Steve's China Blog

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Still here

I haven't posted much in awhile. I've been keeping busy mostly with work, catching up on my sleep, and doing some shopping. We are still getting a few aftershocks, but not nearly as many as before. There was a 6.0 aftershock on Sunday. It didn't seem that strong here since it struck so far way, but it lasted about 20 seconds which is much longer than the other aftershocks. I've heard that we may experience aftershocks for another month or two, but they will become less and less frequent.

This is a pretty interesting article about grief-stricken parents of the children that died in some of the collapsed schools in the area...

Grief turns to fury in China, and parents demand answers

In recent days, such raw public outbursts have been taking place across northern Sichuan Province as grieving parents agitate for investigations into why so many school buildings fell during the May 12 earthquake, killing as many as 10,000 children.

I'm not sure if anything will be done for these people. Knowing the government here, they'll just choose a few construction workers as scapegoats and execute them. Maybe they'll hire some goons to go beat up some of the parents to silence them. Who knows?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Maps and panic

I found this online map that shows earthquakes at the U.S. Geological Survey website that is really interesting. You can see where quakes are happening all over the world. You can look here see a closeup map of the area we are in. ChengDu is not listed on my map, but it is south of Mianyang and west of Chongqing, so you can get an idea of where we are. This map only shows the quakes that are of a 4.0 magnitude or higher, and only for the last seven days.

I also found this article which has a lot of info about what has been going on in ChengDu the last day or so...

Aftershock warning sows panic in China

I wasn't too sure what was happening last night, but it didn't seem good. I was reading a book and decided to go to bed at around 11:00pm. It was then that I noticed that everyone was leaving the apartment building. I could also hear some announcements going on (in Chinese) on the apartment complex PA system. There was also a lot of traffic noise. I decided to go out and see what was going on, and that's when I found out about the news about the aftershock prediction.

I decided that I wouldn't be able to sleep with all the noise, so I went for a walk to see if I could find a store open that was selling cigarettes. The amount of traffic (both human and automobiles) was amazing. It was the most crowded I had ever seen the street and sidewalks in front of my apartment. After coming back from the store I ran into a group of Israeli's that also live in my apartment complex who were camped out on the sidewalk. After talking to them for awhile I realized it was almost 3:00am, so I decided to go to bed.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Working together

There's a very interesting post over at the Barking at the Sun blog about how the people of ChengDu are now getting together to provide disaster relief in Sichuan Province...

Day four and the people of Chengdu are starting to return to their normal lives. The palpable sense of fear that gripped the city for three days now seems to be largely gone. Many have switched gears entirely: an individual sense of self-preservation has turned into a city-wide sense of urgency to help the victims, many of whom are located just an hour’s drive north.

The whole post can be found here.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Aftershocks and such

We are still getting aftershocks, but they are less and less frequent and only last a few seconds. According to some news stories (like this one and this one) ChengDu had experienced almost 2,000 aftershocks by Tuesday afternoon, including several aftershocks that were over 6.0 on the Richter scale. Needless to say I have not gotten much sleep the last few days, and am pretty much running on nicotine and nervous energy.

About an hour and a half after my last post we had a really big aftershock (about 6.1), but it only lasted about 10 or 15 seconds. I didn't get as much done on Tuesday that I wanted to do. We did spend some time contacting all of our employees here in ChengDu and checking to see who could work from home; who needed to go back to the office to get belongings; who needed anything, like a place to stay, food, water, etc...

At about 5:00pm I decided to go find a place that had wifi that was not shaking so much and headed over to the Shamrock Pub. There was a pretty good sized crowd at the Shamrock for that early in the day, and it seemed that most people there had laptops and were online. I decided to have some dinner and chat with some people there to hear about what went on in other places.

Some of the stories were quite amazing. Some people (who were outside at the time of the earthquake) told me about how the sidewalks seemed to roll like waves and how the glass front of one building's windows had ripples in it as the force of the shock went through the building. Some stories were kind of funny, like how one person ending up sleeping on the floor in the Shamrock on Monday night, and how some customers at one restaurant cooked for everyone since the cook had left earlier. I didn't stay around there too long, since I needed to wake up early the next morning and do some work from home.

