Saturday, January 29

Weird

I went to see True Grit tonight.

Sat next to me were 2 nerdy college kids, who spoke very loudly. I told them to be quiet. They apologized profusely, and began to text instead.

The weird part is they shared a 32oz soda, and each time it was their turn to drink, they pulled the straw out, flipped it over, stuck it back in and slurped away.

I get the not wanting to share each other's lurgy, but why stick it into the drink instead?

Freaks.

Movie was OK.

Thursday, January 27

Snow

18 months in, and the only problem we have with our house is one of location.

Being next door to a government building means that the snow ploughs wake us up at 3am.

Luckily for me, I'm still jet-lagged. I hit the wall at 8pm, and go into an instant snooze. So when the ploughs start their scrape concerto I'm ready for my first cup of coffee.

I was out with the shovel at 4.30 this morning. The only 2 other guys on the street had snow blowers. Pussies!

A little later I was on the road heading for work. The guy was ploughing as I hit the parking lot at 6am.

2 hours later and another guy just got in. Man up folks, and get your asses into work!

Monday, January 24

WT(-5)F

Welcome home.

It was -5°F today. Man that's cold, so there's no better day to realize you have a 3/4" inch bolt and washer stuck in your tire. Or tyre. It doesn't matter how you spell it, cos' it still sucks.

I rattled into the Audi garage and left with a Toyota Camry.

5 hours later the Audi guy called. I need a new tire, but the 'technician' suggests I get 4 new ones, so that they are all equal in their tread. Luckily for me they are doing a special so I only get raped for $675. Oh, don't forget the alignment charge.

Anne tells me they then try to get you with the tire disposal charge. I'm going to ask for all 4 tires back. I'm not some kind of South African necklacing gangster, I just have a lot of space in my house to store shit I don't need.

Sunday, January 23

The fortunate few

Once again I was lucky enough to fly home in Business Class, and the Shenzhen Business Lounge was a wicker delight.


Here's my morning snack of peanuts, instant coffee, some type of dried pea, a finger sized banana bread, and a moist towelette.

Who's the man? That would be me.

Missing from the lounge was a bathroom, so I made my way to the gate looking for a toilet along the way.

It's not the smartest thing to photograph a public restroom in China (anywhere for that matter), but holy shit if this isn't the worst translation for a handicap stall I ever saw.



A random surprise of this trip is seeing the Chinese eat rice and noodles for breakfast. I wasn't expecting them to break out the Pop Tarts each morning, but it's hard to eat shrimp and fish with noodles for your first meal of the day. That said, that's what I ate flying to Shanghai.

At Shanghai we walked down the steps from the plane and the Business Class passengers were ushered onto a luxury minibus with leather seats. Meanwhile the remaining passengers were herded onto a standing only coach. Our driver then headed for the terminal, but prudently stopped along the way to let 5 passenger jets have the right of way. The economy coach driver did not, instead he edged in front of a Korean Air jumbo jet with about 20 feet to spare.



Customs in and out of China has been a breeze. I was there for work, but it was easier to fly in and out on a leisure visa.

On the NYC flight I managed 10 hours of sleep. Just as well as the food was poor, and the service worse. Although I did get to wear the China Eastern slippers again. US Customs was it's usual clusterfuck of poorly bolted together procedures, and I'm part ashamed, part celebratory of the fact that I had Wendy's when I hit the Delta terminal.

And finally home, where a smiling Anne was waiting for me at Logan. Sure my car needed gas, oil and tire pressure, but otherwise she kept it in good order while I was away.

The house is littered with luggage labels, trinkets, gifts and memories of the trip, but I'm just glad to be back with Anne, and to sleep in my own bed tonight.

再见 (Goodbye)



I'm guessing it is a Chinese custom to give fruit as a parting gift, but I swear I did not style said fruit into this phallic arrangement

A great 9 days have whizzed by, and last night I prepared for the trip home by planning my sleep schedule to avoid jetlag.

My plans for sleep deprivation were helped when the hotel room doorbell kicked in at 12.20am. Maybe this has never happened to you in a Chinese hotel, but let me tell you when a guy is repeatedly knocking at the door and speaking loudly in Chinese you worry a little.

