Steve's China Blog

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Taking Chance

On the right sideboard of this blog is a link to another blog called Blackfive, which is a milblog that I've been reading for a long time. Almost 5 years ago he had added a post called Taking Chance which was an article written by a LTC Strobl of the Marines about escorting the remains of a fallen marine back to his home town. It was a pretty moving article and I still remember when I first read it all those years ago.

I now see that they have taken his experience and made a movie about it on HBO called Taking Chance. Here's the trailer...

It looks really good and I'm looking forward to seeing it some day.

Monday, February 23, 2009

A different Friday

A week or so ago I had to submit my paperwork and passport to get a new work visa. My contract at IBM got renewed as a 3 year contract, and this time I am hoping to get a 3 year visa so that I don't have to keep renewing it all the time. On Friday I got a call from the people helping me get my visa and they told me that there was not enough pages in my passport for a new visa, and that I would have to go to the US Consulate here in ChengDu to get some pages added to it.

I've never been to the US Consulate here in ChengDu (or anywhere for that matter). I was worried that it would be very crowded since usually I see a large line of people there to get visas to the US whenever I go by there, but it wasn't bad when I went... only one family in line in front of me. After checking in and then going through security (which I won't discuss) I went to the lobby/waiting area of the consulate building and after a short wait I got my passport back with pages added to it. Now I have a fat passport.

After dinner on Friday night I went out to a place called Carol's Too. Carol's is a restaurant, I guess. I've never really had anything to eat there and I've never seen anybody eat anything there except for fruit. Carol's has two floors... about half the first floor is like a restaurant with tables, and the other half is a pool table, dance floor, and bar. The second floor has tables and a few pool tables. There is also some seating outside, and a guy with a grill that can cook kabobs and such. The dance floor also has a pole near the far wall.

Anyways, I've only been to Carols a few times and it is usually very crowded or not crowded at all. I got there at about 9:00pm and there was not many people there. There was a couple on the dance floor dancing to some slow song that seemed to be playing over and over again, a few guys playing pool, and on the TV there was a sports channel showing some old Joe Louis fights from 1935 and 1936. Pretty relaxing.

At about 9:40pm or so a very pretty lady came in, got a big glass of water from the bar, and then headed up to the DJ booth on the second floor that overlooks the dance floor. She started playing some really loud hip-hop dance stuff, and I was wondering who she was playing that for. By 10:00pm though the place was packed. The DJ was very good and there was always a crowd on the dance floor. Most of the crowd were young Chinese with a smattering of Indians, Africans, Americans, and Europeans. At about 10:30pm I was going to leave, but then a friend of mine showed up and I started chatting with her and a few of her friends.

Sometime later a couple showed up and not many people paid attention to them, but I noticed them right away. The girl was wearing a large black coat and some thick glasses, and the guy was wearing what looked like a big black cloak with a hood that covered his head. I couldn't really see his face under the hood but it looked like he had some marks on his face. The guy disappeared into the bathroom and the girl went upstairs to talk to the DJ.

A little while later the girl came downstairs and took off her coat and glasses. She was a knockout! Short black dress, long black hair and long legs, and some major league stiletto heels. She went over to the dance floor and started dancing on the pole there, and then the guy came out to dance with her. After he removed his cloak we could all see he was dressed sort of like a cat... fur loincloth, silver mask, whiskers painted on his face, and not much else on. The pair did a really cool and sexy dance number at the pole on the dance floor, and everyone in the place stopped what they were doing to watch.

After the dance the couple put their coats and cloaks back on, and left. I do not know who they were... Did they work for the bar? Were they part of a dance group visiting ChengDu? Or were they just a couple who went around to night clubs doing a very cool and sexy dance routine? I have no idea. I wish I had had my camera with me.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Over the edge

When lack of morality meets bad economy...

Chinese mistress contest takes tragic turn

A married Chinese businessman who could no longer afford five mistresses held a competition to decide which one to keep.

But the contest took a fatal turn when one of the women, eliminated for her looks, drove the man and the four other competitors off a cliff, Chinese media reported.

Interesting article... Kind of tragic and funny at the same time. Read the whole thing to see how it ended.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Annual Party 2009

On Sunday afternoon we had our annual party. It was held in the California Garden Hotel which I think is in the northwest part of ChengDu. The party started off with some words from our site manager about 2008 and 2009 at IBM. Then we watched a few videos of some high-level IBM managers wishing us a happy Chinese New Years and talking about 2008 and 2009 at IBM.

After that we had a bunch of shows. The first show was of some dragon dancers. They were really good.