On Wednesday the rain stopped, the sun came out, and things seemed to return to normal somewhat. There were still the aftershocks every once in awhile, but not that many and they weren't that noticeable. I didn't get much work done. I was trying to finish up some online training I had started the week before, but I found it difficult to concentrate. It seemed kind of dreary in my apartment with that big gash in the wall, especially since it seemed so nice outside.

In the afternoon I decided to get out of the apartment for a little while. I went walking around in the apartment complex and found a few places that were very nice, some of which I had never been to... little streams with gold fish, newly planted bamboo forming a wall around a nice place to sit, lots of flowers blooming, and lots and lots of butterflies everywhere. I also noticed that the birds, who had been flying helter-skelter everywhere the last few days, had settled down and were busy chasing bugs. I guess they had not eaten much the last few days with all the craziness going on. I also noticed that a lot more people were heading back to their homes. All of this was really good to see, and really lifted my spirits, which I needed after spending so much time alone in my apartment and not seeing much on the news but death and destruction.

This morning I got word that our office was now open and that we should go work there if possible. We had two separate safety inspections of the building and both found that there was no damage to the structure of the building and the damage was limited to just the outer layer of concrete and paint. The cleaning staff had come in the day before and cleaned out all of the debris. I'm just guessing, but I think that by the afternoon more than 70 percent of our people came into work today. It has been really interesting to hear everyone's stories about what they have been up to since Monday night. Even one of the most senior VPs in IBM Asia Pacific flew out to ChengDu and is here today to work at the office.

I'm still kind of amazed at how lucky ChengDu was to get away so unscathed. We had no buildings collapse, that I know of. I've heard a lot of different explanations as to why people think this is so, such as the ground is a certain density, the rivers running through the area helped like shock absorbers, no mountains nearby, etc... I think it also had to do with the fact that they probably enforced the building standards here better than most places. ChengDu might be the most laid-back city in China, but people here actually do get their jobs done. Unlike other places I have been in China where people seem very busy, but things just don't get done. I also think we were just really really lucky.

All of the aftershocks and tremors, along with lack of sleep, has had a strange effect on me during the last few days... Sometimes I would try and lie down and catch a quick nap, but I found that when I would lay down I felt like I was on a boat. Is that the ground moving, the building moving, or just me? Sometimes I get that feeling even when I am standing up, or sitting at my computer. At home I just have to look at the drape cord near my computer to see if there really is some movement. Once I noticed that the light fixture that hangs above my computer was moving and thought an aftershock was coming, only to realize I had turned on the air-conditioner earlier and that was what was moving the light around. Strange, huh?

Anyways, I think after a few days working at the office and then I nice relaxing weekend I'll be back to normal.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Earthquake in ChengDu

At about 2:30pm yesterday we had a 7.9 earthquake which had it's epicenter about 55 miles to the northwest. I was at the office on the 8th floor working at my desk when it struck. At first I just thought it was an aftershock from some explosions at some nearby construction, which I had experienced before in Dalian, but those usually only last a few seconds. After about 15 or 20 seconds everyone realized that it was an earthquake and most people started heading for the stairway down to the ground level. We were on the top floor of the office building and it was swaying and really shaking hard. A few people dived under their desks, but realizing that everyone was leaving they got up and started down the stairs too.

Shamelessly stolen from an AP news story

Initially I got up from my desk and went over to stand under a doorway thinking that it might be over quickly, but after about a half a minute I decided to head down too. I went back to my desk and locked my computer and then headed to the stairs, checking to make sure everyone was out of the 8th floor. As I started to get near the stairway I was thinking that I should go back to my desk to get my camera, but then I noticed that the ceiling tiles were starting to crack and fall apart and that there were huge cracks in the walls of the stairwell, and I decided to hell with the camera. Time to go!

