Thursday, January 31, 2008

Maniacal Film Aficionado

Okay, I admit it. I am a Star Wars fan. I have even convinced Rachael that her My Little Ponies can be Jedi or Darth Vader. But I have never gone this far.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Today's Topic for Discussion

Why doesn't onomatopoeia sound like what it is?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Darn Tootin!

Today I was sitting in Church with Rachael on my lap. Kristin was on the stand playing the organ. The hymn had just ended, and it was that peaceful span between the end of the song and the beginning of the prayer.

The silence was broken by Rachael - she let out a nice, loud toot. That's the great thing about a two year old - she'll just let 'er rip. The folks in the pew directly in front could not contain their laughter. Meanwhile I, the proud father, prompted her to say excuse me in a loud enough voice to ensure the folks around me understood the source of the flatulence.

Today's Photos

I was going through some pictures the other night and came across these little gems. This was last spring at my nephew's baby blessing. After church we all got together to take some nice family pictures. I think these photos pretty much summed up the children's feelings about this.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Variegated Recollections

China is an interesting place. The trip is now complete. As with all places I have visited there have been assorted experiences to pontificate about. While visiting China I worked, I laughed, I worked, I gagged, I worked, I crashed, I worked, I flew, I worked, and in between I experienced.

I am typically not prone to excessive experimentation at home. But when abroad I attempt to take in the culture, experience the food, and enjoy the time. Here are a few miscellaneous observations that were observed on this trip.

  1. Chinese Television. I like to see what types of shows are on. In business hotels many channels are news. But there are a few local channels. I watched a Chinese infomercial for “Black Expert”. This is a hair shampoo that will restore the gray in your hair to a beautiful black sheen. At least that is what I think it does. I wonder how this compares to hair in a can?

  2. Beautiful (?) Music. From the cab driver singing along with the radio to the waitresses serenading the table with a rousing rendition of put your hands in your pockets and your pockets in your pants. And from the Chinese girl singing 70’s songs to the restaurant patrons (both of them), to the elderly woman singing while rowing the boat.

  3. Diverse Food. From Steak at Jackaroos Steakhouse to “stuff” at (Name Unpronounceable), the food is always an experience. In the end, however, it was the KFC that upset my stomach.

  4. The driving. Need I say more?

  5. The scents. What was that I smelled as I climbed the stairs in the train station? How about that lovely scent as I walked past the lake? Or the interesting odor coming from the gentleman seated next to me? I have heard that it is quite pleasant in the spring when the flowers are blooming.

  6. The co-workers. Like the one who’s baggage did not arrive the first day, so he washed his clothes himself in the bathroom. Or the one who explained to us that driving with all your windows down is the same as being in a convertible. (Okay, it was the same co-worker)

I am sure there is so much more to experience. But not to fret – I will be back again next month.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Adventures of a Taxicab Novice

I no longer fear death for I have rode in a Chinese cab.

I remember riding in a cab in Mexico City. It seemed as if the driver was willing to take excessive risks to get us rapidly to our destination. I now dream of those smooth, peaceful Mexico City cab rides.

If you are an adrenaline junkie, this is the place for you. I, however, did not feel my life was missing these experiences.

  1. Driving in the “Phantom” lane. What is the “Phantom” lane? It is that space that exists between the two cars in front of you. It can be accessed by straddling the lines, honking the horn, and pressing down on the gas pedal. There is also the “recommended lane” variation. If there are lines on the road, this is merely to provide suggestions as to where your car should be. It is perfectly acceptable to create new lanes as desired.
  2. The parking zone on the highway. When you are driving at high speeds on the highway and there is a split up ahead you quickly decide which way you are going to go and move that direction, right? Wrong. There is a third option that I was unaware of. Get in the middle lane and stop at the split. Don’t worry, there is room. The other cars will breeze gracefully by you as you sit in the middle pondering your travel.
  3. The “drive like a madman until you have no idea where you are then stop and ask for directions”. Okay, this is not completely unfamiliar, as all guys are known to drive around taking the occasional “shortcut”. The difference was the “ask for directions”. At seemingly random times you slam on the brakes, open the window, and yell at a passerby. You then have a rapid conversation (usually involving pointing at something you had hand written on a notepad), then you speed off down the road. You repeat this several times as necessary. I believe the object is to give your passengers motion sickness before you reach the final destination.
  4. The “No Eye Contact Zone”. Apparently there is an unwritten rule that states if you do not make eye contact then you can keep driving. Or maybe it is written, but it is in Chinese so I can’t understand it. The application of the rule is thus: If you make eye contact with a pedestrian, bike, or scooter you must let them go in front of you. If you do not make eye contact you may pretend they do not exist and keep going. This rule also makes for a fun game – street crossing. The objective is to see how many streets you can cross before getting hit by a car. The person that crosses the most streets wins.
  5. The secret horn signals. I have not deciphered the code yet, but I am working on it. As near as I can tell at any time you can honk your horn 3 short times then switch lanes. You do not need to look where you are going, the other drivers are sure to have heard the signal. I still need to figure out what two short honks, two long honks, and one long honk mean. (I suspect one long honk is similar to the middle finger, but have not verified this hypothesis as of yet). Note that there is a similar communication system that utilizes flashing your high beams. I have not deciphered this code either.
  6. Monitoring the tires while driving. Many luxury cars are now coming with systems that will monitor your air pressure. Cab drivers realize this is a luxury that could diminish their profit. They have devised an amazing alternative. When you come to a stop simply open the door and look out at the tires. This move instills confidence in your passengers as it shows attentiveness to details.
  7. Running red lights. At least not like they do here. If you are approaching a red light simply honk your horn, flash your high beams, and move through the cars/scooters/pedestrians in the intersection. Be sure not to make eye contact!
  8. Do Not Enter “Recommendations”. When you see a road that has a sign that would be interpreted as “Do Not Enter”, it really means “Turn here – this is a shortcut”.
  9. Finding the fast lane. Sure, you see people driving in the US that will constantly switch lanes because they are sure the other lane is moving faster. It usually does not work. But the Chinese cab drivers have a system that works. You drive in the middle – straddling the line. That way you can see exactly which lane is the fast lane.
  10. The compulsory cut-off. In China when you pass another car it is imperative that you also cut them off. I think it is a law.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Safety First?