Dragon dancers performing

After the dragon dancers we had someone performing a mask dance. This is pretty cool if you get a chance to see it. This guy dances around and his mask keeps changing colors and patterns. I think it is done by removing one mask at a time, but you never really see it removed by a good dancer.

Mask dancer goes from green face to red face

The dragon dancers and the mask dancer were professional entertainers that we hired to start the show. The rest of the entertainment was performed by IBM employees here at the office. First up, the managers lip sync sing for us.

IBM ChengDu managers sing for us

I am not sure how many people we had a the party... somewhere between 600 and 700 people I think.

My friends Clover and Fiona

There were a large variety of shows. Some of them I am not sure what was going on, since my Chinese is still terrible.

A heavenly play

The table I sat at was down near the front of the ballroom, so I got to visit with a lot of friends.

Kitty comes by to visit before dancing

This is my 4th annual party and I'm always surprised that we have so many talented people.

Gina leads a group of beautiful dancers

We had dancers, singers, plays, contests, etc...

Posing with Tina and Bessie before their dance routine

There were routines that were ancient and many modern ones.

A cool jazzy dance routine

Some of the people performed in more than one act too.

My friend Gina who is an amazing dancer

I've always found it interesting that a lot of Chinese do not like Indian food, but a lot of the ladies like the clothes and we all like the belly-dancing.

Candy and Jessie perform a belly-dancer routine

This belly-dancing routine was kind of different in that they did not dance to traditional belly-dancing music, but tried it to a modern rock song. It worked really well.

I had to get a picture with Jessie and Candy in these outfits

There were a lot of later shows that I didn't get a chance to get pictures of, because they had started serving dinner.

Some singers from our procurement team

Besides watching all the really good shows I also got to see some friends who were in ChengDu visiting.

Pou Ping (left) and Kwai Ling (right). Pou Ping is Kwai Ling's sister and works in our office in Dalian. Both are from India, although their parents are from China

The whole party was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed myself. Altogether I think it ran more than 5 hours, but it didn't seem that long.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Stimulating quotes

"I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on the objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents."
--President James Madison

"Until the 1930s, the Constitution served as a major constraint on federal economic interventionism. The government's powers were understood to be just as the framers intended: few and explicitly enumerated in our founding document and its amendments. Search the Constitution as long as you like, and you will find no specific authority conveyed for the government to spend money on global-warming research, urban mass transit, food stamps, unemployment insurance, Medicaid, or countless other items in the stimulus package and, even without it, in the regular federal budget."
--Independent Institute senior fellow Dr. Robert Higgs

"Americans have long ago abandoned respect for the constitutional limitations placed on the federal government. Our elected representatives represent that disrespect."
--George Mason University economics professor Walter E. Williams

"[W]hat could possibly be more reckless than spending a trillion dollars you don't have on a plan that you have no evidence will work? What could be more irresponsible than doubling the generational debt for your partisan pet projects in a time of crisis? And what could be more selfish than stifling debate by deploying fear to induce voters into supporting it all?"
--columnist David Harsanyi

"Fear is the foundation of most governments; but it is so sordid and brutal a passion, and renders men in whose breasts it predominates so stupid and miserable, that Americans will not be likely to approve of any political institution which is founded on it."
--President John Adams

"President Obama has started to play the 'catastrophe' card to sell his economic stimulus plan, using [last week's] terrible January jobs report to predict doom unless Congress acts. ...[T]he tragedy of this first great effort of the Obama Presidency is what a lost opportunity it is. ... The stage was ... set for the popular President to forge a bipartisan consensus that combined ideas from both parties. A major cut in the corporate tax favored by Republicans could have been added to Democratic public works spending for a quick political triumph that might have done at least some economic good. Instead, Mr. Obama chose to let House Democrats write the bill, and they did what comes naturally: They cleaned out their intellectual cupboards and wrote a bill that is 90% social policy, and 10% economic policy. ... So there it is: Mr. Obama is now endorsing a sort of reductionist Keynesianism that argues that any government spending is an economic stimulus."
--The Wall Street Journal

"I think this is the introduction to a disaster. We're going to face a big inflation. Everybody talks about how much we need to do now. But no one talks about how we're going to unwind what we're doing now. Keynesian theory is wrong. It doesn't work."
--economist Allen Meltzer of Carnegie Mellon University

"Many actually believed Obama's own hype. This was the moment for this, that and the other thing. This was the time when we, as Americans, were going to have our cake and eat it too. Future generations were going to look back and remember how Republicans and Democrats, cats and dogs, Klingons and Romulans came together and marched to the sunny uplands of history, where shopping carts have no wobbly wheels; airplane food is free, delicious and filling; and we get all of our energy from 100 percent renewable Loch Ness Monster poop."
--National Review editor Jonah Goldberg

