained last time I was here. He’s graduated on to bigger things. He is now an instructor for Rockwell, and he is soon to take on a new role as an SA. I won’t bore you with the details, but I’m proud of him. He’s doing well. He also has visited the U.S. since I last saw him. (I was in Mexico during his U.S. visit). Apparently a lot of people took him out drinking while he was there. I think Jerry assumes everyone in America drinks 12 Jager bombs nightly. Suffice it to say, Jerry had a lot of fun in Cleveland. I can’t imagine what he’d do in Chicago. He’s going back to Dallas in early March. I’m going to send him to Billy Bob’s in Ft. Worth. It might make his head explode.
We had dinner and drinks, he remembered the names of all my brothers and asked how they were doing. I thought that was nice. I’m going to go back to his hometown one of the weekends I’m here to visit his family again. I can’t wait! I had a great time on my last visit.
The new Rockwell AMP named Fran was with us at dinner. I felt a little bad because Jerry and I were doing so much catching up. The poor guy felt a little out of place in a sea of booze, beer, smoking, and Philippine band music. I felt at home.
I did learn something interesting about Fran. Apparently Fran slipped one past the goalie. His girlfriend of six months is pregnant. I’m not sure how all this plays out. Fran is keeping it a secret from his parents, but her parents know….hmmmm….The Panda will have to investigate further…stay tuned fans!
Monday I met Fran at the Rockwell office. We spent the day reviewing our program and what he needed to learn. I told Fran we needed to have some materials printed for the launch. He wasn’t sure where we should go. I smiled and told him I knew a little place around the corner.
If you read my blog last time, there was quite a bit of discussion about a print shop that Jerry and I visited. I took Fran there and said these people would be able to get everything we need. We walked in the door and the same lady was working there. I smiled and said Ni Hao, she got all excited and started talking real fast. Fran got this amazed look on his face, looked at me, and said, “She remembers you!”
I said, “Yeah, we go way back.”
I then proceeded to tell Fran exactly what to ask her for. Fran would look at me and say I don’t think they will have such a thing here….”Fran, just ask her, she’ll get it, and try to keep up.”
Fran started translating what I said, and she just kept shaking her head yes. She would walk to the back corner and start pulling stuff out. It kind of had the feel of an action movie, where the hero is going to his weapons dealer to get all the guns he needs to defeat the bad guys…only I was ordering printed material and office supplies. Fran was completely in awe.
This time the trip only took about ½ an hour. I paid for the stuff (Cash) and we agreed I would pick it up on Tuesday afternoon. I got a 50 RMB discount (7 dollars) for not asking for a receipt. Once we left Fran was still in awe that the lady and I remembered each other, and that I knew she had all those things. It was funny.
Tuesday we headed out to Palundian. There are four ways to get to the Goodyear plant: A bus full of Goodyear workers, a taxi, a train + taxi, or hire a driver. I chose option 4- hire a driver. I had Fran do some recon before I got there. He found the driver and got it all set up. Here’s a run down of the problems with the others.
1. Bus- No Me Gusta! This option is full of the general labor for the plant. It has a specific pick up time. I would have to take a taxi to a designated point, and then hop the bus with them. No Ex-Pats travel this way…really never an option. The Goodyear people would look at you strange if you did this.
2. Train + Taxi- This one was appealing to me, I love trains! However I was voted out on this one, neither Fran nor Jerry thought it was a good way to travel every day. I thought it would be great! Still not sure why this wasn’t good.
3. Taxi- This one is viable, but you have the problem of the taxi driver possibly not knowing where the plant is in Palundian. It’s a crap shoot. Probably not very consistent, and it’s hard to get a cab in Palundian….which I’ll cover later.
4. Hire a Driver- Best way to go. This guy shows up at my hotel every morning at the same time. He drives you to the plant, then comes back at a predetermined time and picks you up. The cost is the same as a taxi ride out there. It cost 300RMB for one round trip. That is 45 dollars round trip, 22.50 one way. The funny part is that pays for an hour drive…maybe a little longer each way. The same cab ride in America would cost easily over 100.00 each way.
So this morning I met my driver, Mr. Gee (G), who is AWESOME! He’s my one man G-Unit! I have a great picture of him that I took today. (I’m taking pictures of all this stuff, but can’t post them directly.) He doesn’t speak a lick of English, but Fran was there to translate…On a side note, Fran doesn’t like to translate like Jerry did. Jerry and I would have a conversation with a driver or local forever. Jerry would really get into it. Fran doesn’t have that same quality. I struggle to get him going…I don’t think he knows how to take it.
