Day 9 – Beijing to Shinzhen

My Hotel in Shinzhen


Today I finished my Beijing holiday and am traveling to the southern city of Shinzhen (which I’ve learned is pronounced “shinJIN” with the “J” pronounced as in French, not English.  The “J” in “Beijing” on the other hand, is pronounced like the English “J”–I had always pronounced it like the French J.)

The flight was quite an adventure.  When I got to the airport an information lady pointed me to a certain aisle.  when I got there a sign pointed me to a second aisle, and when I got there the person at the counter pointed me to a third aisle.  Before I could proceed to that aisle, some guy came up to me, took charge of my luggage and me and led me to the right counter.  I didn’t believe him since it said “China Air” and I had been told to check in with “Shinzhen Air”.  (China Air did sell me the ticket but the flight was operated by Shinzhen air–this sub-contracting of flights seems to be common.  Our flight from Tokyo to Dalian was ticketed by China Eastern but wowas operated by Japan Airlines.)
Now came problem number two:  The passport number on their computer wasn’t even close to my actual passport number.  After some consultation they gave me my boarding pass anyway.
After the usual security checkpoint and boring wait at the gate area be boarded the plane.
As I was sitting down I discovered I couldn’t find my passport.  After some additional fruitless searching I told the stewardess of my  problem.  she told the captain who came to talk to me. He suggested I go back to the gate to look for it.  He said he’d hold the aircraft while I looked. One of the stewardesses went with me, but my passport wasn’t at the gate.  I searched my pockets again, and the stewardess searched my jacket.  She found it in one of my jacket pockets.  I felt very stupid but also very relieved.  So we ran (iterally) down the ramp from boarding gate (which was at least 20 times longer than the usual such ramp.  The captain announced that the passenger had found his papers and we could now take off.  I felt embarrassed to have delayed the flight–especially since I had the passport all along.  (I had looked in my jacket, but obviously not hard enough.)
The delay I induced in the flight turned out to be minimal, however, compared to the time our plane spent waiting in line for our turn to take off.  This latter easily consumed an hour.
So as a consequence we were somewhat over an hour late getting in to Shinzhen.
Luckily–and by now I felt I could use some good luck–my bag was one of the first off the plane.  I try to arrive at the airport quite early, so my bag is usually one of the first checked.  I always figured this would make it one of the last off.  But today’s experience disproved that idea–I guess bags get pretty randomized in processing on and off the plane.
My next (and, thankfully, final) problem for the day was that the driver who was supposed to meet me was nowhere to be seen.  I ended up calling the Foxcon employee who was supposed to make the arrangement.  (Someone had to show me how to use the phone.)  She said I should go to the large “B” sign on the departure level.  This seemed unobviousness enough to be annoying.  It turns outi the foxcon woman had sent me email with instructions, including a picture of the sign, but it was sent after I had left the hotel in Beijing, and had no access to my email.  The kernel manager for my company had bugged her several times to send me information on where to be picked up.  Now I see why.
The ride from the airport seemed as long as the one in Beijing, which surprised me.  The weather was cloudy and gray.  The ground was wet but it had not rained since my arrival.
I was hoping to have dinner with another engineer from my office who is here, but he had to work late so I ate alone.  I ate in the hotel Chinese restaurant.  The food was good, but Chinese food is better eaten in a larger group so we can order multiple dishes to share.

Day 8 – Forbidden City, Tienanmen Square, Old Beijing

Me at the Forbidden City


This morning early I walked from the hotel to the entrance to the Forbidden City, the palace of the last dynasty of emperors in China.  I found a ticket line and stood in it.  Soon a woman came up to me and asked if I wanted a guide.  Since my boss had recommended picking up a guide, I said “yes” after enquiring the price (200 RMB–about $30).  She then informed me I was standing in the wrong line and took me to the correct line.  (I wonder if she would have told me if I hadn’t hired her.)

