Procrastination, among other things…

Recommended Listening:  “Clubbed to Death (Kurayamino Mix)” – Rob Dougan

 

Wow… where has the time gone?  It feels like just yesterday that I was typing my last post thinking that I had waited too long to write that one.  Here we are, over a week later, and I’m just now getting around to writing this one.  On one hand, I’m happy that I’ve lost track of time because I’ve been quite busy here.  On the other hand, I’m a little bummed that I didn’t get to see some of the things that I told myself I’d make sure I’d go see.  No worries, however, because it looks like I will be here around the middle of March or so to assist again.  No promises, but if/when I do come, the posts should be more frequent.  Not to mention that I have a few posts going on in my mind that I’m going to write in order to force my influence upon all of you who are reading this.  Heh.  But seriously, they are just thoughts going through my mind, and this has served as a great outlet for those random thoughts.

 

Let’s see, what has transpired since last I wrote?  Well, I never did get to go visit my brethren.  The weather has been miserably cold here.  I’m not one to complain too much about the weather as I feel that I’m pretty lucky to have my ability to adapt to both cold and hot pretty well.  It may not be ideal, but I can handle it.  Some of you whom I’ve talked to while here will know, it’s not the cold that’s bothering me… it’s the 20+ mph winds that never seem to go away.  Dry, cold, and windy.  That stuff cuts right through you.  Due to this weather, I’ve chosen to not leave the house unless I absolutely have to.  I can’t justify being miserable just to see or do something that I can do in a couple of months.  Instead, I’ve been continuing to read, and I’ve been catching up on the True Blood series that I bought.  Although my plans for Sunday morning were put on hold, I still had plans in line for Sunday evening with some friends.  Kathy (a bartender from the Stumble Inn who has worked there since my last visit) and some of her friends go to a German Beer Hall not far from the Sanlitun Village.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my time here, it’s to be open minded about replicas of foreign ideas.  They’re never completely right, but usually not a bad approximation in order to remember home, wherever that may be.  As I walked into the hall, I was welcomed by massive amounts of brewing equipment.  Three large settling tanks, copper lines everywhere, and the infamous German 1-liter mugs.  The only thing missing was the oompa-band.  Oh well, can’t win them all.  Their beer… awesome.  Their food… awesome.  It’s definitely a place that I will return to on my next trip.  Liter of dunkel, plate of sausage and kraut… I’m happy.

 

The next several days at work were busy, but uneventful.  We had a number of meetings with our direct customer as well as two of our subcontractors regarding electrical design.  Unfortunately for me, my role in those types of meetings are to be the token white guy from America who is representing the technology that is licensed.  Unless a question is directed at me, I don’t have much of a purpose unless the discussion that is being tossed around is way off base.  For the most part, everyone was on the same page.  The rest of the week progressed very similarly as our guests were at the office.  It was either sitting in a meeting or preparing for the next meeting.  A necessary evil, I guess.  Friday, the week was finally over, and it was time to relax.  Fred and I have tried to gather some of the Chinese engineers together to go bowling, but with these meetings, we haven’t been able to put the group together.  We’ve located a bowling alley close to us, but free time has been hard to find leaving the bowling to just us two.  We arranged for a driver to take us downtown for dinner, followed up by some bowling fun.  I’m not sure what it was, but the bowling experience was like night and day for me.  It’s like a light switch was turned on and I remembered what I was doing.  Granted, I was still using alley equipment and couldn’t expect a miracle, but I was quite pleased with my scores.  I’m looking forward to bowling here again.  I miss bowling in leagues like I used to, but any time I get back into one, I can’t wait until it’s over.

 

Saturday morning was spent hitting up the local markets for last minute supplies for the remaining few days that I have here.  That and walking around with a bloody nose that had frozen to my face.  I surely got some funny looks walking around town like that!  It wasn’t the most pleasant experience, and I hope to not repeat it while here.  That night, I was challenged to a night of all nights.  I was asked to hang out with Kathy and her friends again, but they all worked later than normal.  The challenge:  Arrive downtown right before the subway shuts down (11pm) and stay until it starts back up (530am).  This challenge is what brought about my recommended listening choice, because it’s a great description of what happened.  I began at the ole Stumble Inn for some food and a couple drinks.  From there, it was off to a place called The Den, which is a 24 hour Irish bar.  I’m not sure how long we spent at The Den, but I will tell you that it was too much.  It was quite possibly the nicest dive bar I’ve ever been to.  A type of place that you say “Just because you’re open for 24 hours doesn’t really mean you should be…”  From there, it was off to a club nearby for a few more drinks and some dancing.  They actually had some pretty awesome local DJ’s spinning all night.  In fact, they were so good that I didn’t realize that 5am had come and gone and we were all still there, going strong.  Around 630, we finally called it quits and went for some breakfast, or at least something called breakfast.  Frog meat and tofu was an interesting combo, but hey… it’s China.  From there it was off to the subway for the long ride back to the apartment.  Never, ever, ever, ever again am I going to think that this is a great idea.  I felt like pure hell for two days after this, and didn’t even drink much more than 4 or 5 mixed drinks over the course of 10 hours.  Sunday was a waste following this.  I spent all day on the couch napping and watching TV, hoping to feel better.  Definitely not the best end to a weekend I’ve had, but I can’t lie… it was fun as hell.