So, I have Fran ask Mr. Gee all kinds of questions on the way out there. I have to know this guy, he’s my driver, right!? Mr. Gee is from Palundian. He is a driver for hire taking people back and forth between Dalian and Palundian. He use to sell farm equipment but gave that up for driving. He’s married and has a son. He likes to play Ping Pong and wants to play me in a game….step easy Mr. Gee! He drives a Hyundai, it’s pretty new and very nice inside.
He told Fran to tell me that he likes me because I like to talk. He said that most people just sit in the car and say nothing. “That’s how I roll Mr. Gee.” Fran didn’t know how to translate that one at first.
Mr. Gee description: He is about 5’7, 50 years old. He has black hair (I’m sure I’m not making headlines with my description so far) He wears a black leather coat that looks newer, but has a hood on it (Strange). His hat is more of a traditional hat…it’s black…it almost looks like a stocking cap that’s been chopped off half way up and sewn closed. Actually, in all honesty, he looks a little like a stylin elf. In fact, I would say the hat looks just like an elf’s hat except cut off half way up. It flops down the back, it actually looks pretty good on the guy….I bet Mr. Gee had all the ladies chasing him when he was younger…I look for that in a driver…I think…although this is my first driver….but I think I would look for these qualities.
Anyways, I have already decided that Mr. Gee and I are going to have beers together before this trip is through…actually that will be pretty funny….I’ll have to get a driver for my driver….I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Mr. Gee took us to the Goodyear plant. The town of Planudian has 200,000 people living in it. This is extremely small for the Chinese…not really even a village…just a blip on the map. However, I think the Chinese government has decided this area is going to be developed for an industrial base. There are other plants going up all over the country side. The whole area is small worn down homes and giant factories being built…with the Yellow Sea for a backdrop….and of course, smog. We pulled up to the plant, IT IS HUGE! It’s the biggest tire plant I’ve ever seen. It’s massive! It sits right on a bay of the Yellow sea.
When you approach the street the plant sits on, the ocean is behind it, a mountain bluff to the right, and a vast unforgiving country in the front. The whole place is still under construction. There is no road from the gate. You have to walk this dirt and rock path all the way to the building. The walk to the building is just over 1/4 a mile. There is no direct path, and the stone/dirt/gravel/junk path is a little treacherous at times. The whole approach has a feel like some of the scenery in The Road. Once you get to the building, it’s a good 1/4 mile through the building! It’s that big! I bet I walked a good three miles today (I say that because I made at least three trips to almost the guard gate from the back today alone!). We had several meetings in parts of the plant that took 20 minutes to walk to. It takes a good 25-30 minutes to walk to the back of the plant from the road…a lot of that time is the unforgiving terrain you have to cross. The whole plant inside is brand new. Only one machine is coming over from the old plant…the funniest thing was the bathroom….Brand new bathroom….same horrible Chinese bathroom smell!
We had several meetings with management at the plant. I got some understanding of our underlying issues…what we need to work on and improve…lots of things to get done!
Once the day was done, Mr. Gee came and picked us up. There is a funny story here. I was sitting at a table waiting for Fran, when I struck up a conversation with the Supply Chain Management guy at the plant. He was a local. I talked to him for a little while; he asked me where I was from in the U.S., things like that. After I had talked to him for a while, I remembered that I had a bunch of loose change in my bag. I always throw my change on the road into a compartment of my backpack, and then usually I dump it whenever I get home. I left it in there this time to have coins to give away…just something dumb to do. So I gave this guy a quarter, well, there were two more people sitting by him. I gave them each a quarter. They all got a kick out of it and I didn’t think anything more.
Finally Fran comes back and we leave. We make the walk all the way back to the gate. A truck driver pulls up, rolls down his window, it’s the one of the people I gave a quarter to. He says something to Fran. Fran looks at me and says that I left my cell phone on the table in the office…MAN!!!!!!!!!! Then Fran says, “Not to worry, he remembers you give him American money, he give me ride back to get your phone, you wait with Mr. Gee.”
Best quarter I ever spent.
Fran told Mr. Gee what was going on, I then sat in the back of the car. Mr. Gee and I then played a game much like Kevin Costner and Kicking Bird played in Dances with Wolves trying to talk about Ta-Tonkas. I would gesture to the car and say “Car”. I would then ask for Chinese….this confused Mr. Gee for a few minutes, then I tried other things and eventually he got what I was selling. We traded words for Car, Hand, Coat, and I think seat…but that could have been other things…tough one. It was great entertainment while waiting for the quarter express.After all this excitement, Fran and I picked up the printing, and had Hot Pot for dinner…which always rocks!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Back To Dalian