Cracks in the concrete of the office building

There was a security guard coming up the stairs yelling for everyone to get out, and I told them there was no more people on the 8th floor. The guards had to check all this and this guy looked really terrified. The stairwell was full of people, most very frightened, but there was no panic. The earthquake lasted about 3 minutes, and since I was one of the last people going down the stairs it ended about the time I reached the 2nd or 3rd floor.The company had an emergency plan in place, and most people knew it... get down the stairs quickly, get away from the building, and meet at a designated area. We got everyone out of the office ok with no injuries.

For about the next 3 or 4 hours we stayed out in the area outside the office building waiting for news. Most people had their cell phones (I didn't) and they were busy trying to call, or send text messages, to friends and family to let them know they were alright. I tried to call my driver a few times using other people's phones, but I couldn't get through. Someone brought a bunch of bottles of water, but there wasn't enough for everyone. The people who ran the little convenience store locked up the stored and high-tailed it out of there as soon as the shaking started. Bloody cowards.

At about 5:30pm some people from the software park brought over about 10 hard-hats, and the managers took those and went in to check out the office to see if it was at least safe enough for people to go get their belongings. There were reports of a lot of aftershocks, but I didn't feel any while outside the building. The managers came down and we started letting people go in and get their things, but you had to wear a hard-hat, so only about 10 people at a time were in the building. That was good... I just imagined if hundreds of people went in there and were stomping up and down the stairs the whole building might collapse.

I got my chance to go upstairs at about 6:15pm. The place was a real mess with debris all over the floors and cracks in the concrete here and there, but the place looked ok considering how much shaking had gone on earlier. No broken furniture and the roofs didn't collapse any. When I got to my desk I saw that there over a dozen messages from people (customers and team members in China, India, and Australia). We never had a chance to tell them what was happening when we left hours earlier. I only took time to send an instant message to my parents that I was ok, and a quick message to one of my customers in India who was still online, "Earthquake. Got to go".

After that I shutdown my laptop and threw it in my bag, grabbed my phone and camera, and started to head out. Right then my driver called and I told him I would be downstairs in a few minutes. I met up with Kwai Ling, who had just gotten her stuff, and we started down the stairs. I got a few pictures of the cracks in the walls, and then hurried down to let others have a chance to go get their things.

Kwai Ling heads back down after getting her things

I got home quicker than I thought I would. Traffic was suppose to be pretty bad downtown since they had a major water pipe break somewhere. We avoided that and took mostly side-streets that weren't too crowded. It looked like most of the stores and restaurants were open, which was a good sign. There were people everywhere! It turns out that most people here were worried about the aftershocks and they avoided their homes and stayed out in open areas.

Part of the drive home

When I got home I was expecting to find a lot of my things broken and tossed about, but nothing was damaged. A few things had moved around a little, but it didn't look bad. My electricity was still on, as well as my internet connection. My water was going, but there was very little water pressure (probably because of the break in the water pipe), and the gas had been turned off.

I decided to logon and let people know that I was safe and at home. I sent out some emails and chatted with others. I didn't really feel any aftershocks until about 9:45pm. At that point I decided to pack up a bunch of things in case I needed to head out quickly, and then try to get some sleep. I went to sleep on the couch dressed, and I setup everything that I wanted to take with me lined up toward the door, so that I would not have to stop to pick things up, and since I live on the 3rd floor I figured I could get out pretty fast.

There were a few small aftershocks during the night that woke me up, and a few big ones at around 2:00am, 4:00am, and 6:30am. The 4:00am must have had a lot of smaller ones before because the security guards here came and woke the few of us in the building and asked that we go downstairs. I went down to the lobby and ran into someone named Ken who is from New York who has just opened a plant here. We sat and chatted until about 5:30am, and then I went back upstairs to try and get some sleep.

After the 6:30am aftershock I just decided to get up and get on with the day. That's when I noticed a huge crack in the wall of my dining room.