 

So now, here I sit in my office, trying to wrap up last minute affairs before heading home in a few days.  I probably won’t get a chance to write again until I’m home, but it’s been a blast, as usual.  I expect to be back here in March to resume where I left off on this contract.  The weather will be much nicer, and hopefully I’ll get to finish seeing the rest of the places that I have on my list.

 

Until next time!

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On The Downward Slope…

Recommended Listening:  Nightwish – “Creek Mary’s Blood” or “Ghost Love Score”

 

Well, I wasn’t sure if it was going to happen or not.  Prior to my departure for Beijing, I told myself that I was going to be on my best behavior this trip, unlike last time.  As I’ve mentioned previously, I had some experiences last time I was here.  I was extremely lucky nothing happened, and isn’t something that I really wanted to repeat.  Alas, I’ve been true to myself, and have behaved.  I’ve had fun doing it as well.  I’ve been here for 3 weeks as of yesterday. It’s gone by very quickly, and I’ve crossed the half-way point.  From here on out, I have a few responsibilities to bestow upon the engineers here, and I will feel comfortable that I have done my job here.  I have a big meeting on the electrical design tomorrow afternoon where I will more than likely just sit there and not provide any input until the engineers are done arguing… which is normally how it goes here.  It’s not my argument, just my place to clarify and assist where needed.  Always a fun experience.

Well let’s see, what’s gone on in the last few days since I posted last.  During the week, it has been business as usual.  The area of Beijing that I’m living in is called Shijingshan District, and one of the last traditional Chinese districts in Beijing.  There is very little Western influence here.  There’s a McDonalds, a KFC, and a Papa Johns.  That’s all that I’ve found so far.  When it comes to entertainment after work, I’m not in the mood to travel halfway across the city to try to find trouble to get into.  For the last several days, I’ve been watching movies, watching Game of Thrones, and True Blood.  You’ve gotta love counterfeit DVD shops that sell this stuff for dirt cheap.  On Friday, I actually got out and about, and left the compound.

Since Thanksgiving week was extremely busy here with customers and vendors being in town for meetings, Paul (president of BWBC) postponed the annual expat Thanksgiving dinner until this past Friday.  The venue:  Morton’s of Chicago in the Hotel Regency, 2nd floor.  The hotel is located in an area of the city where I’ve never really been.  It’s one of the first areas that became Westernized by the influx of expats living here.  The area also has A LOT of money.  We left the apartments promptly at 5pm to begin the hour drive to Morton’s.  There is no secret that traffic is horrible here.  If this was Cleveland, it would take 15 minutes, max, to get to the hotel.  Our reservations were for 630, so we had a little bit of time to kill when we arrived.  As we walked in to the hotel, we were greeted by a bunch of people, and drink servers wandering everywhere.  What kind of hotel is this?  On the one side, there’s a platform set up with a microphone and lectern next to it.  On the other side of the lobby, is a 25’ (or taller) Christmas tree.  After a couple glasses of wine and some hor d’oeuvres, we learn that it’s the hotel’s big Christmas Tree lighting ceremony.  Food and drink are free.  We were tempted to skip dinner completely and just hang out down there instead!  It was quite the spectacle, complete with carolers and an Asian Santa Claus.  Unfortunately, they missed the memo that Santa isn’t 110 lbs, but hey, it’s the thought that counts right?  Oh yeah, I forgot a crucial detail about this hotel… there’s a Rolls Royce dealership in the lobby.  I wasn’t kidding when I said there was some money here.  After the ordeal, we headed upstairs for dinner.  The restaurant just opened on the 17th, so it’s not a real popular place yet, so other diners were spread out across the dining room.  The food… amazing.  I had a 500g Porterhouse steak, lobster bisque, and a crème brule that was beyond awesome.  Walking out of the restaurant was a bit difficult after consuming all of the amazing food, but it was quite worth it.  All 5 of us in the van fell asleep on the way back to the apartments.  A good night indeed.

Yesterday, Fred and I scheduled a driver to take us around the city to do some sightseeing.  We had a rough itinerary laid out of what we’d like to go, see, and do.  First stop, Olympic Village.  Note to self… wait until it’s warmer than 20 deg F to go walk around a wide open area that becomes a wind tunnel.  The engineering behind the Bird’s Next is amazing.  We walked around the outside of it, admiring the structure and design of it.  Quite a design.  We ventured inside to look around a bit more and see some of the exhibits they have placed around the 5th level from the Olympics in 2008.  After we saw all that we thought there was to see, we took the stairs inside to marvel at the size of the stadium.  There were construction noises going on inside, and we were curious to see what was going on.  As soon as we stepped in, we saw a huge, man-made ski jump that was midway through construction.  What in the world is going on here?  After a quick bit of research this morning, I found that Shawn White is hosting a snowboard competition here on Dec 8th.  Hmm… I’ll still be here on that weekend.  I think I have to go to this…  We toured around the Olympic Village a little more after this, but there wasn’t much to see outside of the buildings that hosted the events.  Next up, food and warmth.

