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.

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.