I began to scramble to find something to wear. I discounted the Sheraton robe. Even a slender Asian lady would find it a touch revealing.

I also didn't want to throw on the clothes I'd arranged to wear on the flight home. It's bad enough wearing the same shit for 36 hours with a shower in the morning. So I began to search through my packed bag, all the time trying to vocally placate the guy repeatedly ringing and banging on the door.

Once dressed I suddenly turned into Jason Bourne, and approached the door in a serpentine fashion in case the Chinese guy was an assassin with a gun aimed through the peephole.

He wasn't.

He was a concierge trying to deliver slippers to the wrong room. Twat supreme.

It's bad enough that the remaining few hours were spent in and out of sleep, dreaming of the Chinese cabaret singers from earlier, but in the morning as I prepped my bag for the homeward journey I stripped away the tags from the flight over.

Now I have the tepid Paula Abdul 90s hit "Rush Rush" floating through my brain.

该死 (damn)

Saturday, January 22

Borderline

First up, I have no idea what happened to Floor 25.

My biggest gripe of this whole trip is the elevator protocol of the Chinese.

1. When the door opens they barge in regardless of anyone exiting.

2. A retarded cousin of #1. - They do not queue, stand in line, wait their turn. It's a fucking free for all.

3. And this is the worst part for me. Every time the door opens to let someone out, they hit the 'close door' button like a clueless triple-clicking fuck hitting a computer mouse when the internet is down.

It takes less than half a second for the door to close on its own timer, but these impatient fuckers are hitting the button ... on both sides of the door ... like they're in the final of an Olympic sprint.

Also, the chime that plays is identical to the first 3 notes of Borderline by Madonna. Thanks for ruining that song Chinese Elevator Guys.

Friday, January 21

It's time for home when ...

You're pondering another beer to watch Chinese girls in cocktail dresses do covers of second rate soul songs.

This was 'Ladies Night', where the fairer sex got free drinks, and the gents have a chance of winning 'Best Dressed' male.

Considering I was wearing the same jacket I'd worn for the past 8 days, covered in convention center dust, and god knows whatever stink I'd accumulated on the plane, hotel and city, I didn't fancy my chances.


Thursday, January 20

The gift of giving

Walking around the insanely expensive Coco Park Shopping and Leisure Complex today I stumbled across a few things that were both cheap and small enough to bring home as souvenirs.


Flot Water Bag
It's only a junior sized Hot Water Bottle to keep my darling wife's feet warm in the winter months.

Panda Tissues
I think humans may use them. I'll return them if not.

Wednesday, January 19

The Chinese Moira Stuart

Here's Chinese TV reporting on the failed missile test in Taiwan.

Meanwhile they reported that "It was all going well" with the Chinese Premier's visit to the US.

Over to Alan at the sports desk ...

Ratte?

Walking home tonight I passed a Chinese Dunkin' Donuts. Good to see the American capitalist machine trampling over this under-developed minnow of a nation.



I also bought 2 brands of coffee from the supermarket yesterday.

Coffee for Men, and Coffee for Lady. Cannot wait to try both when I get home. I don't think that makes me bi-curious, just a sucker for low-grade instant grains imitating the flavor of coffee.

This was my 4th trip to the supermarket, and I finally succumbed (shouldn't that be succame?) to buying one of those reusable plastic shopping bags.

I'm giddy at the thought of being a grand wizard of twattery back home in my local pinko-communist Whole Foods when I use my environmentally friendly Chinese bag.

I also had to go into a Starbucks to see how depressingly identical it was to the 23 branches I have within a 2 mile radius of my home.

It was.

And virtually the same menu too ... they're running a seasonal hard-shell turtle mocha, and a chicken-beak-o-chino.

Some husbands buy their wives diamonds and pearls. I purchase fruit related vac-pack products. Otherwise I'm really struggling to find a gift for Anne. Granted I could buy one of everything, but that's the point ... everything is the same in it's unusualness. Even the products are communist ....

Finally, I know this is a shit photo, but I saw this man on a bicycle with a mattress strapped to his back. Either that or it was a guerilla marketing campaign for toast.

Tuesday, January 18

The Bathroom Oddity

In the restroom of the convention center (where I am working) there's a sign that appears to be saying "Shit here".



Meanwhile, the toilet paper is on the outside of the stall.