Our driver took us to the Sanlitun Village, which is the heart of Western Culture, and also the home of several awesome restaurants that help take your mind off of what country you’re currently residing in.  The Union Grill is one of those restaurants that I used to frequent for a burger and fries.  They also have Stone Pale Ale behind the bar too.  A taste of home is always welcome.  After a great meal, a couple beers, and warmth, we decided to move on to our next stop… the bowling alley.  Bowling isn’t very big in China yet, but I have a feeling it’s going to eventually grow.  The bowling alley we went to was in the Lido Hotel, on the far east side of the city, not far from Sanlitun Village.  It cost 25 RMB per game, 5 RMB for shoe rental, and 12 RMB per beer.  Not a bad price considering that most everything is more expensive in China.  I learned something during those 3 games that we bowled…  I’m shit without my own gear, especially my own shoes.  I fell on my ass 3 times in 3 games, and barely broke 100 each game.  A far cry from the 180+ average that I’ve carried for several years now.  To be honest though, the competition wasn’t on my mind.  I just wanted to have fun, and that we did.  A couple beers, some bowling, good company… that’s all I need while I’m here.  The bowling experience in China is a lot of fun and our next plan is to get some of the Chinese engineers that we work with out to the local bowling alley for more fun.  That should be a blast.

Today, as I finish up this post, I’m working on a plan for my activities.  I have a couple things in mind, but nothing finalized other than my first stop.  I’m not going to divulge the information yet, but as a teaser, I will say that I’m going to go visit my brethren in their current environment in the city…

Until next time!

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A Weekend, Much Like Any Other

Recommended Listening:  Opeth – “Windowpane”

 

Well, thanks to some highly annoying computer issues that happened over the weekend, I’m a bit late on this post.  I’m not sure how or why it happened, but my computer now takes just a hair over 17 minutes to go from powered off, to booted up and usable.  Technology… here on this earth to make our lives easier… or something.  In addition to this, the wireless card in this computer went completely stupid and now won’t connect to anything.  After hours of messing with it, I finally threw in the towel, and on Sunday afternoon, walked down to the local electronics store to purchase a CAT-5 cable.  More on this later.  But this is a good time to warn you, this is a bit longer than normal.  Now… where did I leave off?

 

Saturday morning started much like every other Saturday morning here in Beijing for us expats.  Wake up at the crack of dawn, grab a quick breakfast, and dress warmly.  Tee time at 8am, and it takes over an hour to get to the course.  Now you may say to yourself, “Golfing?  It’s the end of November, and Beijing has the same basic climate as Northern Ohio.  Are you nuts???”  The answer is, yes… we most certainly are.  At 8am, when we arrived at the course, it was a brisk 28 degrees.  When the course is that cold, you’re in for an interesting experience.  The tee boxes are covered with straw mats for you to stick your tee into.  The ground is so hard, that anyone trying to penetrate it would instantly break their tee.  First up was the president of the company, Paul Li.  I’ve golfed with Paul before on my last trip, so I know his capabilities.  He’s a good amateur golfer with highs and lows.  First drive… skied, 50 feet in the air.  I believe it went higher than the distance it traveled.  Now there’s a way to start a golf day.  Next up was Roger, whom I’ve also golfed with on my last visit to Beijing.  Roger is a LONG hitter.  It’s not unusual for him to smash a 280-300 yard drive, and land in the center of the fairway.  Today… duck hook, right into the ditch.  Another not so great start.  Next up was Fred, a new Beijing expat from home, and a lefty to boot.  This has potential to be interesting.  Fred is at my skill level, I’d estimate.  We have our good games, but we are pretty consistent with higher scores.  We just enjoy the game.  His shot… right over with Roger.  Bummer.  After seeing these first 3 “drives,” I must say… I was worried about how I was going to hit it.  Line up… feel comfortable, and away we go.  Beautiful contact (even though it felt like I just put my driver into a boulder), right down the center of the fairway.  Apparently, I’m here to play.  Good thing too, because it’s customary for our golf group to play for money.  Depending on how many are in attendance, it could be playing skins, or the game Sixes.  Today was a sixes day, and the first pairing were to be the two best drives.  Since both Fred and Roger put theirs OB, it was Paul and I paired up for six holes.  After those six holes, pairings were determined by closest to the pin on hole 7.  After another six holes, the final pairing.  If a group of six holes is won outright, and the other pairing can’t catch them, then the next pairing starts early, and holes at the end of the Sixes game become skins games.  Another point to mention is that it is customary for the guest to lose their money, because no money won by a guest can go back to the US.  So now the pressure was on.  I didn’t want to lose money, and I also didn’t really want to win because then I’d just have to lose the money some other way.  Goal:  break even, any way you can.  I could go on and on about this golf game, but I’m sure you really don’t want to hear about it, so I’ll give the quick and dirty.  We were all playing rather unpredictably.  Greens are hard as a rock, so nothing stops on them.  You can’t feel your hands, and the ball is hard as a rock, so each shot stings.  In the end… I lost.  Yep, I can’t say I threw the match because I had some pretty darn good holes, and golfed right about at my handicap, which is pretty good in my book being cold and a course that I don’t remember well.  I paid my dues, and off we went in search of our next adventure.