Today is Monday. I spent the weekend in Shanghai and have now flown up to Dalian. So I have a little catching up to do. Let’s rewind to Saturday morning. Steel wanted to go with me to the market place in Shanghai. I wanted to go to the pearl market, it’s a great place in Shanghai. There is lots of stuff there, not just pearls, but pearls are definetly the main attraction. I’m not sure why Steel wanted to go with me. I told him I’d been before and that I knew where it was, but he wanted to come along….so I said sure! Why not?
Steel came by the hotel at 10:00 AM and we grabbed a cab to the market. We went in and headed up to the pearl market floor. I got my game face on, pockets flush with Chairman Mao money, and prepared to start the negotiations! (This really is one of my favorite things to do in China!) As we are going up the escalator, Steel is giving me some advice on the market, I chuckled and said, “Steel, let me show you how Daddy walks.” He looked at me confused, I smiled and we entered!
It was around 10:30 and the market had just opened. The Chinese are obsessed with making the first and last sale of the day. They believe it brings them good luck for the day. They will even sell at almost a loss, just to get the first sale done. You need to move fast through the booths, get as many “First Sales” as possible. Steel was impressed with my negotiations.
They always start high…way high! So then you really have to chop the legs out of the offer. You should probably end up paying 20-25% of the original price. So I would start my negotiating at 10%. Of course you have to say, “Ti-Gwe-La!” which means “That’s too much”. Then you start going back and forth.
Here’s my little take on the negotiations. I would bargain them down on one string of pearls. I would get it to the price I wanted, then ask them for a new price if I buy three! This sends them into a tizzy, because they know they have to do cut the price more to get the order. When you negotiate with the street vendors you have to take it when the price is agreed upon. So I try to change the dynamic a little. I agree on the initial price, but then drive it down more with quantity. I call it the Wal-Mart approach.
There is one last piece of the negotiation that has to go on. Once you’ve basically decided on the price, they ALWAYS bump it ten more RMB. That’s basically 1.50 US currency. My last trip I would just give in on that because it was such a little amount. This time they would bump it 10 RMB, and I would say “You give me two pairs of earrings.” There would be a pause, then I would GET IT! I loved it! It worked every time! Kind of like a bonus round! I think this is the only way I truly like shopping. Usually I dread it, but Chinese haggling is for me! I love it!
After we got done on the pearl market floor, we went up a floor…this is where the REAL fun was! There were a bunch of shops that sold all kinds of stuff. Fake watches (But low end), suitcases, toys, almost anything you can imagine. As we walked around we found a person that had a “Secret Room” of designer bags. They took us in there and it was packed with all kinds of designer bags and fake rolex watches. The problem is, I don’t even know what I should buy for the women I know. I have no idea if they’d use it. I didn’t feel like haggling with him, plus I’d have to lug them around China with me. I figure I’ll hit it on the way back through Shanghai.
The real excitement was the DVD store. It never ceases to amaze me. Here’s what I “Rented”.
Complete Seinfeld Series- 20 Dollars
Madmen Complete Series- 5 Dollars
Boardwalk Empire Season 1 (Which isn’t on DVD yet) 3 Dollars
Rosetta Stone Spanish Levels 1-5 7 Dollars
Hilarious! Great deals! Going back there!
Well. I have to go to dinner, so I’ll have to finish catching up the blog tomorrow night!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Tom and Jerry