My boss had told me that you can’t see that much because they sort of herd you down the middle, and in fact, down the middle is where most people go.  But my guide showed me around many side rooms away from the main crowds.  She told me that the main buildings were all ransacked by Chang Kai Sheck and now reside in a museum in Taiwan.  She said I could go back by myself if I wanted to later.
She told me many stories of life in the palace.  The most interesting were about the “Dragon Lady” who started as a low-level concubine.  By a combination of her own cleverness (She bribed the chief eunuch to arrange for the emperor to see her) and luck (she ended up bearing the emperor’s first and only son.)  She rose to the highest levels of power.
The guide described the life of the last emperor and told me that he has a nephew who is still alive and living in Beijing.  He is a professor at a university here.  He is also a skilled calligrapher and sometimes donates his time to the Forbidden City by drawing calligrapher’s for visitors.  She said he is only there occasionally, but she took me to the pace where he comes, and he was there.  I had him draw me a calligraphy of the characters for “Do Nothing”  meaning sometimes it is better to take no action and let thing to progress as they will.
We then went to a tea house on the grounds We were given samples of various kinds of tea  This is the opportunity I had missed yesterday so I was glad I came. We then rode on a bus back to the entrance of the Forbidden City.  I wouldn’t  have  tried to ride it by myself, but the guide came with me since she had to start over with the next tourist she could find.  The bus cost 1 RMB (about 18 cents).  Finally something not overpriced!  Of course the busses are for the locals not the tourists.
When we got off the bus, the guide showed me a US $20 bill and asked me if it was genuine.  I said I couldn’t tell but it looked fake to me.  It was old (before all the high-tech anti-counterfitting things were added).  I couldn’t see any red or blue threads in the paper, but the bill was pretty warn.  She then gave me a $5 bill and said I could have it.  It has a small tear and she said no Chinese bank or merchant would accept it.
I then walked across the street to Tienanmen Square.  As my boss had told me it’s big but there’s not much to see.  To me it is  symbolic of the pro-democracy movement.
From there I went to a series of small winding steets with small shops.  I think it’s called “Old Beijing.”  I ate lunch in some noodle shop.
I wandered around some more after lunch until my feet got tired then went back to the hotel.
There I looked up the story of the emperor’s nephew.  It’s a scam!  The last emperor’s nephew is indeed alive and living in Beijing, bot I don’t think he does calligraphy at the Forbidden City.    I saw pictures of other tourist posing with “the emperor’s nephew” but it’s a different guy! .  I’m so pissed off!!  I mean this took place on a government-owned historical site.  Does the Chinese government know about this?  I’m sure there’s plausible deniability at higher levels.  I’m equally sure there is bribery going on at some level to allow this.  What bothers me the most is that my guide was in on the scam.  She seemed so nice an honest.  It’s one thing to be sold overpriced undervalued souvenirs.   That happens everywhere from Delhi to Fisherman’s Wharf.  But this was out and out deception.  Arggh!!  I don’t even want to hang the drawing on my wall now.  Maybe I should to remind me never to buy souvenirs.
 Anyway in the evening I went Wangfujing street, specifically looking for the Apple store.  I easily found it (although the directions I had been given were a bit round-about.  I guess the Beijing Apple store rivals the one in Manhattan for size and fame.  This one is three stories tall and is full of people trying out iPads, iPhones, Macintoshes etc.  I asked them if they have the iPhone 5.  they said “no”.
Next I went to the Peking Duck restaurant whose entrance I had photographic a couple of days ago.  I ordered half a duck which I was afraid would be too much.  It was somewhat but I go through a lot of it.  It was served with the thin crepe-like wrapper rather than the steamed bread.  (I prefer the latter,but this was good.

Day 7 – The Great Wall

At the Great Wall with my Tour Guide, Bruna


Today I went to see  the Great Wall of China.  There are two sections near Beijing:  the closer one is flatter and more crowded;  the second one is steeper and not so crowded.  I chose the latter.  I hired a car and guide through the hotel.