 

Paul had his own plans, so he had his car come and pick him up, leaving Fred, Roger and I to head downtown for some lunch.  Wait… what’s that?  Oh… Roger has other plans as well, so we dropped him off at a subway stop on the way downtown.  And then there were two.  Fred, being somewhat new in town hasn’t really been able to explore the downtown area and find some of the pretty cool restaurants that I had found during my last assignment.  We did some shopping for DVDs to keep us sane during the week, and ventured off to a place called The Tree.  The Tree has won Best Pizza in Beijing for the last 7 or 8 years, and also has one of the most impressive Belgian beer selections I’ve ever seen.  Score.  After a nice relaxing meal (and a 10.5% ABV beer), we headed back toward the apartments.  Along the way, Fred realized that he had to stop at Sam’s Club, which is pretty close to the apartment.  Now, I’m sure you’ve seen the forwarded emails that have been passed around about WalMart and Sam’s Club in China.  Yeah, they’re pretty much all true.  You can buy anything there.  Of course, I opted to not buy any fishheads or octopus leg, or anything like that.  In order to tell our Chinese drivers where we want to go, you kinda have to talk to them in code.  Mr. Lu knows some English, but not really a lot to hold a conversation with him.  You can tell him where to go, when to pick you up, etc.  In order to go to Sam’s Club, you have to say the words “War Mart.”  Do you realize how long this took us to learn?  We would say “Sam’s Club” or “WalMart” or something like that, and we’d either end up at a restaurant, or at Wu Mart.  Ironically enough, “War Mart” means Sam’s Club.  As funny as it was to me at the time, I was just happy it worked.  After a quick bit of shopping, it was back to the apartment to relax and watch some of the DVDs I bought.

 

Sunday was deemed a lazy day once I woke up.  I had intentions of catching the subway down to the Military Museum for some sight-seeing, followed by another scenic destination.  I had been on the run since arriving here in China, and my body told me “Nope.  You’re going to hangout at the house.”  Sometimes, it’s not a bad thing to do.  I just wish I had brought my xbox with me…  Around noon, I started to get stir-crazy.  Nothing was on TV, I had already ran the battery on my tablet down while playing a game on it, so it needed to charge, and I didn’t know what else to do on my lazy day.  Wandering around the apartment, I spotted the trusty camera, and remembered that there were a few scenic spots rather close to the apartment.  I bundled up, grabbed the camera and started on my way.  I walked north to the Sculpture Park that’s full of, well, you guessed it, different sculptures all through it.  I took a number of pictures, walked around a bit and proceeded to head to the next stop.  About an hour into my venture, I started getting pretty darn cold.  High of the day was only around 35 degrees, and with the wind that’s here, much colder feeling.  While not in a hurry, but not wanting to see the same sights twice, I decided upon taking a few roads that eventually end up at the apartment, and also go past the electronics store.  Knowing that I needed to pick up a CAT-5 cable for the apartment, this made the most sense to me.  Stopping at the electronics store was a bit more of an adventure than I anticipated.  I easily found the CAT-5 cable, but didn’t know that the millions of sales associates on the floor there really don’t do much more than unlock what you want to buy, write down the item number on a piece of paper, and tell you to go to the cashier.  So I took my little piece of paper, caught the escalator up to the 2nd floor, paid my 28 RMB for the cable (about 4 bucks), and then took my receipt back down to the immensely helpful sales associate in order to get my cable.  A process that should have only taken 5 minutes took 15.  While mildly frustrating, and completely confusing, I didn’t really mind because I had nothing better to do today.  At this point, I had had enough exploring for the day and just wanted to get off of my feet and relax with some Game of Thrones episodes that I picked up at the DVD store.  A weekend well spent, I think.  Next weekend I’ll spend more time exploring and sight-seeing as it sounds like it may be too cold to golf.  We shall see.

 

Until next time!

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Alice’s Restaurant – aka Happy Thanksgiving!

Recommended Listening:  “Alice’s Restaurant” – Arlo Gutherie

 

This post is called Alice’s Restaurant, it’s about Alice… and the restaurant.  But Alice’s restaurant is not the name of the restaurant, it’s just the name of my post.  That’s why I call this post Alice’s Restaurant…

 

Ok yeah, I know… it’s a blatant ripoff of Arlo’s song, but it’s a song that makes me reflect on all things that I’m thankful for on this, the famous holiday known more for food comas than anything worthwhile.  I remember being a young lad, probably around the age of 10 or 12 when my dad played that song for me for the first time.  I loved it.  Not only is it the entire side of an album, but it’s a long story, told by a great story teller, with a catchy tune behind it.  What’s not to love?  Well… if you ask several friends of mine from Johnny Malloy’s, they’ll say that it’s too long, repetitive, and annoying.  Hmm… all are entitled to their opinions of course.

