Steve's China Blog

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Arrived in New Zealand

The Friday before Christmas and it was very busy at the office, since every one had things to finish up before our customers in the west went on Christmas holidays. A few of my co-workers still had time to form a group of Christmas carolers, who went around the office in the afternoon and sang carols. It was a lot of fun, and was a very new experience for most of the staff. They sang several songs in both English and Chinese and got quite a few people to sing along with them.

IBM ChengDu Christmas carolers visit the ANZ team area to sing carols.

On Saturday I woke up before 5:00am to finish packing and head to the airport to catch my 8:00am flight to Shanghai where I was connecting to a flight to Auckland New Zealand. I got to the airport at 7:00am and had plenty of time before they would board the flight at 7:30. Unfortunately there was a heavy fog in ChengDu, so no flights were coming or going and all of the flights were delayed. At about 10:30am the fog had lifted enough to resume flights and we waited at the gate for them to call our flight.

We waited, and waited, and waited. They were boarding a lot of flights, but not ours. By 2:30pm everyone on our flight was getting very anxious to get going and very upset that they had not boarded our flight. By 3:00pm the passengers were almost ready to riot! There were a lot of us up at the gate counter demanding to know what the delay was, and of course the staff there had no idea. Chinese don't usually complain too much, but what started out as simple inquiries became shouts. Why were other planes going to Shanghai that were after ours being allowed to go, but not ours!

The crowd kept growing and growing, both in size and in volume, and eventually the staff at the counter sort of retreated away from the counter and was near the door leading out of the area like they were going to run away. At about 3:30 they announced that we would leave at around 4:00pm and it was about 4:20pm that we eventually left ChengDu to go to Shanghai. A delay of more than 8 hours... thanks Air China.

Since we were so late leaving ChengDu I missed my connection to Auckland and had to stay in Shanghai overnight. After arriving in Shanghai I had to get my ticket changed and talk the airline into arranging a hotel for me to stay at. While doing this I ran into some others from my ChengDu flight who had missed their connections also... Sarah from Australia who had missed her connection to Sydney and Steve from Milwaukee who had missed his connection to Chicago. We ended up traveling together to the hotel where the airline had set us up for the night, had dinner together, and then hung around and had a few beers and chatted. It was nice to meet them both.

The next day I got up and went back to the airport and caught my flight to Auckland. The flight was rather uneventful, but I did not get as much sleep as I had hoped and when I arrived in Auckland I was pretty tired. My friends Leola and Lloyd picked me up at the airport and we drove over to their house where I got a chance to shave, take a refreshing shower, and take a little nap. After that we went for a drive around north island to see some sights in and around Auckland. It was all very lovely and warm, and I was very happy that I had finally made it to New Zealand.

Driving toward the city of Auckland

The view of Manukau Harbor from Leola and Lloyd's house

I'll post more about my trip to New Zealand later, but today is Christmas and I don't want to spend a lot of time in front of the computer. I hope you all have a great Christmas!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Playing with the camera some

In the middle of last week we had a cool sunny day, so I decided to take my camera to lunch and took some pictures around the software park where our office is.

A sign for our office building

Is this a system?

...or a program?

A little stroll after lunch (left to right... Lawrence, Prabhat, Cynthia, and Kwai Ling)

Some nice fountains

Sign for Software Park

The IBM office in the distance on the left

On Saturday night I took Reese out for a birthday dinner at an Italian restaurant here in ChengDu called Casa Mia. Her birthday isn't until the following Thursday, but she was going to be back home that day to visit her parents since her father is gravely ill. She had the lasagna, which she has never eaten before, and liked it very much.

On Sunday our Australia/New Zealand group at work had an outing to do some team building at a park called Ta Zi Shan Gong Yuan, which means something like big tower on the hill. We had about 20 people from the ANZ projects team attend. The day seemed really cold and cloudy, but everyone had a good time.

Big tower on a hill

Path into the park

Large stone carving

Another nice path

A team building game

Team jump rope

Some workers nearby work on new statues

I accidentally turned on a weird color feature on my camera and did not notice.

