Thursday, June 07, 2007

Have bicycle, will travel

Okay, so you know how it is, right? You know you've been doing something alot, but you didn't know just how much.

For example maybe you know you were putting on weight, but didn't realize it was that much weight. Or you know you repeat your stories, but didn't realize how much till everyone in the room starting telling it word for word with you. Know what I'm talking about?

So I knew that ever since I got my bicycle I've been doing alot of traveling around. When it is always ATLEAST half the time of going somewhere on the bus, why wouldn't you go by bicycle? Well I picked up a fancy new speedometer for it which just seemed like fun at the time. No, it isn't actually a practical expense. Yes, for the same price I could have bought 25 bowls of fried rice with potato & green pepper. Such is China. But it's pretty cool! Keeps track of how far, how long it took, how fast I'm currently going, and best of all what time is it.

Curious how many kilometers I cycle in a week? Take a look!

For all of you good friends in the States who do not understand kilometers, that is 71.2 miles. I knew I was traveling alot every week, but this? I may not be as fast as I was over ten years ago as a teenager, but I can cover more distance. Now if only I was losing a few kg's as a result of the exercise....

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Chengjiang Lake

Yeah. I'm still alive. :)

It's been quite awhile since the last post. There's a principle that you may have heard "With great power comes great responsibility". Well there's one that's alot like it, having to do with the amount of work you're given being proportional to the amount of skills you have....

Yeah. I've been studying alot and spending way too much time helping out with technical computer issues.

Anyway, on to Chengjiang Lake! A little while back I went for a trip to Chengjiang. To be honest I wasn't especially impressed with the place - small, rural, not much flavor to it in my opinion. But the lake! Oh the Lake! Looks pretty good, doesn't it? :)

Maybe next year I can find a way to go out sailing for a bit. I gotta say, I am kinda hooked on sepia tone shots. What do you think?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

You're Eating Like a Thief!

Have you ever been accused of eating like a thief? Madness you say? Maybe not!

A friend here just told me about this experience. Eating here is different from what those in the States would expect. I can safely say that most Americans would be somewhat offended and find the nationals here rude. Why? Well, generally speaking, everyone here likes to eat with their mouths open. You can here the sound of the food being chewed up. You may well be able to SEE it being chewed up. Westerners, you're probably thinking how disgusting and uncultured this is, right?

This is what a national actually said to this friend of mine at one time. She's North American and she's used to how people eat here. It doesn't bother her. But she eats as a westerner would - mouth closed and quietly. This is what was said: "You eat like you've just stolen the food!". That's right! This is west meets east friends!

You see, eating loudly shows your appreciation of the food! Lot's of "mmm!" sounds help as well. By eating quietly we make it seem as if we don't want anyone to know we are eating, as if we are hiding something. It's like we've stolen the food and don't want to get caught. Interesting, eh?

So next time you're eating with some friends in China, atleast try and make a little noise to show your appreciation of the food, okay? :)

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Sun Tzu on the Art of Getting Things Done

Yesterday I embarked on a true adventure - I tried to get Chinese Drivers License! Rumors abound that the license is available for either life, or for 6 years. Right now I have no need of a license, but perhaps in a few years time I'll want one.....? Seemed like a good idea!

First I had to run around for preparation work - where would I be without friends who know things? First of all you have to bring your stamped paper showing that you've registered with the police. That was a problem for me, since I hadn't registered! A short bike ride and 20 minutes of explaining the visa's and stamps later and I was on my way home with said paper. Pretty painless all things considered.

Next you have to have a paper showing the translation of your license, officially stamped of course. A friend took care of this for me, driving out to the appropiate government office and getting the precious red stamp on the paper.

So far so good! :)

Then the challenge came - going to the 'DMV' equivilent here in Kunming. The place is huge! The main building has 6 floors, huge open halls, and very little activity going on. First of all we were told that we had to have medical exams - oops, didn't prepare any of that. So off to another building, ¥12 each. They had hospital beds with stands for IV's...A bit much for the DMV isn't it? We played the usual game of 'which direction is the W facing?' and proved our prowess at finding the numbers in the green and red dots. A+ all around! One more paper, one more official red stamp.

Finally we are allowed to take an application! But, and this part really tickles me, you are not allowed to apply without using a Chinese name as well! Choosing your Chinese name is very important so I haven't taken one yet - till I can wisely choose a good one. Well, I had to have one made up on the spot. I guess it means Blessing to Family. I wouldn't really know, the main emphasis of my study is still on spoken Mandarin at this point.

At the next station they insisted that I sign the form with my Chinese name. No, my friend who actually reads and writes Mandarin couldn't do it for me. I laughed, made it clear that I didn't know how, but they insisted. So I tried to write it and it predictably came out abysmal. They were so horrified with how bad it was that they wouldn't accept it! I was shown a few times how to write it and was given another application to sign! :) As if I could suddenly write better by being shown twice.... Well the second time was sufficent apparently.