Huge crack in my dining room wall. 10 feet across and then from ceiling to floor

I don't know if that was caused by the initial earthquake or all of the aftershocks, because I do not remember seeing it when I got home last night. It might have been a combination of all of them. The last aftershock I felt today was at around 7:40am. Nothing since then, so I hope we wont have anymore. I still have all of my stuff ready to go in case I have to get out fast.

People waiting outside

A few minutes ago I went for a walk outside. There are still a lot of people outside avoiding going home, even though it's raining now. Most people are sitting around on the wet grass. Some are parked in their cars all the way down the road. My guess is they'll stay there until someone from the government tells them its ok to go home.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Dinners and parties

Even though last week was a long work week I got to have some fun while I wasn't working. On Wednesday I went over to Reese's place for dinner. Her mother is visiting her in ChengDu and cooked a huge meal for us. I also got to meet one of Reese's sisters which was nice.

The recipes were from the Hunan province (where Reese's family is from) and it was really good... a couple of pork dishes, a chicken dish, and a few vegetable dishes. Some of the dishes had a really good mushroom from Hunan province in them that Reese's mother had brought with her. They even gave me a big bag of mushrooms... I can't wait to use them.

On Friday night my internet connection went down, but I didn't mind too much. I wanted to finish one of the Flashman books I was reading and I was going to a party on Saturday night. The party was held outside of town at a place called Flower Town, where they grow all kinds of flowers which are sold all over the world. The place where the party was held use to be an old tea house, which had been renovated into a house for people to live in. There was a good crowd for the party too. There were people from China, the USA, Germany, France, and Pakistan. To eat we had BBQ sausages, beef ribs, chicken, and a bunch of different vegetables.

Cooking sausages

The house sits up on a hill and overlooks a few other houses that lead down to a river. It was really pretty at night since a lot of the houses and businesses in the area had blue lights strung up on them. Too bad this picture did not come out too clearly...

There's a river down there somewhere

Besides the food there was a lot of patio space to lounge about and chat, one area down on one of the lower patios that had a bonfire going, another patio had a tent set up with matresses that everyone referred to as the "love tent" and a hammock, and a pool table and ping pong table up on the upper patio.

One of many crazy pool games

I only knew a few people, so I spent a lot of time meeting the people I didn't know. One person ran a Turkish restaurant in town, another worked for the Pakistan embassy, another owned a consulting firm, another worked for Intel, etc, etc... A really diverse group, and a lot of fun. After midnight some of the people wanted to go out and continue the party in town, and a few girls (two from China, one from South Carolina, and one from Germany) took me out to a bar called Hemp House. I don't go out to bars much, but it was pretty hip for a Chinese bar.

Unfortunately I didn't get home until around 4:00am, and spent Sunday snoozing, doing laundry, and finishing Flashman's Lady. My internet connection came back in the evening, but I wasn't doing much online. I was suppose to go out to dinner with this girl I know, but she never called. Actually, she did call but my phone had turned itself off since I had let the battery get low. Oh well, another night this week perhaps.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008


Back in January, when I was shopping in a bookstore in Hong Kong, I found a series of books by an English author named George MacDonald Fraser. They looked like they would be interesting, but I did not buy any of them. When I returned back to China I was trying to catch up on the news and discovered that the author had just died at about the same time that I was looking at his books. That kind of stayed in my mind for quite awhile. A friend of mine from work was visiting Hong Kong a few weeks ago, and I asked him to see if he could find me any of the these books and he found two... Flashman at the Charge and Flashman's Lady.

The series of novels are what are called a historical romantic fiction and are the story of the English soldier and adventurer, Harry Flashman, and recounts his adventures throughout the British Empire during the latter half of the nineteenth century, in which he just happens to have been present at just about every single major military event in English history (and also a few American ones) at that period of time. I do not think the stories are as funny as advertised, but the attention to detail by the author of the historical events is well done and the adventures are very fascinating.

