Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Birthday

Sept 25 was my birthday, and I have to confess I'm a bit of a kid about it. I like people to know it's my birthday and at the very least say "happy birthday" to me. I don't care that I'm 43, or that it may be a bit unseemly to some to be so enthralled with the day you arrived on the planet, but I think it's a lot less unseemly than those people who dread their birthdays and prefer to hide in a hole somewhere until it's past.

Initially I was going to start my big day on my own in Shanghai, but fortunately I was able to change my plans and return to Beijing on the evening of the 24th. That way, J2 was able to wish me a happy day as soon as I woke up (which he did), and I was able to milk the day for all it was worth at work. Sure enough, loads of people--including many to whom I did not send periodic reminders advising them how many shopping days were left until the 25th, sent me emails, phoned me, Skyped me or texted me, to wish me a happy birthday. I was a bit confused as to how these people knew about it, and only got an inkling as to what was going on when I saw Anne (my boss) and had her ask if enough people were wishing me well on my big day. Turns out that she sent out notes to a bunch of people asking them to wish me well on my birthday, and since she's the boss they complied. It was great!

The celebrations proper started with a great lunch with J2 and some friends from work at our favorite nearby sushi place. On the way back, one of our friends, Susie, showed us a very cool store that we had never known about before that sells very cool porcelain and ceramic wares in a huge range of interesting designs at very reasonable prices. I admired a bunch of things there, and figured I'd have to go back at some time to pick up some stuff for ourselves and as gifts.

Soon after lunch, our house guest arrived from the US, so I left work early to take her to the apartment. Before too long J2 got home, too, and we soon had to get ready to go out for our dinner plans. But first he gave me a gift--one of the bowls I had admired at that porcelain store! I really did not mean for him to get me a gift from there, but how nice of him to do so!

J2 had made reservations at W, my favorite non-Chinese restaurant in town, and invited a bunch of people from work to join us. When we got there at 7:30, no one else was there yet, but that may have been due to the paucity of cabs that evening due to the Mid-Autumn Festival celebration that was coinciding with my birthday (9/25 is often a holiday of some sort; if it's not Mid-Autumn then it's Rosh Hashana or Yom Kippur). But before long, Anne and John, Alan and Ming (the hospital's new CFO) arrived and we got down to business. Dinner was fantastic, as always, and J2 even got a cake at Tasty-Taste, the only bakery we've found in Beijing that bakes cakes comparable with what you'd expect from the west. This one was a great chocolate confection that was just the kind of cake I like (and that he hates--he does not care for dark chocolate at all), and the servers at W cut it up so that the entire thing was eaten by the 7 of us.

When we got home there were more birthday greetings waiting for me in the email inbox, and more are still trickling in (there's still time for anyone who forgot...). So this was indeed a great birthday! Thanks, everyone, for your good wishes, and to J2 for his planning and wonderful gift!!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Back in Beijing

Back in Beijing after my week in the US and once again they have dug up our street, seemingly to install some new sewage-related piping, and they have started to put up the supports on the Workers' Stadium that will hold the lights for the soccer matches of the Olympics. Autumnal weather has suddenly arrived, with the mornings and evenings pleasantly cool while midday gets pretty warm. It's also been sunny and clear most days, which is why I tell people that September and October are the best times to visit here.

We're getting geared up for a friend's visit from the US, who arrives on Tuesday just in time for my birthday celebration. Of course I'm in Shanghai yet again at the moment, and have timed my return to Beijing to coincide with her arrival so that we can drive in from the airport together. We'll see if the vagaries of air travel don't wind up making our arrivals hours apart due to some delay or another. Then we'll have a few days in Beijing before leaving for Sichuan province to spend the October 1 National Day holiday in Chengdu and Jiuzhaigou, where the promise of authentic Sichuan food and beautiful scenery await!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Surprise!

For the past few weeks, my sister, niece and I have been planning a big surprise for my mother's 80th birthday--I would fly in to the US without telling her, and show up with everyone else when they converged on her apartment to take her out for a birthday lunch. We gave consideration to whether it was a good idea to surprise an 80-year old this way, and decided that we'd hedge our bets by pre-dialing 911 so that if there was a medical emergency we'd be able to get help here that much more quickly. Fortunately, as it turned out, though she was a bit shocked initially and definitely taken aback, she did not suffer a health crisis and we were able to have a lovely lunch together.