Inside the stalls ... on one side of the room ... are fancy toilets with a film seat cover that replaces itself each flush.

On the other side ... is a big old hole in the ground. "Bombs away" is the phrase that springs to mind.

I guess the shitting connoisseur will want to try both sides, or maybe the part-time shitter likes to keep it fresh by switching every other dump.

Monday, January 17

Eat, work, sleep

Yesterday I excitedly anticipated eating lunch with the Chinese photographers. But when it came, it was simple rice and shredded pork. Spurred on by my sudden cavalier attitude to cuisine, last night we went to a Chinese BBQ place with all kinds of meat cuts, served up with cabbage, garlic, peppers and food of indeterminate origin.

And it was fine! Admittedly I washed it down with a gallon of Chinese beer.



Earlier I re-visited the supermarket and saw the whole flattened ducks that had been dried out and turned into some kind of monster jerky.

It's cold as hell in the convention center, so I also slipped into Zara for an over-priced scarf*. Even halfway around the world I was stuck behind a woman doing an exchange and trying to cash in some crazy-assed coupon.

The scarf didn't cut it, so today I bought a zippered hoodie**. Post purchase, I put it on and zipped up. The zip broke. I didn't keep the receipt, so I guess there will be no return.

* Post trip I threw away the scarf.
** I still have the hoodie. Anne wears it as a house coat. Hobo chic.

I've been humming hits of the 80's for the past few days, and finally realized why. The hotel quietly streams pop musiic throughout the corridors and restaurants. Mixed in with the light originals are Chinese covers. My favorite so far is a helium voiced girl singing a cover of the obscure Cyndi Lauper song, Unconditional Love, replete with the 'L' sounds turned to 'R' sounds.

More mysteriously, the whole floor of my hotel smells of Chinese food. There is no restaurant within 18 floors of where I am. Odd.

As I arranged my bag on the bed this morning, my shoed feet must have slid under the bed. As I moved away, a spent condom wrapper was stuck to my shoe. Gross.

In more rubber related news, at the store today I noticed a brand humorously titled jissbon.

I'm loving China, and the people. I'm in the Economic Zone, so I'm not the first Westerner they've seen. But I've received way more smiles than I would have expected. My gripes are mostly the usual superficial crap that blights my American life too.

My work is introducing me to US brokers, who work with Chinese factories to produce Christmas tat. And it makes for interesting people watching. For every 'absorbed in the culture' guy, there are five 'I'm going to talk in a slow condescending tone' guys. Each day, half of them get Starbucks and McDonalds, the other half try the noodle bowls, but on the side of the office area is a big crate of Pringles (taste different) and Oreos (taste the same) that is quickly disappearing.

Dozens of Chinese helpers are all over the center, fluffing up fake Christmas trees, constructing yard decor, and polishing tree ornaments. Whole trucks of product come in and out every hour, and nobody seems to get frustrated, raise their voice or cause a scene.

The guard checks my pass every time I go to the bathroom. And smiles when I return. I have a bathroom story for another time ...

Sunday, January 16

Going Dark

No Facebook, no Blogger, no Google Docs. 

Shit, what will I do with no Social Networking, or on-line spreadsheets? 

I am an almost literal facsimile of Jack Bauer in 24, when he was incarcerated in China. Or maybe Rick Rubin ... he's a few lbs heavier.



Luckily for me I have a mole with an Enigma machine in the form of Anne and her e-mail.

I've run out of 24 comparisons.

Sunday morning I ate at the hotel buffet. A definite combo of Anglo delights like Eggs Benedict and Hash Browns coupled with a noodle bar and dim sum.

I could hear the words of Anthony Bourdain in my head, reminding me that a Chinese line cook knows shit about how to make a Chicken Caesars Salad but everything about how to cook Chicken feet.

I compromised and ate a little of each cuisine.

Work was ... work. Although in our walled off private area we missed the 'Starbucks and pizza run' that all of the other American attendees seemed to be included in. And an hour later we also missed the 'chopsticks and chow mien run' that the Chinese help managed to organize.

Instead we ate our humble rations of cashew nuts and drank water.

Tonight I skipped dinner and went shopping at the local supermarket. Wow!!!