 

I said that it makes me reflect on things that I’m thankful for, and it truly does.  First of all, I’m extremely thankful for my parents and the way they raised me.  I am not perfect, but I’m pretty darn happy with the way I turned out.  Hopefully others feel the same.  I’m thankful for my two awesome sisters.  We got along well enough during childhood, and it has only gotten better as time has gone on.  Not only am I proud to call them my sisters, they’re also some of the best friends I could ask for.  I’m thankful for my extended family, those with us, and those who have passed on over the years.  Without them, I definitely would not be the person I am today.  Every one of them has made an impact on me in some way or another.  They are always on my mind, and I look forward to any chance to see them again.  I am thankful for all of my great friends.  There are so many of you that I’m fortunate enough to call my friends, and I am always amazed by how awesome you all are, all the time.  To all of you who reached out when I was having a hard time adjusting to life in China, let me just say that it’s greatly appreciated, and you may never understand how much it truly helped me.  I am thankful for all of the opportunities that have come my way in the last several years.  I work for a great company that has shown me so far that there is no limit to what I can do working for them.  I’ve become involved in helping with the Mazda Owners Car Corrals at Grand-Am and ALMS races.  The experiences associated with this opportunity can’t be rivaled.  I’ve met some awesome people, helped out on some awesome race teams, been places I’ve never been before, and have SO many stories that can be passed down eventually.  I’m sure many of my non-racing friends get sick of hearing the stories, but thanks for at least listening to them!  I’m thankful to have the opportunity to travel the world for work from time to time.  I’ve learned quite a bit from other cultures, and some of the sights I’ve seen can’t be replicated anywhere.  For all of this and more, I am truly thankful.

 

Not much has gone on since my last post.  It’s been work as usual lately, with very little exciting jumping in.  I mentioned the possibility of having to stay longer than my planned trip, and I don’t think that’s going to happen after all.  Judging by the schedule of submittals for the project, there is little for me to assist with until March or so.  Unless I can convince the engineers to start on these deliverables earlier than originally planned, I won’t have much to do here.  Pros:  I will be home for Christmas and for the 24 Hours of Daytona.  Cons:  I have to return later in the year for an undetermined amount of time, and may interfere with things I want to do.  I’m fine with personal sacrifices from time to time, but when you ask me to put EVERYTHING on hold and be at your beckon call any time you wish, then I get upset.  This trip caused me to miss out on a concert that I have been waiting 4 years to have a chance to play guitar in.  My friend Chris Bayda arranges the music for the “Rockin’ Around The Town Square” Christmas concert each year.  I was fortunate enough to have the chance to play guitar in their patriotic concert last June, and was invited to play in the Christmas Show as well.  Being the biggest opportunity for me to play guitar, I was more than ecstatic to be able to do this.  Unfortunately, plans changed.  I will be livid if I’m forced to miss the 2013 shows.  (Please see link below for Chris’ blog about the shows.  Good stuff) This could also cause me to miss some of the Grand-Am races that I assist at.  Another one of my passions potentially smashed to the ground.  It will be interesting to see how this all plays out.

 

Last night, my engineer friend Yue Yang assisted me in purchasing an inexpensive Chinese cell phone for communication while here.  I was able to pick up a Nokia 1010 for a whopping $35, and SIM card for about $5.  It’s not a technological wonder, but it makes calls and texts, which is all I need here.  Following this endeavor, he took me out to dinner for Thanksgiving, since I was missing it back home.  No turkey and dressing for me, but we had a good selection of dumplings, some turkey gizzard, and a couple bottles of beer.  Not the traditional Thanksgiving dinner, but the thought was there, and I was extremely grateful anyway.
Tonight, my friend Vivian, who used to work for BWBC a couple years ago, invited me to dinner as a “Welcome to China” and as another thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat, followed by drinks at my favorite Chinese pub.  Following all of this, I plan to go to sleep and not wake up until the next morning, when it’s time to hit the links for the first time this trip.  It’s going to be cold, windy, and it will be like smacking rocks with my clubs, but I can’t wait to go!

 

Until next time, friends and loved ones.

 

Chris Bayda’s Blog:  http://electricshockmusic.com/wordpress/

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Back In Beijing…

Recommended Listening:  “Supercrush” – The Devin Townsend Project

There are pros and cons to my brief tour of China being over with.  The pros, I’m back to my apartment where I can cook my own food, know my way around town, and I’m sleeping in a familiar bed.  The cons, well… it’s cold in Beijing.  I had a lot of fun seeing new sights and meeting new people, as well as learning the history of different parts of the country.  As many of you know, I love to read and learn about things.  A very common thing for me to do is to stumble upon something that I don’t know much about, hop on the internet, and read all that I can find until I have a basic grasp of it.  Whether that’s a car manufacturer, an aircraft, a band, or even a concept such as how a jet engine works, I’m easily captivated by consuming information.  I do this quite a bit during my down time and I think it keeps my mind active.  This has also been my preferred way to relax while here.  I’ve been reading a book called “Welcome To The Jungle Inn” which is about the history of organized crime in my home town of Warren, OH and surrounding areas.  My dad mentioned the book to me shortly before I left Ohio because my grandfather, Albert Timko Sr., is mentioned a few times in the book during his time spent as a detective.  Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten quite that far in the book yet, but what I have read so far has given me a new perspective of the city in which I grew up.  The more I read, the more I learn, the more excited I am to finally get to my grandfather’s involvement in helping to police organized crime in the area.