Okay, so after all of that I thought the hard stuff was through, right? I've paid more money, gotten more papers with official red stamps, I should be near the end!

Next came the actual written exam - in another building, up on the 5th floor. It seemed pretty promising, the people working there did speak a few words of English. The test's were done on computer and they had it in English. Questions were either multiple guess "A, B, or C" or else true false. How bad could it be, right?

45 Minute limit. 100 Questions. I flunked BIG TIME. I've only been driving for 14 years after all. You must get 90 or better correct to pass. I got a 78. Our driving exam in the states has to do with driving. The one here touches on driving but by no means stays there. Depending on your viewpoint it is either more comprehensive or else quite irrelevant.

Some questions were okay. But there were a bunch more culture based, like "You are driving and want to throw away the paper. Do you.... A: Throw it out the window. B: Put it in the dust bin that is in every vehicle. C: Wait till there is no one around and then throw it out the window.
Someone else had a question like that, but about spitting... Hmm, okay. Then there were about 10 questions that I would expect my auto mechanic to know, such as 'The Transmission system consists of....:', or 'At slow speeds the light passenger vehicle seems to be shifting to the side. What is the cause?'. Keep reading, we're not done yet! There were a few EMT type questions, how to give CPR, etc... My favorite though was one of the many that I just couldn't figure out what it meant - the translation was greatly lacking. "The Accident is injury 4 limbs. You should put the ligation to the near side." True or False? What the heck does that mean? Alot of times I can take educated guesses, but this?

Yeah, so I bombed test. No license. You are however allowed a free re-test, so I'll probably go in on monday. The lady nicely said I could study the book to better prepare. But when I asked if there was a book in English the answer was no...............

Sun Tzu was brilliant. Do you think he could have found a way to get a license? And what would his advice have been?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Yunnan - Cloud South

Well I have some good news! The one relative had a heart attack and wasn't expected to around for more than a couple of days, but subsequent news came that it was a minor heart attack, not major. My Aunt's funeral was last weekend. I haven't heard any news however. She was quite the Aunt and I'll remember her well.

Okay, time to get back into the swing of things once again. I still have a few 'gems' from the Thailand trip! One thing that captured my attention was this sign... This 'place of business' was across the street from the hotel I stayed in for a few days. What do you think?

So if I understand correctly, they advertise drug addiction therapy and methadone detox, but they also provide various drugs including meths? Are they trying to ween people off the drugs, or is their 'therapy' accomplished by using drugs? For a price comparison I think that they are selling the methadone for US$10. Now I lived in a place in New York where we had a guy going door to door selling pot, so this doesn't shock me overly, but it does seem strange to not only advertise on a shop front, but to advertise next to services for detox.... Who knows? It's a strange world.

And in lighter news - in the last month we've had a total of two cloudy days and absolutely no rain. I really really like Kunming!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Just a sec...

As seems so often the case, I start withe rather noble intentions but things wander off track. To put it another way - I've been known to bite off more than I can chew. Or be overly optimistic about what can be done in a certain amount of time...

It's been a long stretch without any news! And it will be a little bit longer I'm afraid. Work is swamping me and there's just been a death in the family, followed by another who is not likely to be around more than a few days. It's a rough week. The storm will pass, but it will take a bit more time.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Have you been to Laos?

Let's start by making one thing very clear. This American body does not fit well in Chinese sleeper buses. I think it's great that there are sleeper buses! I don't recall seeing on in the states, ever. But I don't fit. While not tall, my shoulders are a bit broad...and cannot possibly fit in the metal railings without some serious surgery. So after 12 hours on an overnight bus to Laos, I was feeling pretty stiff and tired.
(Major road in Laos)

Will you please raise your hand if you've been to Laos? Better yet, leave a comment - I can't see your hands... :)

Welcome to a different pace of life! I admit Kunming is already pretty relaxed, but Laos seems quite sedate. I was passing through, on my way to Thailand. I REALLY enjoy seeing new places! Laos has a jungle/hills feel to it. There doesn't seem to be any hurrying going on by anyone. Huts and houses are generally spread out and form small villages. Beautiful in it's way, although those unused to quiet might feel a bit disturbed by the lack of action.. I saw alot of young people and I got a strong impression of just taking life as it comes to them. Why worry about tomorrow? What will be, will be. Perhaps this is the influence of Buddhism? I sensed that the people believed themselves to be in a stream (of time or life) and they were content to go where the current took them. Well, enough about that.

(Typical home I saw)

What I would like to know is: what's with all the foreigners? I saw atleast a few dozen during my day and a half of travel. What are they all doing there? Did each one take a wrong turn somewhere? I teamed up with an Israeli who was travelling in the same direction as I. He was studying sports medicine in Thailand and was making a visa trip to Laos - and why not do a tour while he was there? Interesting place, I might go through again next year..or maybe Burma? Time will tell.

(Israeli guy I met)

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Tigers and Bears and Grasshoppers?, oh no!

