Guangzhou – January 21, 2007

24 01 2007

2007-01-21 Sunday

Sunday was a rainy dull day, which sucked.  I had planned to go out and shoot some photos of the wild and wacky traffic, but the rain put a damper on that.  It looked to be about 9C out at best.  Sigh. 

After debating with my stomach whether the hamburger last night was good or not, my insides settled.  (Mental note – hamburgers come with fresh lettuce and tomatoes, as well as ground beef… DO NOT eat them when travelling). I wandered down from my room around 1000 to go for breakfast, and I noticed that the Chinese restaurant was serving Dim Sum.  Sweet!!  I went over that way to have my breakfast.  Communication fun was the name of the game again. 

I approached the restaurant and asked for a table for 1 in my usual Cantonese.  She looks and me and says… “No.” and points to the Western Restaurant. 
I shake my head and indicate I want to eat HERE. 
She, with a broken english points over at the other restaurant and says “Western”. 
I point to this restaurant and say “Yum Cha, Dim Sum”.  and it appears that with a bit more hand waving that I finally convince them that YES, I want to eat here.  I think it is because the Western Buffet can be included in your room, and most western travellers just do that.  Since we had the screw up at the beginning, I’ve been signing for each breakfast, so I can go here, and not worry about the fact that I’m going to get charged for the other as well.
I get my little table, and the waitress comes up and says “What kind Tea?” 
“Sao Mei”
Obviously taken aback by my mastery of the Cantonese language she smiles and says what I imagine is “Your Chinese is very good”.  (Or – “Hey – stop butchering our language”.. I can’t be sure).  Alas, no Sao Mei.
“Bo Lei?”
Yes, and off she goes.  Good thing, as I was running out of tea names that I knew 🙂
Around comes the dim sum cart, and I start looking.  Great – recognize everything.
I order the beef balls, spareribs, haw gau, and ham soy gaw.  All in Cantonese!   That really got them buzzing, you could see one talking to another about this… Quite the treat I must be.  Nice to know that I can provide some entertainment value for the local population.

The dim sum dishes were smaller than Vancouver, which is good, as it allowed me to sample more types.  When I finished, I asked for my bill.  It came to about 24 or 30 RMB.  I indicated I wanted to sign for it (as I was billing all my breakfasts to the room and wanted to remain consistent).  Fatal flaw.

Waitress talks to hostess, hostess talks to manager, manager talks to other manager, manager then comes back and talks to hostess, hostess talks to waitress.  Waitress comes back to my table asks for my room card.  I had her my card key.  Waitress goes away, comes back quickly, “No sir, room card.  This is room KEY.”
“It’s all I’ve got.”, I say.  Previous scenario replays, and now followed by waitress runs down to the first floor to talk to the front desk.  Much paperwork ensues, waitress runs (and I mean runs…she’s trying hard not to hold me up) up the stairs, and talks to hostess, hostess comes over, and presents me with the bill to sign.  Wow.  What a production!  You’d NORMALLY think that a hotel would be designed to take your money quickly with the swipe of your pen. Not so much. I think that in order to combat fraud, they have put some pretty elaborate steps in place to ensure the identity of whomever is actually signing.

After breakfast, I grabbed my camera and planned to head out.  I got out the door, and said “Nope, not gonna happen.  Too cold and wet.” I didn’t pack a shell with me on this trip since last year it just sat around useless.  This year I kind of miss it.  I realized that I am relegated to staying in the hotel for the day.  I decided to see if there was any more life on the 3rd floor that I had previously found to be largely vacant.  It was largely vacant, but there were some couches that you could sit on, and watch the world go by in the lobby below (3 floor high open lobby).  I took a few pictures and sat with my laptop, and wrote up the missing days in the blog.  It seemed like it might be OK after all.  A down day now and then is a good way to recharge.

I skipped lunch, as I had been pretty full from the Dim Sum.  I decided to hang in my room for a bit.  I put on the headphones and cranked some tunes.  I drifted in and out of a nice restful sleep for about 3 hours.  Around 2pm, I began to hear a relentless pounding (like a 20lb sledge being dropped on the concrete floor above), with a frequency of the pile drivers you hear down by the water front sometimes.  Thump, Thump, Thump….  Uggh.  I dragged my laptop with me and headed down to the lounge.  At least it was away from the noise.  I ordered a Bailey’s coffee, and settled into writing up the blogs and listening to some laptop tunes in the back corner (away from the VERY cold lobby area with its wide open doors).