As you can see above, I decided to add a recommended listen to my blog post.  As you all know, music plays a huge part in my life.  In fact, I’ve made some of my newest friends simply because we listen to similar music.  Music will forever have a special place in my life, and many of my memories can be tied to a specific song or artist.  In this instance, many of the songs that come to mind during my trip here are a direct outlet of my current mood.  Hopefully, some of you will hop over to YouTube and search for some of the future suggestions.  Who knows, you may end up liking it.

Anyway, enough of that.  Let us proceed to what has happened in the last day or so since I posted last.  As I previously mentioned, the meetings came to a close and we were ready to return to Beijing to resume normal, everyday duties.  I awoke, way too early as usual and began packing my things in order to leave the Ramada to head to the airport.  After finishing all of my necessary packing, showering, shaving, etc, I wandered down to the 4th floor to have breakfast and a lot of coffee.  During the past week, I had been in contact with my friend from Canada, Ammaar Zia (Username Z on TheMazdaForum.com) who had been hopping around China for meetings with a client for his company.  Originally, before I was sent on my travels, we had planned to meet up in Beijing over the weekend and do some sightseeing together.  Unfortunately, this didn’t happen due to my travels, but through some additional communication, we were able to determine that I land in the same airport terminal that he is departing from, and only a few hours before his departure.  What are the odds?  After a few really expensive text messages exchanged back and forth, we were able to grab a coffee in the airport and catch up.  After all, it had been 5 years since the last time I had seen him.  It harkens back to my very first annual Mazda cookout at my old place in Rootstown.  He had some business in Columbus that he drove down for, and came up to my place on his way back to Toronto.  Fun times, those were, but unfortunately we were never able to set up another time to get together.  So there we sat for a couple hours, talking about all that has happened for us in the last few years, as well as how our respective travels through China have gone.  I told some folks here that it’s quite funny… a guy who lives around 5.5 hours from me, and I haven’t seen in 5 years just happens to be in Beijing at the same time I am.  Funny how life works out sometimes.

Following our coffee, it was time for us to go our separate ways.  He went toward TSA security, and I ventured toward the Airport Express Train which travels from the PEK airport to the city, where it connects to the Line 10 and Line 2 subways.  It’s roughly an hour to my apartment by subway from the Line 10 transfer station, and at 5pm, it’s not something I want to try to deal with.  If you’ve ever heard stories about subways in Asian countries being rather busy, they aren’t lying.  World record attempts to fit 21 people into a Mini Cooper are child’s play compared to the subway experience in Beijing.  Luckily for me, Line 10 travels to an old familiar place of mine from my first trip here.  Taking the Line 10 for 3 stops brings me to an area called Sanlitun, which is Westerner central.  It’s a large mall with restaurants and bars galore, not to mention foreigners everywhere.  In the middle of Sanlitun Village is a little pub on the 3rd floor of the mall where I spent A LOT of time 2 years ago.  The reason why I spent a lot of time there?  Well… a world beer tour of 100 beers!  Being known to enjoy a beer or two from time to time, I had to do the tour.  Unfortunately, I had come down to the wire where I needed to finish the last several before I left, so I spent almost every night there polishing off the remaining brews.  My stats:  100 beers, 44 days, 12 visits.  Never again.  Anyway, back to the topic at hand, I walked into the pub and was greeted by COMPLETE change.  The whole place had been renovated, and nothing but the tables were the same.  I walked upstairs to the main bar and was greeted by my two favorite servers who still worked there, Kathy and Wendy.  After exchanging pleasantries and catching up a bit, they invited me to come hang out with them and some of their friends some weekend.  If it happens, it should be pretty fun.  If it doesn’t happen… well, no loss.  It was great to see some old friends though.  After 3 beers (one of them you can’t find in the US), I decided that the subway had probably died down enough to head home.

Traveling by subway here is just like riding a bicycle.  Once you have learned it once, it’s easy to remember where your stops are, which transfer stations you need, which direction to head when you exit the subway, etc.  I spent the better part of the hour trip home listening to music and playing solitaire on the iPod.  Once I arrived at the 2nd to last stop on the Line 1, it was time to hop off the train and start walking down Shijingshan road, back to the apartment.  It’s amazing to me how many things changed in the 2 years that I had been gone.  New buildings, closed businesses, new businesses, but the same familiar cold, dark, lonely walk that I remember so well.  After a week of traveling around the country, I was finally home.  Kick off the shoes, unpack my bags, turn on the TV and what do I find?  Star Sports is showing the SuperGT race from Twin Ring Motegi circuit.  My lucky night!  What a way to end the night… seeing old friends, visiting old places, and an awesome race before bed.  I can finally say this honestly, it feels good to be back.