Today is Friday, which means souvenir shopping tomorrow! Big fun in China!
I started today with a car coming to pick me up. This happened yesterday, so I expected the same car to come today… first mistake of the day! The vehicle that came to get me today was weird. It was the size of an old school Volkswagen hippie bus, but only had two doors, drivers side and passenger front doors. So this got my attention right away…because I saw through the window that there were at least 10-12 seats in the vehicle. So I opened the passenger door and to my surprise, it was set up like a miniature bus. There was a hand rail and three tiny steps to walk up. Then you had to go down a super tiny aisle to where all the seat s were….very strange. So I loaded up in the hippie van/ bus.
We took off and started driving to our Rockwell repair facility, known as JQD. I really didn’t want to go there. I tried to explain to Jennifer that I didn’t want to go, because I went last time I was here. I think they take all the Ex-Pats here from my business group. You just have to do it, there’s no explaining your way out of it. They want you to see “Their repair capabilities”. Which is fine on your first ever visit to China, but once you’ve seen the place your more interested in knowing the scope of repairs…not the actual facility again….She wasn’t having any of that, so off I went.
So as we drove over, I just looked out the window and observed the surroundings. The best part of the trip was the quality of the ride. The driver couldn’t have been going more than 89 kilometers, but the ride felt like we were getting ready to break the sound barrier. That thing was coming apart at the seams. I was waiting to hear Scottie from Star Treks voice come over the radio….”Captain, I’m giving her all that she’s got…she can’t take much more!”
So we arrived at JQD…I saw everything was pretty much the same as last time I visited JQD. I complimented Jennifer on the facility…she was happy. We then went to lunch at a cool spot. It was an old house that was owned by a Chinese General 100 years ago, it had now been converted into a restaurant. Although it had one downside, it was a seafood place! So the whole live aquarium show was under way. It smelled like the ocean had been emptied of water and all the creatures were left to bake in the sun for two days. They had a fish head that was chopped off, and the tail end was stuffed in its mouth! (Of course I didn’t have my camera)
I told Jennifer I was not down with the fish, and we needed to get some meat going on! She wanted some fish…so we compromised. We had some kind of crab/tofu mix and a pork and vegetable mix that you stuffed in rice bread to eat…actually quite good! We also loaded up on veggies. All and all, everything was good. It was a nice lunch. The house was cool and the conversation was good.
After lunch we had a conference call and wrapped up some loose ends before I fly out to Dalian on Sunday. After that I headed back to the hotel to await my dinner plans with STEEL!
You might remember Steel from my last blog. He’s a great guy and we kept in contact after I left China last time. So we went to dinner tonight!
Steel met me at 6:00 at my hotel. He said the restaurant was a 5 to 10 minute walk from the hotel, which translated means about 30 minutes. (I am wiser my second time around…was prepared) So we headed out to go to a hot pot restaurant. I love me some hot pot! I was excited to go. He said this was a very happening place in Shanghai, it had been featured on a local Food network show…..that could be good or could be bad….only time would tell. The walk was great, just being out in Shanghai is fun to watch, there are people everywhere. We crossed a street through an underground connection, which also was a subway entrance. I was kind of shocked, 6:00 at night and it was nothing compared to what I’ve seen in New York or Chicago. I asked Steel was it didn’t seem as busy as New York? He told me that it was because some people are still on vacation for the Chinese New Year.