While I was sitting there, some harried looking fellow comes in and orders a scotch.  He looks frazzled, and somehow when he sees me (another westerner) he starts talking.  And doesn’t stop, really.  Nice guy, doing some wicked 9 cities in 3 weeks visit to all his company suppliers.  Ouch. We talk for a while, and he heads off.

I can’t remember what dinner was on Sunday, but it certainly WASN’T the hamburger this time 🙂  It was a quiet night, and I think I headed back up to my room around 2200 after enjoying the serenading tunes of the band.  Only one more week of work left (4 days or so really)  I felt a slight flutter when I thought about that.  Excitement about finishing?  Nerves?  I dunno.  Monday should prove to be interesting.

Guangzhou – January 20, 2007

21 01 2007

2007-01-20 (Saturday.  Hellooooo Weekend!)

It was luxury time on Saturday – I got to sleep in.  The van wasn’t coming by until 1000 to pick me up!  One of my colleagues had been “volunteered” to show me around today, and of course we had the van driver too.

It was nice to have the paper being delivered to my room, since I wasn’t getting my news from other sources, it was as if I was getting a morning paper if I just ignored it until breakfast.  Down at breakfast I enjoyed a relaxing meal, while reading the paper.  It had a supplement about the upcoming Olympics.  Interesting to see the progress and excitement from a Chinese standpoint.  When I finished, I went down to wait for the van.  It was COLD.  Back up to the room and a mental thank you to my wife for making sure I packed the long sleeved fleece. (Love ya dear!)  With my warm fleece on, I was ready to head out.  I got back downstairs just in time for the van.  Excellent.

I got in the van and found out that it was raining in GZ proper.  Hmmm.  That didn’t bode well.  We headed out to a family shrine (similar in concept to the Chu shrine on Cheng Chau, but MUCH larger)  IT was built in  1863, and reflected the architectural style of the time.  A lot of grey brick construction.  Being winter, it was pretty quiet, and I think there MAY have been a couple of other people there, but I can’t be sure.  There was quite a bit of construction and renovation ongoing, so it would appear that they are probably sprucing it up for the summer.  It was an interesting place.  The second place we went to was a large Taoist temple (actually 3 temples in one) at Yuanxuan(sp?).  It was really large, and had similar styling to Tian Tan, with circular temples rather than the classic Buddhist square ones.  They had an expansive grounds, and everything was very nicely kept.  I learned that similar to the Buddhist concept of the Kings of heaven, they have 40 “Kings” (protectors) which each have a year associated with them.  I took some pics of my guy, and Mrs D’s.  It had rained pretty consistently since the first place we visited, and this really put a damper in the quality of some of the pictures that were available 😦  The circular ceilings inside the temples, however did give up at least one beautiful Yin and Yang picture.  It was very pretty, and I was certainly disappointed by the fact that it just kept raining.

After these two visits, it was lunch time.  We headed down to downtown and met up with the Lab manager.  We were going for Hunan food!  We ended up at a restaurant called “Maojia Restaurant”, translating to “Mao’s Restaurant”.  The lab manager ordered the food while consulting us.  I said “Order whatever you want.. I’ll give it a try.” 
We had Frog in chilies, turtle soup, bamboo shoots, and sweet potato “vermicelli-like” noodles.  It was (of course) quite spicy.  It was also VERY good. I put aside my whole amphibian prejudice, and just enjoyed the food as “food”.  It was good.  We had some local beer, Zhu Liang (which is what I’ve been drinking at the hotel too).  The beer is all quite light, and goes down well when your mouth is on fire. 🙂  I suppose it was a nice change for our van driver to be able to join us for lunch too.