"I got a little muddled over two adjoining newspaper clippings -- one on the stimulus, the other on those octuplets in California -- and for a brief moment the two stories converged. Everyone's hammering that mom -- she's divorced, unemployed, living in a small house with parents who have a million bucks' worth of debt, and she's already got six kids. So she has in vitro fertilization to have eight more. But isn't that exactly what the Feds have done? Last fall, they gave birth to $850 billion of bailout they couldn't afford and didn't have enough time to keep an eye on, and now, four months later, they're going to do it all over again, but this time they want trillionuplets. Barney and Nancy represent the in vitro fertilization of the federal budget. And it's the taxpayers who'll get stuck with the diapers."
--columnist Mark Steyn

"Using long, drawn-out processes to put money into circulation to meet an emergency is like mailing a letter to the fire department to tell them that your house is on fire. If you cut taxes tomorrow, people would have more money in their next paycheck, and it would probably be spent by the time they got that paycheck, through increased credit card purchases beforehand."
--economist Thomas Sowell

It looks like more than 13,000 people were caught up in that Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme. You know what a Ponzi scheme is? That's where you throw good money after bad, or as the government calls it, a stimulus package.
--comedian Jay Leno

"On page 151 of this legislative pork-fest [the 'stimulus' bill] is one of the clandestine nuggets of social policy manipulation that are peppered throughout the bill. Section 9201 of the stimulus package establishes the 'Federal Coordinating Council for Comparative Effectiveness Research.' This body, which would be made up of federal bureaucrats will 'coordinate the conduct or support of comparative effectiveness and related health services research.' Sounds benign enough, but the man behind the Coordinating Council, Health and Human Services Secretary-designate [since withdrawn] (and tax cheat) Tom Daschle, was kind enough to explain the goal of this organization. It is to cut health care costs by preventing Americans from getting treatments that the government decides don't meet their standards for cost effectiveness. In his 2008 book on health care, he explained that such a council would, 'lower overall spending by determining which medicines, treatments and procedures are most effective-and identifying those that do not justify their high price tags.' Once a panel of government experts decides what is and what is not cost-effective by their definition, the government will stop paying for treatments, medicines, therapies or devices that fall into the latter category. ... Mind you, they are not simply looking to exclude treatments that don't work, but to exclude treatments that are effective, but whose cost, in their opinion, does not justify their use. You, the patient, and your physician don't get a vote. This would make the federal government the single most important decision-maker regarding health care for every patient in America."
--public affairs consultant Douglas O'Brien

"It is easy for the other side to advocate for higher taxes because, you know what? They don't pay them."
--House GOP Whip Eric Cantor

"Beware the greedy hand of government, thrusting itself into every corner and crevice of industry."
--revolutionary Thomas Paine

"More government spending by Hoover and Roosevelt did not pull the United States economy out of the Great Depression in the 1930s. More government spending did not solve Japan's 'lost decade' in the 1990s. As such, it is a triumph of hope over experience to believe that more government spending will help the U.S. today."
--two hundred economists in an open letter disseminated by the Cato Institute

"During his upcoming administration, Obama has promised to out-do FDR by putting an additional 2.5 million people on the federal payroll. He has also threatened -- I mean, promised -- to create some sort of civilian paramilitary group that sounds suspiciously like Hitler's brown shirts, but I could very well be mistaken. For all I know, Obama may dress them in blue."
--columnist Burt Prelustsky

"We who live in free market societies believe that growth, prosperity and ultimately human fulfillment, are created from the bottom up, not the government down. Only when the human spirit is allowed to invent and create, only when individuals are given a personal stake in deciding economic policies and benefitting from their success -- only then can societies remain economically alive, dynamic, progressive, and free."
--President Ronald Reagan

"Didn't you ever wonder if the witch doctors themselves thought dropping a virgin in the volcano would really bring good crops? I'm thinking they didn't. But it kept them in their witch-doctor jobs and gave them a few final moments in private with the virgins. And that, boys and girls, is how government works."
--columnist Randall Hoven

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Super Bowl XLIII

I woke up very early on Monday morning and headed over to Hooters. I got there at around 6:30am, and by 7:00am there were about a half dozen or so people there to watch the Super Bowl. There were only two places who were showing the game in town that morning... Hooters and the Shamrock, and since I went to the Shamrock to watch the game last year I decided to see how it would be at Hooters.