In addition to the birthday celebration, I was also able to take advantage of being in the US to hold some business meetings in DC and NYC, and to visit our storage pods in an effort to bring some more of our possessions back to China, including Christmas ornaments. Unfortunately, the ordeal of shipping these back to Beijing was a bit too much to handle (and way too expensive) so I wound up putting the majority of them back in the pods for us to deal with later on. And that will have to come pretty soon, since it seems likely that we'll be selling our house in the Northern Virginia suburbs, since we got two contracts submitted after only one week on the market, which, considering the state of the US housing market, is nothing short of miraculous. I guess we priced too low...

During my free time on this trip I did my part to prop up the US retail economy, with the major coup being my acquisition of a new iPod Touch (basically an iPhone without the phone) 13 days before its official release! My niece and I found out that they were available--in minuscule quantities--at an Apple Store near where we were to have lunch for my mom's birthday and rushed out to get there before they sold out in a scene reminiscent of the Amazing Race, with her navigating with her GPS device (not one of her best moments, as even she would admit) and me pushing people out of our way when we finally arrived at the very crowded store. But we both emerged with one of the rare devices and fully expect shortly to become the envy of our respective towns, at least until they are upgraded and the price dropped.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

You know you've been in China too long when...

Our friend Dongmei sent this to us today, and way too many of them apply to us. Guess it's time to start thinking of where to move to next.

You know you've been in china too long when.....
1. You're at an expensive western restaurant and don't even notice the guy at the next table yelling into his cell phone
2. You enjoy karaoke
3. You walk backwards in the park listening to a transistor radio
4. The China Daily is your source for hard hitting, fast breaking, investigative journalism
5. You smoke in crowded elevators.
6. All white people look the same to you
7. You like the smell of the bus.
8. You find state-employed retail staff helpful, knowledgeable and friendly
9. You no longer need tissues to blow your nose
10. You find western toilets uncomfortable
11. You throw your used toilet paper in the basket (as a courtesy to the next person)
12. You think that the heavy air actually contains valuable nutrients that you need to stay healthy
13. You think a 30 year old woman who carries a Hello Kitty lunch box is cute
14. A sexual pervert is a man who prefers women to money.
15. It's OK to throw rubbish, including old fridges, from your 18th-floor window
16. You believe that pressing the lift button 63 times will make it move faster
17. You aren't aware that one is supposed to pay for software
18. You are not surprised to see your tap water run dark brown
19. You tell your parents their house back in your home country has bad feng shui
20. You think that a $7 shirt is a rip-off
21. You always leave tray and trash on the table when you are in Starbucks because you insisted it is the way to keep everyone employed
22. You buy an XXXL T-shirt in store when you returned home
23. You take large sum of cash whenever you go hospital in home country
24. You have no reservations about spitting sun flower seeds on the restaurant floor
25. You think it's silly to buy a new bike when it'll get stolen soon and stolen bikes are half the price.
26. You'd rather pay the 10 yuan for an all night stay at the internet cafe than the 30 for a taxi home.
27. You feel cheated if you don't receive a full head and shoulder massage when getting a haircut
28. You blow your nose or spit on the restaurant floor (of course after making a loud hocking noise)
29. You no longer wait in line, but go immediately to the head of the queue
30. It becomes exciting to see if you can get on the lift before anyone can get off
31. It is no longer surprising that the only decision made at a meeting is the time and venue for the next meeting
32. You no longer wonder how someone who earns US$ 400.00 per month can drive a Mercedes
33. You accept the fact that you have to queue to get a number for the next queue
34. You believe everything you read in the local newspaper
35. You have developed an uncontrollable urge to follow people carrying small flags
36. You regard it as part of the adventure when the waiter correctly repeats your order and the cook makes something completely different.
37. You are not surprised when three men with a ladder show up to change a light bulb
38. You look over people's shoulder to see what they are reading
39. You honk your horn at people because they are in your way as you drive down the sidewalk
40. When car accidents become a source of heartwarming humor
41. When shopping at Carrefour some laowai (foreigner) stares you down for catching you looking into his basket while you wonder to yourself what laowais eat
42. You have figured out that it is actually the Taiwanese who are running this country
43. You have a pinky fingernail an inch long
44. You burp in any situation and don't care
45. You start to watch CCTV9 and feel warm and comforted by the governments great work
46. You think Pizza Hut is high-class and worth queuing for
47. You have learnt how to detect someone is in a hurry behind you, and now have the ability to not only walk very slowly but also grow eyes in the back of your head, so when they start to overtake on the right hand side, you automatically cut in and walk very slowly directly in front of them
48. When you are able to jump the queue because the idiot laowai left 2 centimeters between themselves and the person in front of them
49. You have absolutely no sense of traffic rules
50. You start calling other foreigners "laowai”
51. You start cutting off large vehicles on your bicycle
52. The last time you visited your mother, you gave her your business card
53. You think no car is complete without a tissue box on the rear shelf and a feather duster in the trunk
54. You go to the local shop in pajamas
55. When looking out the window, you think "Wow, so many trees!" instead of "Wow, so much concrete!"
56. Pollution, what pollution?
57. You think "white pills, blue pills, and pink powder" is an adequate answer to the question "What are you giving me, doctor?"
58. Someone doesn't stare at you and you wonder why
59. Firecrackers don't wake you up
60. Your family stops asking when you'll be coming back
61. You wear out your vehicle's horn before its brakes
62. You buy a top-of-the-line karaoke machine
63. Forks feel funny
64. Chinese remakes of Western songs sound better than the originals
65. You get homesick for Chinese food when away from China
66. You realize that smiling and nodding is Chinese body language for, "Go away; leave me alone."
67. All the top-level government officials you befriended for guanxi (connections) purposes when you first arrived are retired and living in your country
68. After being in an accident, you tell the ambulance driver which hospital to take you to
69. Your company offers you a job in your native land, and includes regular "Home Leave" to China as an incentive
70. You think of "salad" as diced apples in mayonnaise
71. You don't bother to take the sticker off the lenses of your fake Ray-Bans
72. You only wear a suit when you dig ditches or do home repairs
73. Your handshake is weakening by the day
74. You compiled a 3-page list of weird English first names that Chinese people of your acquaintance have chosen for themselves.
75. Your collection of business cards has outgrown your flat
76. You and a friend get on a bus, sit at opposite ends of the bus, and continue your conversation by yelling from one end to the other
77. You cannot say a number without making the appropriate hand sign
78. You like the taste of Green Tea and Chivas
79. You start recognizing the Chinese songs on the radio and sing along to them with the taxi driver
80. You feel insulted when you enter a restaurant and only three waiters welcome you