Our last stop after lunch was the Chen Clan Academy, aka Chen Ancestal Hall which had since been turned into an art gallery for local art done in the ancient styles.  There were beautiful “paintings” done with wood and rocks, and pasted as a collage.  Beautiful 3D relief effect.  Photos just COULDN’T capture it.   They had some really nice stone carvings, and clay sculptures, all done recently in the style of years past.  There were etched glass pictures, which apparently are etched using Hydrofluoric acid – YIKES!  Very pretty etched glass windows.  The one thing that caught me by surprise was that they also had ivory carvings.  RECENT ivory carvings 😦  There were beautiful, intricate carvings of 30 layered balls carved from the ivory, and tusks that had entire stories and carved onto them using 3D people. VERY cool, but…  Of course we all know that the Ivory trade is banned internationally due to the rather fatal effect it has on elephants.  Depressingly this doesn’t appear to be the fact in China.  You could even buy some pieces, and there was a reminder that it would not likely be importable into your home country due to the ban in ivory trade world wide.   While I understand the desire to keep alive the old traditions, some things need to become memories, for the good of our planet.

When we had finished visiting the gallery,  my colleague was going to head out and visit a friend, and I was headed back to the hotel.  It was a long drive back to the hotel. Probably 40 minutes or so.  kind of awkward sitting in the van with the driver, as he doesn’t know any English.   Got back home, and transferred photos and got some uploaded (taking advantage of an actually responsive Internet for a change).  I figured I’d try the hamburger down in the bar for dinner that night.   I got down around 1830, and settled in to the tunes of the band and a beer.  It was COLD down there.  The girls must have been freezing in their sleeveless outfits.  I had the burger.  It was quite good, and cost about $6CAD.  Bed time came early that night.  It had been a long day, so I headed up to my room around 2100, and fell asleep watching some movie.   Woke up briefly at about 0200 and turned off the lights and TV 🙂  Back to sleep.   Nothing planned for Sunday, so I figured I’d go out on Sunday and wander a bit during the day to take pictures of the crazy traffic.  g’nite.

Guangzhou – January 19, 207

21 01 2007

2007-01-19 (Friday)

Almost everything is working at work now – as it should be.  The next week will simply be making sure everything continues to work while actual people start using them.  Of course I ran into one small snag. One of the main pieces of equipment started giving me some grief.  I contacted their support office, and had a reply pretty quickly as soon as their Friday began.  Monday will be the test of whether I can get THAT working or not.  Coming out of work, with the increased clouds and the usual haze, there was a beautiful sunset

It had been a long week.  I’d had challenges that I never thought I would have had, and I’d successes where I thought I might have failure.  Work has gone well, and the whole “Go out to random restaurants” idea hadn’t resulted in food poisoning or being robbed, so clearly I was doing well.  Tonight I decided to actually try the hotel restaurant (Chinese).

I headed down to the restaurant and found that it’s not so busy at night.  As a matter of fact there was me, and one other table at the other end.  There, of course, were about 6 people waiting to serve you.  I sat down at a nice table by the window and had a great view of the fountain outside, and the little light and water show that it puts on.  – ASIDE – Chinese people must come to restaurants knowing what they want to have. – END ASIDE –  As I was seated by the hostess, a waitress approached and handed me the menu.  It was quite comprehensive, and it was bilingual.  Wow.  (This place could also use some help with their translation services).  There were big dishes of Shark’s fin soup for large sums (relatively) of cash.  There were all kinds of “specialty” items that seemed to mostly be parts of animals that don’t make it on most Western restaurant menus.  There were a couple of pages of text only in Chinese (hmmm… what ARE they hiding from me!). I settled on some “Century Seafood”.  It looked safe.  I had that and a bowl of steamed rice.  It was very good.  Basically seafood in light ginger sauce.  It certainly wasn’t as big as the dishes I had been getting outside the hotel, but it was a good size for one.  If I recall, the price was about 38RMB.

After dinner I went up and grabbed my camera and tripod to head out and take pictures of the fountain.  It was pretty successful.  Nice long exposures made for some beautiful silky flowing water pictures.  I’ve put the picture on my fotothing blog, will try to remember to attach it into this blog posting.  (Brutal network connectivity still to North America

I went up to my room and took the photos off my camera and got them transferring back to home.  I also managed to post a couple up to fotothing. 