So we are walking down a main street, then we turn down an alley and walk up a set of stairs into a building. It kind of reminded me of when Morpheus and Trinity go to see the Merovingian in The Matrix Revolutions. There was a lady doing a coat check, then an elevator down a hallway that took you up to the fourth floor. The whole time there was a weird Chinese techno music playing….kind of cool actually.
So we take the elevator to the fourth floor which opens into a dark restaurant with weird lighting that looked like fluorescent red lighting in weird shaped fixtures, cool looking, but not expected. Steel talked to the hostess, it was a 30 minute wait, which Steel was not fond of. I asked if we could get a beer at the bar and wait….there was no seating at the bar. So Steel talked to the hostess again. They went back and forth for a moment, and then Steel said I should follow him.
We went around the corner to a glass enclosed attachment to the restaurant. It looked like it might have been a sun room back in the day. Steel then tells me that we can have a beer and a smoke in here while we wait…
There are wicker block chairs all along the walls of the room. No one is in there but us. There is a plastic table at the far end (The room is a big rectangle). We go sit at the far end, around the table. A waitress brings us a couple beers. I start to take in the room, when I notice at the opposite end of the room is a flat screen TV playing Tom and Jerry cartoons ….really old ones…like from the 40’s or 50’s. It’s just cartoon after cartoon. I ask Steel why Tom and Jerry are on, “For our entertainment.”
So we sit there and drinking beer watching Tom and Jerry. As we wait, the room starts to fill up with other people…no one is talking except Steel and I. No one is drinking except Steel and I….no one is having a smoke expect Steel and I. The whole room is watching Tom and Jerry…not taking their eyes off it….SO funny.
Steel then gets up to check on our table…everyone keeps watching Tom and Jerry…just I’m the only one enjoying it with a beer.
Eventually we get our table and order our food. Steel asks me what I want. I look at the menu and for some reason the only thing I make a point of ordering are oysters. This was really dumb….I know better…I don’t know how I screwed up. For some reason I was thinking of oysters like we have them in America…thought they might be good in a hot pot. Why not try? There’s a good reason not to try…
The oysters come out late in the meal. I’ve already tried a couple things I didn’t want to…but I did. Here come TWO oysters…that’s it…but here’s the problem, they are raw (Figured that much), they have all their internal organs still attached (Forgot about that one), and you don’t put them in the hot pot (Really didn’t count on that). The small one is the size of a McDouble from McDonalds. The big one is the size of a whopper.
Steel has a look on his face like…”Here they come buddy! Don’t they look delicious?”
He then says, “This you order! You can have big one!”
Hmmmm…..I guess I deserve that. I DID order them. “You’re too kind Steel, I insist you have the large one…you have been a great host.” That didn’t work.
I put about 15 different sauces on that thing….I’m staring at it…I still can’t get over how big it is…how big it’s liver is hanging off the side of it (Or whatever organ an oyster has dangling from the side).
I finally man up and put the whole thing in my mouth (Which Steel tells me is how you do it…one bite (Or gulp in my case). I survived, but that’s it with seafood. I guess I’m a slow learner when it comes to Chinese Seafood. I should have remembered from my last trip.
Still a great dinner with Steel, everything else was delicious! Off to the pearl market tomorrow!