Team jump for the cameras

Banana eating competition

Some of the ANZ group enjoy a puzzle game

After the team building games we went to a barbecue place nearby. Barbecue here is different that back in the States... here it means something on a stick and grilled over a fire. We had some lamb, potatoes, chicken wing tips, rabbit, cucumbers, duck tongue, eggplant, sheep throat, cauliflower, duck liver, pork, some milk for those who can't handle spicy food, and beer for the rest of us.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Dancing ladies and cooking rats

On Friday night I went to the Shamrock Pub to have some dinner. I ended up running into a pretty lady there and dancing with her until 2:00am. I think she said her name was Lisa, but it was pretty loud so it might have been Lily or Lili. Anyways, the Shamrock Pub was going to have their 5th Anniversary party on Saturday night and Lisa want to dance some more, so we decided to meet there again the next evening.

I had my Chinese tutoring on Saturday afternoon with Reese at my place, and we mostly went over how to order Sichuan food in restaurants here. It was a lot of fun! I remembered that I had made a xerox copy of a menu from a Sichuan restaurant in Dalian, and we used that. The menu was handy since I not only learned pronunciations of different dishes, but had the Chinese characters so that I can study those too.

On Saturday night I went back to the Shamrock Pub and the party was in full swing by the time I got there. The place was very crowded and very noisy. Lisa had not arrived yet, but I ran into my friend Catherine and a co-worker of hers named Eris. It was great seeing them and I got to dance with Eris a little bit. Lisa showed up later, but I only danced a few times with her before I decided to leave. I did not get a chance to dance with Catherine. Oh well, another time I hope.

The Shamrock Pub is one of the sponsors for the ChengDu rugby team, and that day the team had played a rugby team from Beijing in ChengDu. The party on Saturday night started as an anniversary party for the pub, but as the evening went on it turned into a rugby party for the two teams. Nothing like a bunch of rowdy drunk rugby players all over the place. Anyways, I decided to go home early and left at around midnight. Eris and Catherine decided to leave at that time too after someone spilled a beer on Eris' dress. Lisa stayed to dance some more.

I was hoping to go out on Sunday and do some grocery shopping and get a haircut, but lost track of time playing a computer game and then decided to just stay home. After cooking dinner I watched the movie Ratatouille. It was really entertaining! A good Disney story with Pixar animations. My favorite line... "We hate to be rude, but... we're French". Actually, my favorite line was Ego's last review, but I won't disclose that here. You'll have to watch the movie yourself and see what he said. Enjoy!

Friday, December 07, 2007

Weather and holidays

It has started getting a little cold here in ChengDu this last week. The temperature has been below 15° C (about 59° F) all week. Actually, that sounds kind of warm for this time of the year now that I read what I just wrote. I guess it's a matter of what you're use to.

It looks like China is going to be changing some of their holidays around...

China Juggles Tombs, Dragon Boats and Marx

HONG KONG, Nov. 9 — A Chinese government panel announced plans on Friday to revamp the holiday schedule to re-emphasize traditional festivals at the expense of the Marxist May Day celebration.

The new schedule aims to address the severe overloading of China’s air, rail and road links in the first week of May, when virtually the entire country goes on vacation. But gridlock may remain around the two other major holidays — essentially a week each — at the Chinese New Year and in the first week of October.

I am not sure yet if this will effect our holidays here at IBM, but I bet it will. That's ok with me!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Friends, pizza, and a camera

We have a program at work to help provide an opportunity for our Chinese employees to practice their spoken English, and the team here has come up with some creative activities for them. Last week we started a drama competition. The competitors form groups of about 6 people, choose an episode of the TV show Friends (which is very popular here), and perform that episode in front of an audience at the office. We had the first group perform last week and it was a lot of fun!

Monica (Wang Hua) and Ross (Hou Chao Qing) tell dirty little secrets, shocking everyone during Thanksgiving.

On Saturday night I took Reese out for pizza after our Chinese tutoring. I was surprised she had never eaten pizza before. We had a large pizza that had bacon and mushroom on one half and mexican beef with chili peppers on the other half. After dinner we took a walk along a river that was nearby the restaurant. It was not too chilly out, but chilly enough that most people were not out walking around, so it turned out to be a nice stroll without a crowd.

On Sunday I went out looking for a new pocket camera. My old camera still works, but the pictures do not come out as nice as they use to, and I wanted to get a new one before my vacation. I had a list of various cameras that I was looking for and ended up getting a Canon IXUS 75 (which is called a PowerShot SD750 in the US). After I bought that I had to search around on the internet to find a user's manual in English, and then spent Sunday evening reading that. I did some test shots on Monday, but it is pretty cloudy outside.

Reese posing for one of my camera shots.

I still am trying to figure out all the features. I will definitely have to figure out how to get the best quality on cloudy days here.