The evening was the usual routine of down to the lounge to listen to the band, and hang out.  I chatted with the 3 guys from Canada for a while (they seem to be in a higher income bracket than me – no local restaurants for them)  Around 2400 I called it a night.  Back at the room I called Vancouver and explained my problems with my piece of equipment.  I got a “Good luck with that!”. Thanks Derrick!  About 0100 – time to sleep, we were going to be doing some touring of GZ the next day.

Guangzhou – January 18, 2007

20 01 2007

2007-01-18 (Thursday)

My morning routine has become a bit better. I have found that having a few beers down at the lounge before going to bed really helps cut the 0400 jet lag wake up 🙂  (Although it probably isn’t helping my waistline).  I’ve got the timing down so that I now don’t waste quite as much time hanging out looking hopeless in the lobby in the morning.  My Western restaurant hostess and waitresses have come to know me (by “Sir” of course), but they are more willing to try to strike up a conversation now (albeit with their weak English and my non-existent Mandarin a very LIMITED conversation). The Van pool seems to be arriving a bit earlier now, closer to 0830.  That’s good, it gives me a bit more time each day to try and get things working “just so”.  I don’t recall if I mentioned the drive to work is about 10 minutes if traffic is good, and 20 if it’s bad.  We haven’t really run into a “traffic jam” yet, and everyone seems content to simply weave in and out among the different lanes (like driving the 401 on crack).  We’ve come within millimetres of trading paint with buses, trucks and cars at different times.   I try to just ignore it, and talk to my colleagues on the drive.

At work we had fun.  I got some PC’s online and shortly after we lost power to half the building.  It was a nice (even if it was unplanned) test of my UPS for the servers.   After much testing, the electrician was blaming my UPS.  I said “My money is on the building wiring”.   By the end of the day I won that bet 🙂  All ended well, and I got most of the staff using their new PC’s and the applications that they would be using to connect with the central server.  Things were actually working well!

Lunch was better today.  If you leave a bit earlier, you get there and get HOT food 🙂 

When I got dropped off at the hotel that night, it was abuzz with activity.  There were many cars (nicer than the usual cars) and a couple of “tour buses” parked around the entrance.  As usual, once the van stopped the bellhop and bellgirl(?) jumped out and opened almost every door.  I got out and went to the front door.  As I entered the front door, I found myself on the “red carpet”, with more than a couple of eyes looking at me.  I smiled nervously and scuttled back to the elevator to get to my room.

Once back at my room, I set up the laptop to start syncing email and files.  I headed back downstairs to figure out what to do for dinner.  I ran into “Bodie”, one of the floor managers.  I asked him the usual question – “Where do you recommend I go eat dinner”? 
He was in the midst of directing me to the western restaurant I had just tried the other night, when I stopped him and said, “Local, Chinese food.”
I got directions to a local place from him, and I was afraid that I wouldn’t find it. It sounded a bit complicated to get there.
I went on my way, and found the place.  It was definitely a “local” restaurant.  Most of the vehicles parked in front were scooters, and there was a more normal 1 waitress to 20 guests ratio, and they were running off their feet.  The joint “Excellent.”, I thought to myself,  “Another restaurant that doesn’t have a lot of caucasian clients.  This’ll be fun.”

Through my broken cantonese I manage to get my table for one, and then proceed to look at the pretty pictures on the menu.  I picked two dishes that I thought would be good, with the idea of supplementing the somewhat bland lunch the next day.  My waitress looked at me with great confusion when I ordered from the pictures and I later found out that she was asking me, “What ever?”  because I certainly didn’t order with any kind of real conviction.  A little later she comes back and explains that one of the dishes I ordered isn’t available… what are the odds?  So, I order a different picture.

My dishes showed up, and I performed the customary dish washing and settled in to sip on my hot water and watch the locals while they watched me.  It was interesting to watch people get their scooters parked and see all the little compartments.  One for your helmet, one for your bags and coat.  Quite the spacious little bikes.  There were guys offering “scooter taxi rides” to people and the customers that rode, would don these little “helmets” that looked like cheap batters helmets and highly unlikely to save you in the event of the highly LIKELY forthcoming accident.  Off they would zoom into the night to continue their nocturnal adventures.