The driver spoke no English, but,the guide’s English was quite good.  She told me she trained to be an English teacher but didn’t like it and switched to her current job.

We stopped “to rest” at a place that makes vases.  It was interesting to see how they are made, but of course they then tried to sell me some–which I resisted.

At the Great Wall we bought an entrance ticket (which the guide paid for since it was part of the tour price) and a cable car ticket which I bought since it was not included.  I guess one can climb on foot up to the wall, but the guide recommended against it and I didn’t see anyone try.
The portion we traversed included three structures that doubled as signal towers and housing for the soldiers that once manned the wall.  I tried to imagine what their life must have been like.  I once read the description of flying an airplane:  “Hours of boredom punctuated with moments of sheer terror.”  I’m sure that described the lives of these soldiers as well.
I thought of scenes from Mulan–maybe not the most historical depiction.
On the way back we stopped at a local restaurant which was quite good, although as usual too much food was ordered.  I paid for my guide’s lunch as well.  It was rather expensive–everything seems expensive here.
Once back in Beijing the guide took me to a silk factory where they demonstrated how silk worms are used to produce silk.  Once again I was offered to buy some goods.
My guide could see that I didn’t care for the sales jobs I was given at each location, so she suggested the final stop which was to be a tea ceremony since it would inevitably be followed by another sales pitch.  I said OK, but now I wish I had gone.  The ceremony might have been interesting, and I can resist the sales part.
Even if I want to get some souvenirs I would probably wait until the end of the trip, to lighten my load in the mean time.
Besides I’m burning cash faster than I anticipated.  I tried to get money from an ATM machine today but it didn’t work.  I called my bank (using Skype) and they said it should have.  I will investigate other options tomorrow.

Day 6 – Dalian to Beijing

Peiking Duck Restaurant near my Hotel


Today I flew from  Dalian to Beijing.  Our flight was delayed because of fog in Beijing, so we probably arrived an hour late.

By the time I got settled in my room it was mid afternoon.  I went out to Wangfujing Street which is a large shopping street about half a block from the hotel.  I looked at buying a cell phone but they were not as inexpensive as I thought.  the cheapest was around the equivalent of US$100.  So I decided not to.  I’m beginning to think that they would not be that useful.  At this point the only need I see would be to call if my ride is not waiting for me in Shinzhen.  But I guess there are other ways of solving that problem that will only cost money if the problem arises.
There were lots of food shops on Wangfujing Street but most of them were similar to what one might find at, say, Stanford Shopping Center.  Most of the food stores were selling snacks I didn’t recognize, but there were also McDonalts, Pizza Hut, and the ubiquitous KFC.

Day 5 – Last Day in Dalian


Mystery Solved: It’ a KFC outlet.

Today is my last day in Dalian, working with Neusoft.  Both of my traveling companions have now returned to the US.

Today was more of the same at work:  mostly working with the Neusoft to iron out details in the interface from my test cases to their infrastructure.
I also met with the liaison from my company to Neusoft to discuss other aspects of the relationships between our two companies.  (He works for my company and spends 2 weeks of every month here and the other 2 weeks in the US.)
I was alone for dinner so I just ate in the hotel.  I walked around outside for a while, but my leisurely stroll pace didn’t match the hustle of people heading home for the weekend.  The sidewalks were quite crowded–it reminded me of Manhattan.
I made some notes yesterday about some general topics to relate in this email/blog so here they are:
*  Driving habits:  I find the driving here to be somewhere between the (relative) orderliness of the US and the chaos of Indian driving.  There is some horn-honking here and some amount of disregard for traffic regulations, I feel here I can cross the street without being killed.  Of course, as anywhere, I have to watch for cars.
*  When I mentioned to one person that I was going to visit Tiananmen Square he told me his story:  He was a senior in college in 1989 when the pro-democracy demonstrations were taking place.  He and his friends wanted to participate, but felt they should at least show up at the lab at school to make an appearance first.  When he got to the lab, his professor scolded him saying, “What are you doing here?  You should be joining the demonstrations!”
This is the same guy who told me, when we were comparing India to China,  said:  “India has one thing that China does not:  democracy.”  (Since I’m writing this in China–behind the government firewall, I’ll be interested to see if it gets out.)
*  It was explained to me that there are competing telecom companies here, but they are all owned by the government.  Is it the best or worst of both worlds?  Competition + government control.
*  I cannot find decaf coffee here.
*  The traffic lights here flash green before they turn yellow, thus giving drivers a two-phase warning of impending red light.