Hi! Part of the reason I've been absent from the blog for the past month is that I had a business trip in Thailand. The conference itself was for a week (and exhuasting, but that's another story)... but I tend to crave a bit of adventure in my life. So I decided to travel by land to get there! Maybe I'll tell ya some stories later about that.....But now onto the grasshoppers!

No sense in waffling about things, let me tell it straight. People eat some stuff in Asia that most of us in the west would consider pretty weird. Most of ya from my home town would say disgusting. Well, I like to try new things, so.... Please pass the grasshopper!

(crunch, crunch, anyone got some chai to go with this?)

Okay, the picture quality is pretty bad....So let's look at the before shot:

How did it taste? Kinda crispy! The smaller ones were okay, but the big ol' man eating size was a bit much for me.... What's the overall verdict? Well, I think I can say in all honesty that it's not going to become a favorite snack for me... :)

And no, I didn't try the silk worms that you see next to the grasshoppers. You've got to draw the line somewhere, right?

Monday, February 19, 2007

Happy New Year (again)

Xin Nian Kuai Le! That's right, for us foreigners in China we are privileged to be able to celebrate two New Years!! Here we observe the Lunar New Year! :)

And let me tell you something.... Although it's a little bit of comparing pears and apples, I've got to say that even New York City would have trouble comparing with what goes on here for New Years. Fireworks GALORE! Yep, seeming unending amounts of exploding loud colorful pyrotechnics - it is not just a site to be seen, it is a complete experience. They've been going on for quite awhile already, but it began to culminate at 11:45pm - the noise and colors became constant with no breaks in between. This went on for about 45 minutes, dying down only by small amounts thereafter.

It sounded like a warzone. Really. I'm not the expert that Scott is (buddy of mine in the military) but I've experienced a bit when I was involved in humanitarian work in Kosovo a couple of months after the war was 'officially' over. The second night there a bomber blew up a shop down the block from where I was staying. Things that sounded like gunfire were just that - gunfire. For New Years Y2k, gunfire errupted everywhere and the power went off. A bunch of years later I visited some friends in Pakistan. Atleast it was Pakistan on the Pakistani maps....yeah, I was in Kashmir. Every day you could hear the artillery booming from over the mountain...

Where was I?

Oh yes, so it really did sound alot like a warzone. Different rhythm to the 'gunfire', and it was missing the faint 'zing' that the barrel makes, but all in all pretty close. And I've got a confession to make. It makes me really nervous and anxious. I associate sounds like those with guns being fired at people, not celebration. I think I slept between about 2am and 6am when it died down. But at 6am people were up and going again! :) Should go on for about a week or so.

I haven't posted for a week because I made a trip to Thailand - by land! It was great and I've got alot of photos to share too. Look for much more coming SOON!

Let me offer you a photo I took here in Kunming as a peace offering......:

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Adventures in Technology - building a computer in Kunming

So here's the deal. :)

Part of
my work is dealing with video & photo/design stuff. Over the course of the last two and a half weeks I've built myself a decent desktop system. Video and Photo are especially demanding so I couldn't just get a Dell system or some such.

Armed with a sense of humor (thank God) and a page with some computer components translated into pinyin and english, I ventured into the sprawling technology area surrounding the minority school! I'll spare you the details, rest assured I bought components from over half a dozen shops and made alot of funny faces and noises in my quest to communicate. Good fun!

What really struck me the most was when I was hunting for a nice big LCD screen...! I saw a couple of screens that I was interested in, and asked some prices.... Then I saw this massive screen! Maybe 21"! Way out of my price range I already knew, but I had to ask anyway.. The lady happily told me the price and talked about the features (look! Laowai! He might actually buy this expensive thing!). Okay, I only understood the price, but I managed to look smart and nod at the appropriate times.
And then she showed me the fancy tea set in a nice gift box that went along with it! What? While perfectly natural here, to the mind of the average guy from New York it seems odd, perhaps even absurd, to bundle a tea-set with a lcd screen! The confusion crossed my face but I tried to quickly replace it with an expression of appreciation for the quality of the tea set.

While I find many things here surprising, and often confounding, I have to make a confession.

I usually like it.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Taiwan, Internet, & my apartment

What happened to Richard?
Well, it all started with an earthquake. If you're reading this from inside the U.S., you might not have even heard about it. Taiwan had a pretty big earthquake and one of the results is that most of the underwater internet cables were severely damaged. These cables form the main link from Asia to the U.S..... To make the story short, I (and many others) are now having trouble accessing anything, email and blogger included. Could be worse - I could have been living in Taiwan and had my home & everything I own destroyed!

... One strange thing however. My internet is ADSL through China Telecom (the largest provider). All others here with that same service seem to be sharing the problem of internet connectivity. A friend nearby has broadband service through China Unicom. His service didn't get worse with the there a method to this madness?

Here's the first few long-overdue photo's of my apartment. Two from when I was first moving in, and one taken from the balcony a couple of days ago. When things get cleaned up I might post a couple of the place with furniture in it. :)

(Living Room - it's Huge!)

(My really small kitchen)

(View from my balcony)