Thursday, February 10, 2011


Today was my first full day in country. I ended up going to the Rockwell office. I wasn’t scheduled to be there till Friday, but I woke up and decided to go. I can be tired in the hotel, or tired at the office. I ended up making a mistake there. I couldn’t believe how tired I was! Geez! I should have just gone back to bed.
Shanghai has changed a ton since last time I was here! There are certain buildings I remember seeing before, that were kind of remote on the way out there (Free Trade Zone)….now they are surrounded by other buildings…and not small ones! The drive I had on the way out was pretty tame. Maybe it was because I didn’t leave the hotel until 12:00…he didn’t seem to reckless…kind of a bummer! I was looking for a little more action on that ride.
The smog was big time noticeable on the way out! It was so low that it clouded some of the buildings. It was pretty weird. You could see where the gray of the sky collided with the off white of the smog, with a few clouds acting as a piece of lettuce in the sandwich. There are still cranes everywhere here. There is soooo much construction. I was a little disappointed in the number of bikes and scooters. It didn’t seem like there were that many…probably just because of the time of day….actually I’m sure that’s the reason.
I met with Jennifer who is our operations manager for CSM in China. We met for about three hours. I thought we were going to get lunch once I got there….then 1:00 became 2:30, finally I asked if we were going to get lunch, she looked at me confused, “I guess we mis-communicate, I already eat.”
Well, at least one of us ate!
So she asks me if I want McDonald’s or KFC. I look at her and smile, “How about Chinese?” She smiles and says she’ll have some ordered…..Now I’m thinking Chinese takeout…saw it here last time…felt pretty confident. Amazing how off I can be!
I think she had a guy in the office run over to the gas station! Because he comes back with what looks like a Chinese TV dinner in plastic wrap. It was chicken, rice, and carrots. The amazing part was the chicken! It was actually a chicken breast!!!!! The first one I’ve ever seen in China!
My co-worker Greg and I have a long standing theory about chicken in China. Both of us have been here, both eaten chicken, yet neither one of us has ever had a chicken breast here. You can get wings, thighs, drumsticks, and chickens feet…but good luck finding a chicken breast. We figured that chicken producers here just ship the breast meat back to the U.S.A and sell the rest here. Therefore no one really knew what they were missing. However, this discovery really blows a hole in that theory! I mean this was REALLY bothering me as I ate my chicken….there had to be a reason.
THEN! It dawned on me.
I am probably eating the Chinese equivalent to a Speedway cheeseburger….they don’t value the breast! They don’t like it! It’s not that they don’t eat it; it’s just that they amazingly would rather not eat it! It doesn’t ruin our theory; it just needed to be mended.
As an Ex-Pat you usually end up eating at pretty good places, or lousy places that locals like. So they aren’t taking you to a situation where you would see the chicken breast aka “The worst piece of chicken in China”…because they don’t like it. If I was hosting a foreign guest, I wouldn’t take them to Speedway for the lamp burger….neither would they. So just to be clear..THE CHICKEN BREAST IS USED IN CHINA!
After our meeting today, I took a cab ride back to the hotel. It smelled like rotten fish wrapped in a gym sock. Amazing how much I could miss that smell…it let me know I was back. This cab ride was going to be good, you know how I knew? The rearview mirror was cranked all the way up so that it was looking at the ceiling! I mean really, who needs those anyways? Highly overrated!
He was actually kind of disappointing until we almost slid into a stopped car (It’s been raining all day). He swerved left (Which was actually pretty impressive), cutting off another car (Who let us know), then yelled something at the car that was stopped, and preceded to speed up in anger! Then he had to slam on the breaks to miss another stopped car. This just seemed to frustrate him even more. (He probably had chicken breast for lunch)
Finally I arrived back at my hotel…now I wait…for day two!

A Bit of a Snag

For some reason the Google blog site is blocked, as well as Face book, both of these were available my last trip to China. I think it has something to do with what’s going on in Egypt. So I’ll be sending my blogs in a word document, then have someone else post them. Letter’s From the Birmingham Jail style!