Food appeared fairly promptly. One dish was beef slices with a long green vegetable with a skin texture similar to green peppers.  The sauce was spicy, and it was quite good.  My second dish followed along behind that.  It seemd to be little rubbery pieces of meat sliced.  The shape of the slice really had me thinking “Chicken hearts” or something along those lines.  The vote on this dish… 2 thumbs down.  Oh well 50-50.  Not bad, but I wouldn’t be supplementing lunch with that 🙂

After dinner I went for a bit more of a walk, over to an area of a street which was closed to traffic, so it was a pedestrian mall.  There were little stalls set up along the length of about 4 blocks, ala Mong Kok, but the only items being sold were clothing.  Lot’s of it.  A lot of it crap.  I saw a pair of “NIKN” sweat pants, that I was tempted to buy, if only for the horrible job of trying to avoid Copyright. (Cause the “Swoosh” underneath didn’t make that too obvious)  It was an interesting walk, and interesting to see many of the vendors just hanging out playing cards together until a customer walked into their booth.  Pretty laid back… Way different from other stores in China where the salespeople practically try to drag you in 🙂  It was good to get out and stretch my legs, but I figured I should probably head back to the hotel.

On the way back to the hotel, I passed a little corner store.  I stopped in and grabbed a couple bottles of Coke (500ml = 3RMB), and my bill came to 6RMB.  Unfortunately all I had was 100RMB on me at the time, and the clerk didn’t look too happy about giving up most of his change.  He did though, and I was now the proud owner of a small stack of Chinese small value bills.  Lucky me.  One odd thing about my Coke.  I took it from the fridge, only to realize that the fridge is actually being used as just a cupboard with glass.  Warm Coke.  Won’t be drinking that as I walk 🙂

Back at the hotel, I ran into Bodie again and he asked how dinner was. I explained my 50-50 result, and told him I was glad he directed me there.  It was fun to eat locally.  I asked him what the big gala at the hotel was about.  He explained that Nissan was having a big “Do” and that there were Chinese celebrities here.  He pointed out one walking out the door, and rattled off a name (no idea) and also pointed out that she was quite good looking.  That was an easy statement with which to agree.  We both laughed.  I headed up to my room to start cooling my Coke, and then went back down to the lobby bar to have a couple of drinks before bed.

Through the girls in the band, I learned that the table next to me was a group of Canadians as well.  Small world.  They were in from Windsor and were marketing tools to companies here.  It was nice to be able to carry on conversations without hand waving and trying to explain myself. 🙂   Headed off to bed around 2300, and slept well.

Guangzhou – January 17, 2007

20 01 2007

2007-01-17  (Wednesday)

Work has become pretty routine.  I don’t think I’ve told you about lunch yet though….

The office is in an industrial park, and there is a “park” canteen.  If we let them know ahead of time, they will serve a plate for each “reservation”.  Cost per person…. 7RMB.  Yup $1CAD for lunch.  This isn’t the “overstaffed restaurant” kind of lunch though..  No.  They put your lunch out at 11:50, whether you’re there or not.  If you take too long it’ll be cold.  Your tough luck.  Lunch consists of usually 2 meat products, and 2 veggie products as well as a bowl of soup, and all the rice you can handle.  It’s on a metal tray, so the longer you take to get there, the quicker it will cool… Cold bland food – not so good. 😦  It definitely is a “working man’s lunch”  Nothing fancy about it.  It’s decent fare though, and it’s close and convenient.  My other colleague who is over from Vancouver with me just devours it.  I’m a bit slow on the pickup…more of a “pick and choose” eater.   Perhaps by the end of my stay I’ll attack it with a bit more vigour.

Today I just went out for a walk from the hotel.  And with all due respect to someone who cares about me very much, I wasn’t robbed, killed or even threatened.  I DID get lots of strange looks as white guys are about as common as hen’s teeth around here.  Some couples turned, others tried not to stare.  You really get an interesting reaction when you turn and smile at people when you hear them saying “Guay Lo”…LOL!  They look quite shocked that you know they are talking about you.  I went about 4 blocks away from the hotel before the life on the street started to die down, which was a signal to me that it was time to turn around (See… I DO care about my safety!)  On the return I saw a place up on the second floor (most restaurants seem to be on the second floor over shops) called “Focus Coffee” which advertised Chinese and Western food.  Back home that’s an invitation to disaster..usually neither the Chinese or the Western food is good. 