Monday, September 10, 2007

And to think this was a centrally planned economy

For as long as we have been living in Beijing we have been watching the construction going on all around our apartment as they prepare two Olympic venues that are right at our doorstep (the Workers' Stadium will host some soccer matches, and the Workers' Gymnasium will host boxing). Among the projects that they have done was to widen and repave the road behind our apartment, including putting in lovely new sidewalks, while on the other side of us they finished a new office building and put in relatively nice pavers and landscaping along the sidewalk. We were really impressed with the work, but then all of a sudden this past weekend they started to tear it all up so that they could put a very unattractive pipe under the new sidewalk. Then they appeared to reconsider this move, deciding instead to leave the pipe above ground for the most part, and only burying it under the road so that cars can get by. I hope that they plan to remove this pipe eventually, since it's quite an eyesore, but cannot understand why they did not do this before they put in the new sidewalks!

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Blog Day 2007

Blog Day 2007

Who knew that there is actually a thing called Blog Day?? Well, I sure didn't, but since it's apparently August 31 (which sort of looks like the word "blog" when written out as 3108) I guess I should mark the occasion with a post, even if there is not much to write.

Our second year in Beijing started much like the first--with us getting into the apartment and running out of electricity. This time, though, we saw that there were only 7 units of juice left on our account when we got in from dinner, where we celebrated my getting a 21% raise, whereas last year we just lost power in the middle of the night for no apparent reason. Now that I know that we have to pre-pay our electric bill at our property management office, I ran over there, hoping they'd still be open at nearly 8pm so that we could put our a/c on and all that without worry. Sure enough, they were open and we were able to sleep in comfort.

On the work front, things are very active. We have just brought on a bunch of new people, including a new CFO, a new GM for our Shanghai offices, and a couple of new doctors. Dental is planning to expand into the Beijing suburbs, and J2 is working on the design of the space, which means he's also contending with the government, who have all sorts of weird ideas about what features a dental office must have, like windows and an emergency door (neither of which this space we're looking at has). We have a possible space in Pudong (Shanghai) for our new clinic there, and are starting work on building out our clinic in Guangzhou.

Since it's been ages since our last holiday (over a week already!), we have started to make plans for our trip over the October National Holiday with a friend visiting from the US. We're going to fly out to Chengdu (Sichuan's capital) for a few days there, and then continue to the resort of Jiuzhaigou in the north of the province. I've always wanted to go there, since it's got Tibetan villages nestled among reportedly beautiful natural scenery. Probably will be packed with people, but the more the merrier.

That does it for my Blog Day post. Hope you have a good Blog Day, and a good Labor Day (for those of you in the US), too!