At around 7:00am the ESPN at Hooters was still showing some National Spelling Bee competition from Washington DC, so something wasn't right. A little checking revealed that the Super Bowl was being broadcast on ESPN Hong Kong, but the channel they had at Hooters was ESPN Philippines. The staff at Hooters was very disappointed, and all us customers headed over to the Shamrock. Luckily we got there and got a table before kickoff.

A couple weeks ago I was talking to one of the assistant managers at Shamrock, and mentioned that they should serve an American breakfast during the Super Bowl. Usually they serve an English (Irish?) breakfast... eggs, bacon, toast, and baked beans. She didn't know that Americans ate a different breakfast than other western countries, so I recommended steak, eggs, and hash brown potatoes. I was kind of surprised when I showed up on Monday morning and they had steak and eggs on the menu. Yum!

Early morning crowd watching the Super Bowl

Another thing that surprised me was that they had margaritas and tequila shots on the menu and there were people buying those that early in the morning. A lot of people were also drinking beer with their breakfast. Luckily (or is it unlucky?), I can not drink that early in the day. Oh well... I had to go to work in the afternoon, so beer was not a good idea anyways.

We had somewhere around 70 people there to watch the game. I am not sure if there were any Cardinals or Steelers fans there. A few people were wearing Patriots jerseys, one person had a Raiders jersey, another person had on a Packers jersey, and I was wearing a Redskins jersey, but I didn't see any Cardinals or Steelers wear. Most people seemed to be rooting for the Cardinals, since they were the underdogs. There was at least one guy there from Australia, and I think it was the first time he had ever watched American football.

Checking some game stats on their laptops?

The one thing missing was the commercials. ESPN Hong Kong only showed ESPN ads. It was a pretty exciting game though, and no one really knew who was going to win until the very end. After the game I headed back to my apartment to work the rest of the day. I wonder what the Chinese were thinking when they saw dozens of Americans walking out of a bar at 11:00am that day.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Day trip to NiuJiaoZhai

On Friday I went to a place called NiuJiaoZhai with Mario (my driver) and his wife, daughter, and niece. NiuJiaoZhai is about 60 or so kilometers outside of ChengDu and is not really a tourist spot, but it was very nice to see. To get there we had to take some narrow winding roads up into the mountains.

A view during the drive up the mountain

The town is like a small farming village and when we drove through the town it was morning, so most of the people in town were out shopping or selling food. The sidewalks are all full of vendors, so most people walked on the street, which was only a single lane wide, and it took a long time to drive through because there were so many people on the street. I wish I had used my camera to make a video of that.

The first place we went to was outside of town and has a lot of Buddhist statues and carvings. In the middle is a huge bust portrait of Buddha Maitreya, which is 15.85 meters tall and 11 meters wide.

A stairway up to the big Buddha statue

Up at the base of the statue

Symbolic burning of money for ancestors

Lighting some really big incense

All around the area there are 40 niches with more than 2000 figures. These sculptures were finished in the Tang Dynasty(AD618-907).

Buddhist carvings

Some more Buddhist carvings

When you look at the figures you will see that they were all defaced, probably during the cultural revolution.

Close up of one of the carvings that was defaced

A white jade Buddha in one of the temples on the mountain

After visiting all the Buddhist statues, carvings, and little temples we went back to town to have lunch at Mario's brother's farm. They grow pears and beans mostly, as well as some vegetables for their meals. The farm house is bigger inside then it looks, and seemed to be divided into two parts... the common area and the family area.

A view of the farm from the farmhouse roof

The common areas are on the ground floor and up on the roof, and include rooms such as the kitchen, bathroom, storage areas, a place to smoke meat, play area, etc... There was even a little area for some chickens. Most of the common area was not heated, but it was only a little chilly outside. I did not go into the family area, but it looked nice. Big living room that looked like the living room in my apartment with a big screen TV and stereo. I did not see the bedrooms.

The kitchen is built around a large wok and has a space under it for burning wood. The whole room is filled with smoke from the fire and the scents of food and spices. It smelled much better than it sounds.

Mario's wife and sister-in-law cooking lunch

For lunch we had a variety of dishes that included chicken, fish, pork, and assorted vegetables. Mario's brother brought out a bottle of Chinese champagne that I helped open. I don't usually drink champagne since it gives me a headache, but I wanted to try this. I think he got ripped off, and actually bought Sprite in a champagne bottle. I didn't tell him that though. Oh well, it was a really great meal.

Mario's niece and brother during lunch

The afternoon was spent eating, sitting around talking, setting off firecrackers, and watching the kids play. I think there was about 15 people there total. Mario's family, his father and mother, his brother and his family, as well as another group of in-laws. Later in the afternoon we headed back to ChengDu. I had a great time.