Day Four in Dalian

Mystary Building: what is this church-like building doing in China?


My boss is traveling home today so now there are two of us.  We have actually been joined by another engineer from Cupertino.  He looks Chinese, but I have the impression he does not speak Mandarin well.

The day was kind of boring for me.  The Neusoft engineers are busy implementing a design we had worked out and I mostly sat around reading email until my laptop and phone got drained.
Each day I have been here the air quality has gotten worse and worse until I can barely see the buildings across the street.
Our Lunch was similar to previous days.  Dinner was at a “hot pot” restauant on top of a department store near the hotel.

Third Day in Dalian

Telecom box in Dalian displaying the characters for “central mountain” which is the name of the area where my wife’s family comes from.

Wednesday was my third day in the Neusoft offiices.  We spent most of the day on designing an interface  between test cases I wrote and their framework.  Four or five of them then went off to busily begin implementing.

For lunch we went to an interesting restaurant.  One of the dishes we had was chicken fingers.  I tried them but didn’t care for either the taste or consistency.  We also had catfish.  They brought the fish (still alive) to our table for our approval before they went off to cook it.  At least we know it was fresh.  Most of the fish I’ve eaten prepared in a Chinese style preserves the overall shape of the fish from head to tail when it is served.  This, however was cut into small pieces and cooked in some kind of broth.  It was very tender and tasty.  I would say in general that the Chinese food I’ve had here is really nothing like any of the Chinese food I’ve had at home.
There is one guy staying with us here who lives in the bay area but spends about half his time here.  He works for my company and acts as the overall liaison with Neusoft.  He and I have had breakfast together.  Last night he took me and my fellow travelers to a restaurant he likes near the hotel.  It was a German restaurant.  It seemed so strange to me to be sitting in Chuina eating German food but I guess it shows the cosmopolitan nature of this city.
On our way to dinner we walked though a “night market” where numerous street vendors were selling food from small stalls.  There was fish, and vegetables and lots of snacks being cooked on small grills.

Day Two in Dalian

The Lunch Menu


Yesterday was our first full day in Dalian.  We spent the day going over various topics of mutual interest.  I gave an impromptu presentation of some of our software.  I spoke very slowly and did a lot of writing on the white board.  Still I couldn’t tell how well I was understood.  Some people asked questions so it showed they were understanding.  Others were either too shy or too uncomprehending to say anything.