Flashman is not what most people would consider a heroic individual. Even though he is intelligent, witty, and funny; he also hates religion, is opinionated, callous, foul-mouthed, an adulterer, a racist, and a brazen coward... sort of like a Bill Clinton in Victorian times. He's much more of a scoundrel than a hero. Flashman isn't very tactful either when talking about what he thinks of non-Anglos, and I think if these books had been published today they would be very heavily edited to avoid offending some (or all) ethnic or religious groups. Although not politically correct, how Flashman talks about people is most likely historically correct.

It's not something I could read all of the time, but I think I will eventually have to find the other eight books in the series. Like it says in Fraser's obituary...

It was all rollicking nonsense; but it had a sterling quality that went to the heart of many sophisticated readers who like to relax with a rubbishy book provided it is well written rubbish.

Monday, May 05, 2008

May holiday

This last weekend was a holiday weekend. The first of May use to be called May Day, but now it's called Labor Day. Before this year the holiday was usually three days long and most people would take off seven days and work during the previous Saturday and the next Sunday, but now the holiday is just one day. We took off the following day (Friday) and worked on the following Sunday.

The reason given for the change from three days to one day was that a lot of people travelled during this time and it was a major strain on the transportation system here in China. Most people here like to travel by train, but the government (which owns the railway system here) would much rather transport coal, oil, cement, etc... than transport people. Another reason this holiday was changed was that, as China moves away from being a communist country and moves toward being a nationalist socialist country, it doesn't make sense to have such a big communist holiday.

In exchange for reducing the length of the Labor Day holiday the government has re-introduced older traditional Chinese national holidays, some of which were done away with under the old communist regime. So now we have Chinese New Year and National Day as week long holidays; and Qing Ming Festival, Labor Day, Dragon Boat Festival, and Mid-Autumn Festival as single day holidays. The fact that the new holidays probably help raise nationalistic feelings among the population was probably a consideration also.

Anyways, I had an enjoyable weekend. I spent Thursday playing on the computer, doing some reading, eating too much, laying about, and watched the 6th episode of John Adams. I also learned that Phyllis has moved back to ChengDu from Shenzhen... That made me very happy since I had not seen her since my return from Hong Kong back in January when she was in ChengDu visiting her family.

Reese came over on Friday morning to continue with my Chinese tutoring. I have been neglecting my Chinese studies, more than usual I should say. It was hard to get back into it, especially since my mind was more on lunch than on my Chinese lessons. For lunch I wanted to go visit this place called Liao's Bon Bon Chicken that is nearby my apartment. Liao's is take-out only and they had a lot more than chicken. I wanted to try a variety of things, so we ordered a chicken dish, a pork dish, a beef dish, a rabbit dish, and a tofu dish. We took it back to my apartment and tried a little bit of everything. It was pretty good! Now I have lots of good leftovers.

After lunch we went to a park called Du Fu's Thatched Cottage. You can read the description of the park and of the poet Du Fu at the link, and even see some pictures (yeah, I forgot my camera). It was a very nice park. Lots of trees, bamboo, shade, birds, some nice streams, pretty old-style buildings, etc... It was also a nice place to visit to get away from the noise and busy pace of the city. Phyllis and her sister were going to join us but her belongings, which she had shipped from Shenzhen, arrived that morning so they spent the afternoon unpacking her things.

In the evening we went to Wanda Plaza and met with Phyllis to have dinner at Papa John's. We had dinner and then walked around to look in some of the clothing stores and chatted a lot. I lost complete track of time and realized that it was after 10:00pm and too late for Reese to catch a bus home, so we found a taxi that would driver home. Since Phyllis lives close by to where I live, she and I found a taxi that would take her to her apartment and then take me to mine. A busy, but very enjoyable day.

Satruday was spent pretty much as Thursday was spent... playing on the computer, doing some reading, eating too much, and laying about being lazy. Sunday was a work day but I worked from home. It was not a very busy work day since most of my team (who are in Australia) and our customers did not work that day. After work I watched the 7th and final episode of John Adams. Good series. Today I am back at the office, but it is another holiday... Happy Cinco de Mayo! I think I'll go to Peter's Tex-Mex Grill for some enchiladas tonight.