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The Things I Get Myself Into…

Well… time to pick up where I left off.  I mentioned that I was going to set my personal land speed record… and I did.  304 km/hr has been placed into the record books.  How, you may ask?  The Guangzhou to Wuhan bullet train.  Let’s take a step back for a second, just to get a grasp of the scale of this trip.  Guangzhou is the 3rd largest city in China, according to population.  Wuhan could be considered the Chicago of China.  As the largest city in central China, it is more or less a hub for all forms of transportation that you can think of.  It’s also the largest city in regards of area in all of China.  Pretty mind blowing for me, considering that I’ve lived in the “largest” city in China, and just recently traveled to the 3rd largest city in China.  I must say that in comparison to my last stint here in China, I’m seeing a lot more of the country, and experiencing a lot more of the culture.  Complaints?  Not a single one.

The train ride was an experience that isn’t a huge deal, while at the same time is cool as hell.  Train station:  Huge.  Crowd: large, but there are 24 gates in one of the busiest train stations in the world.  When it comes down to it, the crowd isn’t really that bad.  I’ve seen worse at Grand Am races.  We make our way to the train, enter car number 5, and find our seats.  Spacious isn’t the word for it.  I may have had less room on my business class flight to Beijing.  Plenty of room to spread out and I was even given a window seat.  My lucky day!  In all, the trip to Wuhan was scheduled to take roughly 4 hours.  Within city limits, we were limited to about 70 km/hr, but once we were able to open up, it didn’t take long to see the screen say “Speed:  304 km/hr.”  Over 180 mph on two rails, held in the ground by spikes placed through oak ties and metal claps holding the rail in place.  180 mph riding on the surface not much wider than a quarter.  I don’t know about you, but that could potentially freak me out.  Hmm.. that thought lasted all of 30 seconds.  Transportation, tried and true, will never get an argument from me.  Fast forward 4 hours and we have arrived in Wuhan.  One of the main engineers for KADI, a design institute which B&W has licensed their FGD technology to met us at the station, and took us to our hotel.  And what a hotel it is.  My room is a mini-suite that’s roughly half of the size of my apartment in Beijing.  Regardless of the luxurious aspect, it’s a nice hotel.  Workers are friendly all the way up to the 28th floor, which is home of a revolving restaurant.  So I have to ask… if you found out that the hotel you’re staying at has a revolving restaurant, would you check it out?  Damn right I did!  Awesome view, awesome scenery, awesome food.  What more could you ask for?

After a nice sleep, we awoke to a nice breakfast and a plethora of plans for us.  First stop was the Hubei Provincial Museum.  This museum is the home of the Chinese Chimes from long ago.  (I would normally look up details, but I’m not gonna lie, it’s not terribly important to me right now)  On display were the tombs and artifacts from the leaders of the rebellion of the Qing Dynasty.  This rebellion is what brought about the Peoples Republic of China.  The museum housed many different eras of Chinese history in the Hubei province.  Being an amateur history nut, I could have stayed there all day long, just taking in all that I could, but we had tickets to see a performance of the Chinese Chimes, and other antique instruments.  The music that was played was traditional Chinese music that I’ve heard before, but hearing it being played on antique instruments in the traditional style is something that any music nut needs to experience.  Simply awesome.

After the performance, it was off to lunch at a very popular local restaurant.  Unfortunately, I don’t know the name of it, but the whole place was open air and built on several ponds.  As is the case with Chinese lunches and dinners, many different plates of food came out for us to try.  One of them was BBQ pig’s knees.  Quite interesting, and quite difficult to eat.  Unfortunately, I don’t remember the rest of the dishes that we ate, but as always, everything was quite tasty no matter what it really was.

Following lunch, we headed to the Yellow Crane Tower, overlooking the Yangtze river.  Originally built in 223AD, it’s the symbol of Taoism in China.  While not the original site, or the original tower, it partially resembles the original design with some modern upgrades.  Located atop Snake Hill, the tower provides a 360 degree view of the city of Wuhan.  From this spot, one can see all three divisions of the city. Thinking about it now… I’m not quite sure how it is considered a historic monument when it’s not on the original site, been destroyed several times, and now has a modern elevator inside of it.  Regardless, it was a very enlightening experience getting the aerial view that it provides.

Following our tourist activities for the day, we met up with the chairman of KAIDI for dinner and drinks.  The night became a blur when the bottle of baijo was opened and the toasts started flowing.  For the sake of all involved, what happens in Wuhan stays in Wuhan.  That being said, we had an extremely fun night, and I must have made one helluva impression on the chairman because when I got to the office today, there was 4 bottles of the company’s 20th anniversary Cabernet Sauvignon and 4 bottles of the company’s anniversary baijo with my name on it.  Not sure how I’m going to get all of this home, but I’m sure I’ll figure it out.  What I do know is that today was rough.  Meetings all day regarding an important deliverable seemed to drag on and on.  Most of that is probably due to nursing one heck of a hangover today.  We still managed to finish the entire review and preparation for this important submittal and were able to book a flight back to Beijing tomorrow.  While it’s been a fun week in Guangzhou and Wuhan, I’m beyond ready to get back “home” tomorrow.  Hopefully I’ll have some time to relax when it’s all said and done.