Larry–one of the Neusoft engineers who previously spent a couple of months in Cupertino with us–took us out to lunch.  All of the food we could order was on display almost like a grocery store.  (See the picture I sent.)  It was a huge quantity of food and we couldn’t finish it.
In the evening the team we are working with hosted a small (one large table) banquet, There was lots of alcohol–red wine, Chinese rice wine (much stronger than Japanese sake) and beer.  There was much toasting. The rice “wine” (in quotes because it is obviously distilled) was served in small glasses-less than half the volume of a shot class.  After each toast a waiter promptly refilled our glasses.
With one exception, everyone in the room was a man.  All the engineers I have been working with are men.  There was one woman lab technician at yeswterday’s meetings, but wasn’t at the banquet.   The one exception to the all-male attendees was Jane, who acts as a sort of caretaker for all foreign visitors.   I’m sure she was hired for her looks and outgoing personality as well as the fact that her English is quite good–better than any of the engineers.
I had been told that Jane could hold her own when it came to drinking.  Since she sat next to me, I can vouch for the accuracy of that statement.  I felt sure in a serious drinking match she could easily drink me under the table.
All of the food here is unlike any Chinese food I’ve had either in the US or Japan.  It is all good and sometimes strange.   We had cucumbers with garlic, some kind of green noodles (or vegetable?) peanuts, some kind of white vegetable cut into french-fry-shaped pieces and covered in blueberry sauce.  This last item was not desert; in fact it was served first.
There was lots of joking and laughing–most of it was in Mandarin.
The meal ended surprisingly early–around 8:30–and we all left surprisingly sober considering the amount and variety of alcohol.  I even noticed that none of the Chinese were particularly red-faced, although I had noticed that Jane clasped her cheeks as if to reduce (or hide) a flush.
As you can probably tell, the banquet was the highlight of the day.  It was fun and seemed utterly Chinese, in a modern, not necessarily traditional way.
I think that Dalian represents China in general in a modern–not traditional–way.  There are lots of high-rise buildings, both residential and offices. There is also lots of new construction.   The Neusoft campus itself is new construction with a central lobby area that extends the full eight floors of its height.  Yesterday returning from lunch, Larry pointed out the “old” Neusoft building which they are now leasing to HP.  I thought of the abandoned HP facility close to our house.
The weather here yesterday was bracing in the morning and pleasant as the day went along.  The sky was clear and blue.
I took a walk around the area of the hotel both yesterday and this morning–traveling more so today.  Today the air was hazy and smelled of smoke.  I think today’s air quality is more typical than yesterday’s.
The traffic here is more adventurous than the US but not nearly as crazy as that in India.  Also there is more horn honking here, but again, not nearly as much as in India.  In India I found it risky to cross a road and I never attempted it in traffic.  Here there are plenty of traffic lights and cross walks, so I think crossing the street here is no more dangerous than in, say New York City.  That is to say, you’d better watch for traffic before you cross, but there are safe opportunities to get to the other side of the street.

First Day in China

Sunrise in Dalian


We left San Francisco on Saturday morning and arrived in Tokyo Sunday evening.  We stayed at an airport hotel and went into the town of Narita for dinner.  It was fairly deserted because it was Sunday.

I am traveling with two co-workers, one of whom is my new boss, and the other is Chinese himself, and, luckily, speaks Mandarin.

Monday morning we returned to the airport to fly directly to Dalian, the home of Neusoft, the company that we are contracting with to do test development.
Our departure was delayed for about an hour because of some security problem that was never fully explained to us.  All security screening was suspended for some time and an extensive line was formed.  But it eventually was resolved and since all flights were held during the delay we eventually took off.
We landed in Dalian about an hour late and were met by a van from Neusoft.  We went directly to their facility, a beautiful, modern building.
Inside there is a huge multi-story lobby area, yet the actual work environment seems cramped by American standards.  Cubicles are about half the size of those in American offices and are shared by two people each.
We were given a presentation on some of the work Neusoft is doing for us and were given a tour of their lab. We had some further discussions and left relative early (around 4).
The three of us ate dinner in the hotel in a Chinese restaurant.  The food was elegant  and tasty.
I woke up around 2 am due to jet lag, and got up and tried to catch up on my email (a never-ending battle).  when the restaurant opened at 6 I went down.  The food was mostly Chinese–instead of scrambled eggs, they had egg fried rice.   I ate with the guy who is the liaison between our company and Neusoft.  He lives in the bay area but spends 2 weeks every month here in Dalian.  I really don’t emjoy the long flight from there to here so I don’t see how he can stand traveling so often.
After breakfast I walked around the block.  It was brisk and breezy.  The buildings here are all tall and new.  except for the writing on the signs I could easily have been walking in Chicago.
Now I’m waiting for the appointed time to be picked up to go to Neusoft for the first day here.