We live in a safe country. We have lawyers that ensure we label everything in every possible way to protect us from ourselves.

In China the rules seem to be different. While riding in a cab one morning (a safety violation in itself) I observed two men working on overhead wires. They had a ladder leaning up against the wires, with one man on the ladder. Through years of Public Service Announcements I have been conditioned that you do not touch overhead wires with a ladder. I have never put this conditioning to the test.

Another example is chicken bones. I have been taught that chicken bones can shatter and should not be eaten. However, it is quite common for chicken in Asia to have the bones in it. And yes, you do eat them (Notice I typed you, not me). The same applies to fish bones.

If I have been taught so many erroneous items, I have to wonder what other (mis)information our heads have been filled with. Perhaps I will take a run with scissors while I ponder this.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Today's Topic for Discussion

Why do different cultures have vastly differing definitions of "edible"?

Monday, January 14, 2008

Car Blocking

In China driving is much more than simply transportation from Point A to Point B. They have turned it into a sport. The official name is…..

Okay, I confess. I do not know the name - I cannot read Chinese. I call the sport Car Blocking.

Here is how you play. First person to get to their destination wins. But Car Blocking is much more than a race. It is a match.

Before you can participate you must decide if you will play offense or defense. This is an important decision – once you declare loyalty you cannot switch until the match is over.

Offensive vehicles are very narrow. Two grown adults would have difficulty sitting next to each other. The offensive strategy is to use the narrow vehicles to drive in between the other vehicles on the road. This strategy appears sound and should enable the participant to quickly reach their destination. But watch out for the defense.

Defensive vehicles are wide. The favored defensive vehicle is the Buick van. The job of these vehicles is to swerve when the offense approaches, attempting to block them from passing, and by doing so reach their destination first.

To add an additional challenge to the match, occasionally a police vehicle will drive by with their lights flashing. This serves as a way to narrow the playing field, as all cars compress to allow the officer through while attempting maintain speed and technique.

Do you think Car Blocking will catch on in the U.S.A.?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Weekend in China

I have been here for a week, and I finally had a chance to go see something. We went to Zhouzhuang, a small village built on a waterway in 1086. I am fascinated by things and places that old. I am also fascinated that they managed to take every square inch and turn it into shops or restaurants. I wonder if any of the wares were made in Mexico?

I did take a few photos. Click the photo to see the full size version.

Here is proof that I really am in China (or at EPCOT center in Florida). This was the entrance to the village - where you show that you paid to get in.
This was just inside the entrance. Nice, colorful flowers. Of course it was very cold and drizzling. All the flowers were in plastic pots. (I did not know they had plastic pots in 1086)
I did not find the Fishery and Fishermen's Songs. Are Fishermen's Songs like Fishermen's Stories?
Oh, no! Lunch is running away!
I guess we'll have "fresh" fish instead. Notice the delicious fish "resting" on the bottom.
After lunch we went on a boat ride through the waterways. The elderly woman rowed and sang to us as we journeyed to our destination, the shops on the other side of the village.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Foolhardy Autoist

Today I was going to Shanghai on a day off with a co-worker. He was checking out of the hotel. My plan was to spend the day in Shanghai, then take the train back to Suzhou. Funny how plans sometimes change.