I apologize for the delay and incoherency of part of this entry.  Most of it was written last night after the fun.  I had to re-write a good portion of it as well.  Apparently, when you drink too much Chinese liquor, you start to become as incoherent as some of the locals who don’t know English too well.  Below, I will share an example of what I had tried to write last night.  Enjoy.

Following the museum, we went to a restaurant that I can neither describe, nor give directions to. It’s a huge windmill that could represent a lot of different things. Given the dry level of lake, I’m sure you could help me find an oar. I shake the difference around and make my way toward Guangou.

I may eventually revisit this post and fill in some blanks, but for now… I’m dead tired and need to head to bed.  Until next time!

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Sights, sounds, and sometimes smells…

There are just some things you can’t see if you stay close to home all of your life.  America has history and its own sights to see, but in comparison to most of the rest of the world, America is just a baby.  My first real exposure to this was in 2010 when I did a tour of the Forbidden City in Beijing.  Hailing from the Ming Dynasty (construction began in 1406), and containing artifacts from even earlier than that, the Forbidden City is an amazing example of artistic craftsmanship from years before Christopher Columbus was given wrongful credit of discovering America.  The entire area is a work of art.  The architecture, the sculptures, the woodwork, and the paintings inside the buildings are absolutely breathtaking.  Factor in that all of the work was done WAY before modern day techniques, and there are just no other words that can be said about it.  Another example is the city of Hanoi, Vietnam.  When I traveled there in September of 2010, I was fortunate enough to be present for the preparations of the city’s 1000th anniversary.  Imagine that for a second… 1000 years.  That’s 764 years, or three times longer than America has been a country.   Only a handful of structures still exist from that time, but the fact remains that it’s a very long time.  These are only a couple of my experiences.  Places in Europe that I hope to visit have even more history than this still in tact.

 

If we were to fast forward to the sights and sounds of the modern day, there are still places that are amazing.  Yesterday, after wrapping up meetings at GEDI’s offices, Yue Yang and I went to a dinner which can only be described as appetizers for the devil.  EVERYTHING in that place, including the tofu was prepared with red hot peppers.  I’m not exactly sure what chili it was, but I do know that they were a little hotter than a cayenne.  Our meal consisted of fish heads, chicken and chilis, frog meat and chilis, and tofu and chilis.  I’ve been known to consume some spicy food from time to time, but I honestly do believe that this food was karma getting back at me for thinking that it is a good idea to use a ghost chili and habaneros when making a pot of chili.  Granted, the chili was enjoyed by many and also won 2nd place in the Sanchez Annual Chili cookoff, but that’s beside the point.  EVERYTHING was hot.  Even if you didn’t grab a bit of pepper, the meat was hot.  Dare I say… the food was amazing.

 

Following dinner, we grabbed a taxi to the famous Pearl River riverwalk and began a casual stroll to take in the sights, sounds, and sometimes unfortunately the smells along the Pearl River.  The view was amazing.  The lights, the buildings, the music playing from bars across the river, and the sounds of the waves crashing upon the concrete walls that line the river were a lot to take in at once.  Thankfully, I brought my trusty sidekick to capture some of the sights.  Some of these photos have already been posted to Facebook, but it is quite difficult sometimes to balance the usage of the company VPN and the less than impressive speeds of Chinese internet.  Perhaps some instruction in the art of ninja skills could help in this endeavor.  We walked for roughly 3km.  We saw everything from people casually talking on benches next to the river, to kids rollerblading in a large, square area used for things like that, to people night fishing off of the side of the bank, to a rather large bar district full of high class pubs beaconing me in.  Temptation was avoided and we continued walking.  The farther we walked, the more we saw, and the more I realized that they take this riverside quite seriously here.  It appeared to go on for the length of the river.  The farther you went, the more was ahead of you.  Eventually, as the rain began falling, we decided to call it a night and head back to the hotel.  It was beginning to get late, and boy were my feet tired at this point.  This was most definitely the highlight of my trip thus far.  I can’t wait to get back to Beijing and start exploring the city once again.  The explorations that have happened in Guangzhou may have broken me out of the anxiety and depression that I had been fighting since my arrival.  Let’s hope anyway.

 

Today, I get to set my own personal land-speed record.  In my pocket at this time is a ticket for the bullet train from Guangzhou to Wuhan.  This 601 mile trek will take only about 3 ½ hours, at speeds over 300 km/h.  That’s over 186 mph for those not hip to the metric system.  Its maximum speed is 350 km/h, which is 217 mph.  Too bad we won’t be getting up quite that high.  It would be quite cool to say that I’ve broken 200 mph on land.  If you haven’t noticed, I’m really looking forward to this part of the trip.  I’ll be sure to make mental notes and tell everyone about the ride.  Until next time…

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