What a fresh produce/meat/fish dept they had. Old ladies spend an age picking out individual grains of rice and pistachio nuts, while the young ones do the same with a pick 'n' mix candy selection that would have put Woolworths to shame.

They had proteins I've never seen. Christ knows what it was, but with Chinese New Year approaching this stuff was flying* off the shelves. * Not literally.

I was looking for deodorant. Couldn't find any. They had 60 shampoos and soaps, shaving gels and creams, toothpaste, douches, tampons and all the other shit from that aisle, but no underarm action.

Check-out was fun. They charge for plastic bags just like some of the more progressive Western retailers. Also marks the first time I've seen Chinese people stand in line without pushing in.

I walked around and found a 'Watsons', which is like a Boots in the UK, or the personal hygiene department of a CVS in the US. I snagged my deodorant and went to pay. Just like every poorly written sitcom of my childhood, the counter where you pay is full of condoms and nervous teenagers summing up the courage to make a purchase. One of these spotty fuckers pushed in front of me, nice to see order restored.

Next door to Watsons is a jewelry store called Chow Tai Fook. I took a blurry photo of it. Why? Because I am immature, yet too cowardly to stand still when I'm photographing a homophone of the word fuck. Google homophone, it is not a gay mobile. While you have the search engine going check out Chow Tai Fook, they have decently priced jewelry.



Back at the hotel some kind of corporate event meant the place was full of young Chinese women in red ball-gowns with white shrugs, and Mary-Janes. The men in the lobby were all talking to each other with a hand cupped over their mouth. Either bad breath or filthy talk. Probably both.

My supermarket dinner was bread and Chinese cheese, nuts of undetermined origin, a Tsingtao and ... some Cadbury's Chocolate. 

I'll go balls to the wall with the Chinese food later in the week.

And so pre-dawn Monday morning for me equals Sunday afternoon for my darling Anne back home. We just Facetimed. Awesome to see her cooking in our kitchen with her apron on, while in the background I could hear the Bears beat the Seahawks! 

I miss her.

And as handy as he was with the computer, Jack Bauer never Facetimed anyone.

Saturday, January 15

Day One

I woke to a gray polluted Shenzhen.



After breakfast served by Hanna, named after the Montana character, I grabbed my laptop and headed for the convention center.

My first daytime view of China. There appears to be state officials dotted everywhere, but they are all very welcoming.

Arriving at the huge convention center where I'll be spending the next 8 working days, I'm greeted by a scene of hundreds of Christmas artifacts.

I don't usually include work specifics, but I'm here to collect information for a Christmas 2011 design project. We'd asked the client to provide some space for us, and lo and behold in this cavernous space they had walled off a 30x30 feet space replete with curtain. Our space is filled with 2 small desks, 4 chairs, and 2 of the most dangerous looking electric sockets you ever saw. Speaking of Saw (nice segue Richard!), the concrete floor looks like it was lifted from the torture movie of the same name.

And then we sat. Truth be told we expected the first day to be slow. During the day I met an American photographer who lives out here, and his Chinese assistant Mr Li. Nice guys. Told him I might need a photocopier. He said, "I'll go buy one for $100, back in 15 minutes."

At lunch I walked back to the hotel to check on my luggage. Still no news, so I walked over to the mall to scope out possible Chinese fashions!

Inside, much to my equal delight and sadness were a Zara, Boss and Gap. There was also a beauty pageant going on.


Back to work, and the afternoon picked up. Finally I feel like my work has begun. The next 7 days will be busy. Here's a scene of the floor filling up with all that stuff people of questionable taste fill their yards with.



After work I walked back, through the Middle Eastern street-food vendors (a surprise), and the busy Chinese professionals going home to the multitude of high rise buildings.

Yay. My bags arrived. Big tip for Nu Lo the concierge. A shower and shave, and finally some fresh clean clothes.

Also on this trip, are my business partner Maria and her husband and son - who are helping us with the admin (and muscle) required of this project. During work, they refer to each other by their names. No mom, or darling. But tonight we gave Maria's son Nick the choice of where we go for dinner. After 3 days of Hong Kong delicacies he chose ... The Spaghetti House.

Wasn't the worst Italian food I ever ate.

Also randomly started talking to a Chinese kid on the next table who works for Mophie the iPhone/pod accessory manufacturer.