We left the hotel and got about a mile away when a small van tried to make a u-turn from the right lane, across 3 lanes of traffic, through a crosswalk in the median. This maneuver positioned the van directly in our path. Our driver swerved, but the only place to go was in front of the van, into a curb. The driver missed the van, hitting the curb head on. The airbags deployed while we both were thrown against the seats in front. When we got out we saw that where the car had hit the curb it broke the concrete. The oil pan had been sheared from the car.

After the haze cleared, and we wiped the powder from the airbag deployment off our glasses, we stepped out of the car into the rain and cold. At this point we were standing on the road with two drivers, a traffic control officer, and a lady that came as soon as the wreck occurred to clean up the mess. None of them spoke English. We called the hotel, but they did not understand what happened. Apparently the driver called as well, as a while later the driver handed us his cell phone and the hotel was on the line. They sent one of their people in a cab to pick us up. They took us back to the hotel and gave us free drinks and lousy cookies while they arranged for another driver.

We are both okay, but I stayed in Suzhou this time.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Today's Topic for Discussion

Why do you fly west to get to the Far East?

"Stuff" Part II

As previously stated, I am perplexed therefore I am satisfied.

We had a serious breach of "stuff" etiquette during lunch yesterday. One of the men traveling with me did not understand the rules. He kept asking what the "stuff" was.

I really did not need to know it was Duck Tongue on that plate.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008


It is about 4:00am in China. I’m sitting (wide awake) in the hotel pondering “stuff”. What is “stuff”? Well that’s the thing – I don’t really know, and I don’t want to know.

For lunch today I had noodles with “stuff” on it. Did it taste okay? Yes. Do I know what I ate? No. Do I want to know what it is? No.

To state it simply, I am perplexed therefore I am satisfied.

For me the “stuff” phenomenon occurs mostly overseas. At home I know what things are. I am comfortable with them. I am content with that greater understanding. But overseas things are different, particularly in Asia. I cannot understand what is being said. I cannot read basic signs. That nescience on my part increases the “stuff” magnitude.

My experience is that often you are better off not knowing. At dinner I had a Coke. As I was (happily) drinking I noticed a waitress pull a glass out, look at it, rub something off the glass with her hands, then fill it and deliver it to a table. I did not need to know this. I did not want to know this. I was content prior to these events. Afterwards I had to remind myself that at least I did not know what “stuff” was wiped off the glass.

The lesson is this. When someone hands me something I just say “thank you”, bow slightly, and take my “stuff”.

Arrival in China

I made it to China in one piece. Total travel time was a mere 31 hours (from the time I left home to arrival at the hotel).

We should have been here sooner, but there was a dense fog over Shanghai that allowed us the opportunity to remain seated in the plan (with our seatbelt fastened) and fly in circles for about 3 hours. This might not have been so bad had it not been the third (and final) leg of the trip, with the second being a 15 hour flight from Atlanta to Seoul, Korea.

I do have to admit, when we did finally land the fog was impressive. I'm not sure if we landed because we could, or because we were almost out of fuel for circling. Nevertheless, I have attached a few photos.

Shanghai Airport from the Plane:

Everyone mentions the impressive bridges over the river. Here is a picture from the cab:

A picture of the massive skyscrapers in Shanghai from the cab. (Notice the artistic, panoramic perspective):

And finally, a picture of the Hotel after we arrived:

I'll add more later.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Joy of Travel Planning

I'm getting ready to leave for China on Sunday. This is a business trip, and should not be a difficult thing to plan. But the stars are aligned against me. Trying to arrange travel overseas is as fun as drinking soda from a straw in your nose. (I have not had to personally try this as I learned from my sister's experimentation)

First the hotel. Simple enough, right? Just need a place to sleep for a couple weeks. Wait, I need a couple days in Shanghai, then about a week in Suzhou, then another night in Shanghai, then a night in Seoul, Korea.

But wait, there's more!! The travel agency can book the room in Shanghai and Seoul, but I need the office in Suzhou to book that hotel for me as they can get a cheaper rate.

But wait, there's more!! The vendor has decided they want to stay at a different hotel in Shanghai, and they will book the hotels for us. Now I need to cancel the original Hotel in Shanghai.

But wait, there's more!! The vendor did not get my check-in/check-out dates correct. Now I need to work with the vendor (in China) to get this straightened out. With a day's delay on all communication this is a challenge. Did I mention I leave in 4 days?

But wait, there's more!! The Suzhou office managed to obtain two reservations for me there. Oh, and neither one has the correct days. I need to work with the office in China to get this straightened out.

But wait, there's more!! The travel agency finally decided to ticket the reservation and in the interim the airlines have increased their fare. I need to re-submit my travel approval.

But wait, there's more!! In between the time my travel approval was re-submitted and the travel agency received the approval the airlines have increased the fare again. I need to re-submit my travel approval.

If all goes well I'll provide updates when I am in China. Assuming I am in a hotel with internet access. If I end up sleeping on the streets I'll provide updates when I return.