Steve's China Blog

Monday, January 30, 2006

Happy Chinese New Years!

Saturday night was Chinese New Years eve and I was going to get together with a few people from the office and go out to eat that night, but someone there found out we were going out to a restaurant and invited us to his home. It's much more traditional to have dinner at home with family and friends. I think his wife must have expected him to do this since she had a lot of food prepared and having eight guests show up at the last minute was not a problem.

For dinner we had a shrimp and veggie stir fry, some very large steamed shrimp, fried oysters, baked scallops, steamed clams, baked fish, duck, chicken, cucumber and noodles mixed, and two soups... one a noodle with an egg, and one with pork and mushrooms. It was a wonderful meal. All of the dishes have some meaning, such as happiness for the new year, togetherness, health and longevity, etc...

Besides the meal we watched a special on TV. CCTV (Central China TV) has nine channels here and most of them were showing a variety show to celebrate the New Years from 8:00pm until 12:30am, and almost everyone in China watches that. Since most of us don't speak Chinese that well (most of our group was from the Philippines) we ended up chatting most of the night rather than watching the TV.

Around 11:00pm our hostess started preparing dumplings and we talked her into letting us help make them. It took a little while but some of us got real good at making dumplings. At midnight some of us went outside and shot off fireworks and after midnight we ate the dumplings. The dumplings are for good fortune.

About 12 years ago the goverment decided that fireworks were too dangerous and outlawed citizens from shooting them off... for their own safety (sound familiar?). Anyways, the people were so upset about this and complained for so long that the goverment finally repealed that law a year or two ago, and now the people go all out when it comes to shooting off fireworks. The fireworks going off above Dalian started at midnight and it was incrediable! Not one patch of sky above Dalian was devoid of fireworks. I have never seen so many fireworks going off all at once and for so long. It was even more impressive than the last few fireworks shows over Baghdad. Talk about shock and awe. :)

Friday, January 27, 2006

Apartment hunting

My lease for my apartment is up next month, and I am planning on moving into a new apartment. The apartment I currently live in is pretty small, and I did not think I would mind it that much when I first moved in, but that changed after awhile. The kitchen consists of a small counter and a sink, and is too small for me to cook in so I eat out almost every meal. The bathroom is kind of small and tend to bump into the sink or shower every once in awhile. I thought a smaller apartment would be easy to clean, but it isn't.

I have spent a few mornings before work this last week looking at apartments for rent here in Dalian. I have narrowed my choices down to two places. One is in an apartment building called Manhattan in the middle of downtown. The other is in an apartment complex called Yipin Xinghai and is located near Xinghai Square. Both are in highrise buildings, have real kitchens with ovens and stove-tops, and both have bigger bathrooms. The one downtown is a little smaller and a few years older than the one near Xinghai Square, and is a little more expensive. The one near Xinghai Square seems roomier and sunnier, but is not conviently located near much. I am leaning towards the one downtown right now, but will take my time and think about it.

I saw this sign for a realtor, and I had to wonder if they knew what house it was they had on their advertisement...

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

It's coming...

It's almost Chinese New Years and a lot of people here are travelling to visit family in other places in China for the holiday. Tonight a few of us from the office went out to dinner along a street that is frequented by college students, but most of the students have left for the holiday, so it is like a ghost town around there. Most of the shops and restaurants down there are closed for the holiday too and in some places they do not even turn on the street lights. It was kind of eerie since it was only 6:00pm, but seemed like 3:00am. Then you come back to Dalian Software Park and everything seems normal.

I have no real plans for the upcoming holiday, but I will probably spend part of it doing my U.S. taxes. I spent the last few days reading IRS Publication 54 - Tax Guide for U.S. Citizens and Resident Aliens Abroad, and discovered that to the IRS I was not a bona fide resident of China during 2005. It seems they have several criteria and the one I come closest to matching is someone who lived in another country for 330 days, and I only lived in China for 317 days in 2005 so I am not entitled to some salary exclusions. That's a drag. Anyway, I am sure I can find enough deductions for moving, housing, etc... so that my tax bill won't be too bad. The only thing worrying me is the ordeal of sending any payments... I have not had the best luck with banks here.

Other than that, I think I am going to relax and maybe do some reading. I had a friend bring me a book back from Canada which is not sold here (since it portrays Mao as the brutal totalitarian he really was), and I want to finish that. Some co-workers also invited me over to have dinner with their families during the holiday and I'm looking forward to that. There should also be some good fireworks going on most nights, but it might be too cold to go out and watch those. I still have not found where they sell those yet, but am still looking.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Boom Boom!

The fireworks started on Sunday night. You can always hear fireworks in Dalian, but there were a lot more on Sunday night since it is the beginning of the Lunar New Year. I should see if I can find where they sell fireworks at here. I don't mean the little firecrackers either... I mean those big starburst types. I think that might be fun shooting off some of those. I sure miss blowing stuff up! Hehe. I think the fireworks will go on until... late-February? At least they don't shoot them off in the morning (yet).