The flight over was interesting. I had a kid that was either retarded or autistic sitting behind me. He was letting out massive wails for the first hour of the flight, running up and down the aisles…just general chaos! He and his parents were sitting in First Class. It was extremely annoying. I think the stewardess told them they were going to have to get hold of the child or give up their seats in First Class, because suddenly it got a lot quieter. THANK YOU!
I tell that quick detail to drop a free advertisement for Bose QC15 headphones. These are noise reduction headphones. They are the best I’ve ever tried! Wonderful! When you first put them on, the jet roar is instantly gone. You can still hear people, but just barely. Once you start watching a movie or listening to music, you can no longer hear anything. They are just wonderful! If you travel a lot…drop the 300 bucks, you won’t be disappointed!
Being able to fly business class international is just the best! Even though I’d done it before, it’s still the coolest! It has leg room for miles, seat turns into a bed, private TV’s, you can’t touch the ceiling or the seat in front of you when you stretch! It’s just great! The food is great! Just the perfect way to travel! Also, the plane I was on was a Boeing 777.
One funny thing I found on the plane. The first time I got up to use the bathroom I had to use the one in the front of the plane; the one on the side was in use. I walk up front (Which was the distance of a regular Canadian Regional Jet), and there are two bathrooms. I checked them both, typical bathrooms, small airline bathrooms….maybe a couple inches larger than the standard…..well….the second time I had to use the bathroom, I used the one closer to my seat..XANADU! This thing was huge! It had a mock wooden floor, baby changing shelf between the toilet and the sink. It was massively huge by airline standards. You could’ve parked a wheelchair in there with room to spare. It was great! The mock wooden floor was a nice touch!
There was a bunch of in flight movies to choose from. I watched Wall Street 2 (Horrible) and The American (Horrible). So that killed 4 hours.
So the flight went on and I decided to get some sleep. I popped a sleeping pill and was out…now here’s where it gets interesting…I woke up, must have looked at my watch wrong, thought I had another 5 or 6 hours until we landed. So I popped another sleeping pill and went to sleep. Well whatever that did, the next thing I know the stewardess is waking me up to put my chair back up. I am completely dragging, not sure what’s going on….so I put up my chair. We are landing! I immediately pass back out. Once we land, the lady next to me wakes me up again. I am so buzzed from the sleeping pill that I can barely stand up. I manage to get my backpack out of the overhead. I must have looked like a stumbling drunk coming off the plane! (Not that I haven’t before) I was bobbing from left to right, managed to make it to the baggage claim area. I almost fell into the luggage return; my legs were like jello at this point. I really don’t remember too much. Started stumbling out of customs…looking for a guy holding a sign with my name on it…FOUND HIM! He takes my bags, looks at me funny, like I’m going to fall asleep right there. There was actually no traffic on the way to the hotel, no crazy driving, although I was fading in and out of sleep. We got to the hotel, checked in, and BOOM landed on the bed. Woke up at 7:30 local time…not sure where I was or how I got there. (Pieced it back together over coffee and dumplings.) I’m on my way to meet the local team at 1:00. They are sending a car for me…should be fun! We’ll see what it brings!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Return To The Middle Kingdom!

Hello everyone!

Welcome back to the Pudgy Panda blog! Here at the Panda we bring you all the news that's fit to print (In my opinion).

I'm sitting in the Delta Sky Lounge in Detroit's airport. This is a nice perk of international travel! It's quite, has food and drink, places to work...or type blogs, etc....

This time my flight leaves Detroit and lands in Shanghai. It's a direct flight of 15 hours. I'm not on a 747 this time, although my plane is big enough. I think it's a 767? Maybe? Only one level, but I will be on a 747 on my return flight. I'm leaving on 2/8 and return on 3/6.

It will be interesting to see what I think of China now that I've been once, where everything isn't so new. Maybe it will all be new again? The place continues to grow at incredible rates! Who knows? That's half the fun.

I brought two suitcases, one is half empty, all the more room for souvenirs! (Chairman Mao gifts for everyone!). I have Saturday in Shanghai, so I'll probably hit the pearl market at the beginning of the trip. I can't wait to start negotiating! I thought of practicing in front of the mirror...just to bone up on it :)

I have a newer camera this time! So I can take some video while I'm there...maybe some crazy cabby's, maybe some scooters...who knows...maybe a guy driving a donkey.....maybe Goldmember (Dare to dream).

I'll continue when I reach the other side of the world...STAY TUNED!