And that was my first full day in China, which was followed by 9 hours of deep soothing sleep, despite the presence of this Girl with the Pearl Earring print casting her beady eye over me in the corner of the room.

She reminds me of the time Anne and I went to the Liguria Coast in Italy. We booked through the left-leaning Guardian newspaper, but the tour was full of Telegraph reading right-wing posh English people who painstakingly shoehorned Vermeer into every conversation.

Buttholes.

Friday, January 14

I don't speak Chinese

The few times I've been lucky enough to travel in "non-economy", the one constant is how quieter it is in business class.

As I boarded the plane, I noticed mostly older Chinese business men, and the softly spoken requests of the female flight attendants. The business men seemed to communicate in nods, grunts and the odd hand gesture.

But a young Asian woman behind me, spoke in English and Chinese. She was trying to explain she had purchased two business class seats. One for her 85lb ultra tiny self and the other for her 70lb cello and hard case. An Asian cello player, who ever heard of that?

And then another young Chinese woman sat next to me. The flight attendant, having previously switched to English to ask if I wanted to hang my jacket, switched back to her native language, upon noticing the Chinese woman sat next to me.

"I don't speak Chinese", was the reply from my seat neighbor. I quickly realized I had an over-demanding self-entitled American bitch next to me who just happened to be of Chinese origin, but could not speak a single lick of her mother tongue.

As she unpacked the über-expensive items from her grossly expensive carry on, she talked on the phone, and began to complain that the business section was fairly empty ... but she had to sit next to someone else.

"Why can't they separate us all and give us two seats?", she said, oblivious to the fact this made me feel like a registered sex offender.

And so the merry seat dance began. Our section was a two-two-two, and first up she decided to move one row ahead. At this point another passenger said she already had dibs on that seat.

Huffing and puffing the bitch-du-jour then schlepped her stuff up to the front of the section. Only to be told that this was for crew. Then she headed for the back, only to be told to return to her original seat.

She began to lie.

Your colleague told me to come here, I'm just trying to find a double seat and you keep sending me all over the cabin. She then started to cry fake tears. Poor thing ... The seats are only 50" wide with about 6 feet of clearance in front of them. Of course you need two.

Every time a cabin crew spoke to her they began in Chinese, only to get the "I don't speak Chinese" refrain.

By now the quiet zone was full of quickly walking flight attendants all chattering in harsh syncopated tones at the non-Chinese speaking China-woman in seat 7d

She got her way. They actually moved an older guy to the seat next to me so that she could have her own set of two seats.

The bitch slept for almost the whole 15 hours, although every time the crew woke her up for food or drinks they spoke to her in Chinese which pissed her off no end.

As for me, I slept, I read, I ate fruit!

Upon landing in Shanghai the immigration was a breeze, and I was quickly directed to the gate for my flight to Shenzhen.

This part of the airport was mental. Jibber jabbering everywhere. I'm tiring of the cacophony of harsh cadences.



A bus ride took me to the plane. They offered me a VIP car to get there, but man of the people that I am, I rode with the commies.

I'm writing this on the flight to Shenzhen. So far I've had noodles, and a fruit with white flesh, black seeds and a magenta rind. No idea what it was, but I managed to keep down 3 bites before I gagged.



The attendants have been old-school stewardess adorable. All young, cute and smiley. The woman serving me says please instead of thank you. I've started doing the same. So far I've only got hello (你好) and water (水) in my Chinese vocab.

On tv, there appears to be a nature show with underwater hippos. I've just realized it's a cartoon. I guessed this when bright yellow flying bats jumped into the sea and bit the oceanic hippo with a suction cup mouth. Crazy shit.

Once I land, I have to take a taxi ride to the hotel. This promises to be 30 minutes of after-midnight fun, and then hopefully I can check in, sleep some more and tomorrow is when I start my work.

Well guess again. Because my luggage did not make it. Rost ruggage if you will ... 30 minutes filling in paperwork, followed by another half hour waiting in line for a taxi, followed by another 15 mins trying to work out the hotel address in Chinese.



Checked in just before 2am.

Obviously I'm looking forward to wearing the same clothes for another day ... And praying it is just a day.