Speaking of mornings... I think one of my neighbors has a new pet. A rooster! Damn thing woke me up this morning. I just have to remember, "tastes like chicken, tastes like chicken"... That'll help. This is going to be the year of the Dog. Last year was the year of the Rooster. Maybe I can find a dog that likes to eat roosters. I hope I don't have to hear that thing every morning. That reminds me, I wanted to make an appointment with a realtor to go look at new apartments. I'll do that tomorrow if I have time.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Express mail

I had to send a bill to Hong Kong yesterday and I went to the Post Office and asked to send it express mail, because mail service here is kind of slow (it can take around two weeks to get a letter from or to the U.S.). The express mail service (EMS) here has a seperate form when sending express mail outside of China and to Hong Kong and Macou. I filled out the form to have my letter sent and the lady working at the Post Office noticed there was no zipcode. I tried to explain that Hong Kong does not have a zipcode, and I think she understood. This morning the Post Office called me and said that that EMS would not send my letter since it did not have a zipcode. Usually when things can't be done here it is because of two reasons... it really can't be done or, as is often the case, someone does not want to do their job and just says it can't be done. If they couldn't send my letter because there was no zipcode that would mean EMS has never sent any mail to Hong Kong before. Hmm... Anyways, I sent my letter via airmail. I hope it isn't returned, or go missing like several letters that have been sent me in the past have.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Annual events

On Thursday we had an IBM China meeting and all of the different offices within China attended via teleconference. At the beginning of the meeting each office had 60 seconds to say Happy New Year to the rest of IBM China in their own way. Since we have a lot of foreigners in the Dalian office we had people from most of the countries here give New Years' wishes in their native languages and dressed in their native clothing. I'm the American on the left (below) in jeans, cowboy boots and Redskins hat, followed by Bangladesh, India, Philippines, Singapore, Korea, Japan, etc... there were a bunch of us. I think we took more than 60 seconds.

On Sunday night we had our company annual holiday party at the Shangri-La Hotel here in Dalian. We had about 900 people from our office attend. All of the entertainment was performed by our employees. We have a lot of talented people here and we were able to put together about four hours of all different types of entertainment. I joined some others in singing Rodgers & Hammerstein's You'll never walk alone. We had people sing, dance, tell jokes, do skits, a magic act, etc...

Some of the lovely hostesses for the party...

Some ladies do an Indian dance...

Some singers...

More singers...

A Spanish dance routine...

Ok, I had to pose with the ladies who did the Spanish dance routine. :)

Even though I did not understand most of it (a lot of it was in Chinese and Japanese) it was a lot fun. After the party was over and I was heading home I got a call from work and they needed help with something, so I ended up having to work until 4:30am. Ugh.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Beijing's trying...

I wish they would do this in Dalian.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Back to the grind

Last week was probably the most hectic week I've had since I've been in China. Our team has changed jobs and the support we provide is much different than what we were doing up to this point. If I had not been so relaxed after my trip to Thailand I probably would have resigned. Needless to say I am not too happy with the new work, and I am trying to find a new position here. I figured that it might be a good opportunity to move to another office in China (such as Shanghai), but I think my managers do not want me to leave Dalian.

I was so exhausted at the end of the week that I slept all day Saturday. I had hoped to go skiing on Sunday with some friends, but I decided to be somewhat responsible and stay home to do things that needed to be done that I did not get a chance to during the week, such as grocery shopping, cleaning the apartment, doing laundry, and studying my Chinese.

I have fallen so far behind in my Chinese studies that I am thinking of joining another class that is not as advanced as my current class. It would be a good chance to review all that I have learned and to re-learn what I have already forgotten. I think my Chinese teacher is more upset about me not having enough time to study than I am. During Friday's class she asked me to say a sentence in Chinese about anything, and I told her I was too brain-dead to think of anything to say. Needless to say, she wasn't too happy with that reply.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The rest of the trip...

After Christmas I spent a lot of time during the days just hanging around the resort in Phuket relaxing. I got to meet a lot of people from all over, and they were really nice! There were people from Thailand, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Australia, South Africa, Spain, France, Germany, Russia, England, the U.S., etc... from just about everywhere. There weren't any people from mainland China though. It turns out they are rather superstitious, and none of them would come after last years' tsunami. It kind of explains why I had so much trouble arranging a flight from China to Phuket. In the evenings there were plenty of shows and little parties, but I think everyone was gearing up for New Years. Here are some more pictures from my trip to Thailand...

Along the beach.

More of the beach.

In front of my room.

Part of the lobby that goes out to the pool.

Some sports in the pool.

A relaxing place to study my Chinese.

Lounging about at a party.

Part of the New Years Eve party.

Making wishes and sending them up in balloons on New Years day.

Beautiful sunset.

On Monday I headed to the airport in Phuket very early for my flight to Bangkok. Thai Airlines is pretty good. Much better than the Chinese airlines. The flight to Bangkok was on time and I flew to Beijing on Thai Air also, and that flight arrived on time. It was kind of funny that not many people on the flight to Beijing were Chinese, and the Chinese who were on the flight had trouble understanding why the plane was being boarded in an orderly fashion (1st class, then back of the plane to the front of the plane). Things like that are just not done in China...

I do not think I have talked about it much on the blog, but the Chinese can seem extremely rude sometimes. I do not think they know they appear that way, but they do not really seem to know the concept of personal space and most do not understand how to form an orderly line for anything. The younger Chinese are not so bad, but the older Chinese can really be bothersome. For example, when boarding a vehicle (i.e. plane, bus, train, etc...) there is no line. It's just a mob rush for the doors. Everyone just pushing and shoving to get on. In restaurants a waiter or waitress could be in the middle of taking your order and someone from another table will start yelling out their orders or whatever. I have had people just come up and push me aside to get to a bank teller, hotel clerk, or ticket agent while I am in the middle of conducting business. I still have not figured out why this is... maybe a combination of living in one of the most crowded places on Earth and/or living under communism where they think they are entitled to everything. I have no idea.

Anyways, after arriving in China things started to break down... My flight to Dalian was cancelled and I had to reschedule to a later flight. That flight was late taking off. I arrived in Dalian pretty late and missed dinner. Logged on to see how things were going at work and got dragged into an online meeting that lasted into the early morning. It's Tuesday afternoon and I still have not had a decent meal since I left Thailand, and the food I have in the apartment is stale. Hopefully I will get a chance to go out to eat before the restaurants close tonight. Needless to say, part of me wishes I was still back in Thailand.