Thursday, January 13

Scorchio



Because of some crazy code share alliance I am in the Alitalia Airlines Lounge, and how terrifically elegant it is.

The WiFi password (just in case you are close by) is romamilano

The Sophia Loren wannabee at the front desk keeps giving me the stink eye. Probably because I'm not flying with her shitty airline. Or maybe she hates Asians and those who fly with Asians.

In this photo you can see the TV - it's playing a fast-talking Italian cooking game show. As I type they're arguing about something. Too much hand gesturing. I think I heard Bambino ...

Kind of reminded me of The Fast Show.

A taste of things to come?

Stereotypes have a bad rap. Just like English people have bad teeth, and the French a bad odor.

My experience of Asians is that The Police wrote a song about them. "Don't stand so close to me".

And so it came to pass as I boarded my Boston to New York flight this morning.

Because I flew to Australia last year I have Priority Boarding with some airlines.

So when the woman at the counter mumbled through the mundane shit she has to say 20 times a day I walked towards the gate. Out of nowhere ... Bam ... a shit load of Chinese people all holding out their boarding passes with a death stare.

Once on the plane, they treated it like a bus. Sitting anywhere. Chaos ensued. Tempers flared. And babies cried.

Touchdown at JFK, and from my seat in 8B I was looking forward to a quick exit.

Once again, the Chinese bitches from Rows 11 and 12 hustled past me like there was a Dim Sum sale at the Gift Shop.

Am I really going to China for 9 days?

Diva alert

So I'm going to sound like an ass here, but this morning I screamed the phrase "you don't expect me to fly economy for 15 hours do you?"

There was a bit of confusion regarding the NYC to Shanghai leg of my flight to Shenzhen.

The airline getting me to NYC think I'm flying economy, I contend I'm going business. Amex who booked the trip have given me conflicting stories. I went to school with a bunch of Indian kids. None of them were called Steve or Jackie. But the call center help were.

As it stands I have to check with China Eastern Airlines when I get to JFK

I'm sure it will all work out ok

Why wouldn't it?

Wednesday, January 12

China (in your hand)



Thanks T'Pau.

So I'm off to China tomorrow. 9 days of state controlled hilarity should ensue.

I've no fucking clue how much internet access they will allow me, but let me say this ahead of time in case they track me down.

I love noodles, the color red, big walls and those conical paddy field hats.

And in all seriousness, I also like a country that tells it's population to stop shitting out too many kids.

I went a bit political there ... maybe I'll grab myself one of those khaki military jackets.

Tuesday, January 11

"Murdoch, I'm coming to get you."

I had a nerve test today.

Imagine that scene in Rambo where he's strapped to the electrified mattress springs. The big Russian has the red hot knife and the Vietnamese hooker is peeping through the bamboo floor.

It was JUST LIKE THAT. But without the flickering 20W lightbulb.

The Doc strapped electrodes to my hand and wrist and then cranked the machine up to 11.

After 20 minutes of making my arm dance to some spastic rhythm, he switched to needles.

He stabbed the Bejesus out of me! So much blood he had to use 2 Band Aids!

I was only there to prove I DIDN'T have a specific condition.

I've gone a whole entry without saying, "You'll only feel a small prick". Whoa. Thank you.

Here's a Rambo link.

Sunday, January 9

Hell Yeah!

I was stuck behind this knob-cheese the other day.

Not sure if the guts part is the stuff you spill, or the driver's flabby bits that hung over the belt of his chinos.

Either way, there's nothing more patriotic than driving a Mitsubishi.

I think I had one of their VCRs back in the 90s.

Saturday, January 8

Buzzy

I'm not one of those pricks who is proud of knowing fuck all about home maintenance.

But prick status aside, I know fuck all about home maintenance.

Happy New Year by the way.

Our outdoor AC unit has been buzzing like a honeycomb in a vibrator factory, so Anne gave an AC expert a call.

His name is Buzzy. Really.

So Buzzy showed up this morning and started with a question that contained the words, 'heat, intake, pumps and valves'.

I think it was a test of my manhood. I flunked.

The problem turned out to be a switch on the BACK of our first floor AC facia.

7 minutes of research and 10 seconds of resolution. $125 is the fee, but he accepted $120 for cash. I make that about $1,000 an hour.