I figured I’d roll the dice and see what I got.   I was greeted by the classic red gowned hostess (will have to get a picture for you) who spoke just about ZERO English.  I could feel another challenge coming up!  I was seated at a nice booth by the window, which afforded me the opportunity to watch the local folk come and go on their little scooters.  Quite the little devices….more on that later.  I sat down and got my menu.  It was a typographical nightmare.  Every English word that was supposed to have an “A” had a an “H” instead.  I looked over the various beef options, but I somehow didn’t feel like having a steak  (better on the Barbeque at home), and continued looking.  During this time, my VERY attentive waitress sat RIGHT next to my table and watched my every move.  I felt quite a bit of pressure to get my order placed.  Chinese people must have an immunity to it. Me… not so much.  I decided to go with something on the Chinese part of the menu that looked like portuguese style baked pork chops.  I chose my item, and my waitress dutifully repeated the name “Hoisin Fan”? Of course, she could have been offering me cow dung, so all I could do was nod my head. In my poor Cantonese I asked if it was beef or pork, and the manager even came over to try and help explain what it was.  Nope. No luck. Hmmmm.  She asked if I wanted a drink.  I always like to try the local beer, so I had a beer listed underneath Bud and Heinekin.  I figured it’s Chinese, and it’s in the beer column.  I’ll give it a whirl.

Shortly after ordering,my “beer” showed up.  “Purple Goanna”.  Definitely NOT beer 😦  Urgh.  This can best be described as a kind of grape koolaid flavoured cooler.  It had 5% alcohol, but it tasted like a bad bottle of koolaid. Oh well.  You live… you learn.  Some time later, my hoisin fan showed up.  What was it?  Baked seafood on rice.  Just like you’d get back home at Gloucester cafe.  LOL!  It was quite good, and I took a bit of time to help my waitress learn the words “Baked Seafood on rice”.  She seemed genuinely appreciative of the fact that she now knew one more menu item in English.   As with most dishes, one was more than enough to fill me up.  So as I finished it, I recalled seeing that they had Bailey’s on the menu.  Sweet.  When she came back, I ordered a “cup of coffee and a shot of “Bailey’s”.  That was the cue for more hilarity.  She looked at me like I was from Mars. 
“What kind of coffee, sir?”
“Just plain coffee.”
“Just one moment please.”
Uh Oh….
My waitress returns with the menu.  There’s no such thing as “Just plain coffee”.  You have a choice of “Brazillian, Java, Italian, etc…”  I quickly scanned the coffee options.  “I’ll have the Italian” (it was the cheapest). 
Then she paused for a moment and asked, “What did you want with that?” (In much less clear english than that).
“Bailey’s Irish Cream”
Quizzical look, “One moment please.”  Away she goes. This doesn’t bode well.
A minute or two later she comes back with the manager, and exchanges a few words with him.  He turns to me and asks, “What would you like, sir?”  (Always with the “sir”!)
“Bailey’s Irish Cream”
“Irish Coffee?”
“No.  Bailey’s Irish Cream.  It’s in the menu.”
“One moment please.”
He comes back with the menu, and I proceed to try and find where I saw Bailey’s.  I see an entry for a B52.  I tell him, it’s one of the ingredients in the B52. 
He looks at me like I’ve got 3 eyes and am growing horns, “I don’t understand”.
After going over the menu 3 times, I finally find the entry for “Bhiley’s Irish Crehm”  (Which explains why I couldn’t find quickly).
“Oh, yes sir.”
They both went away, and I awaited my cup of coffee and shot of Bailey’s.
About two minutes passed when the manager sheepishly reappeared and said, “Sorry sir, but we have no Bailey’s Irish Cream.”
Sigh….  I was determined to have an alcoholic coffee, as the cold weather that had set in that day made me want to warm up a bit.
I managed to end up with Coffee and Kahlua.  Nothing like coffee flavored liqueur to go with your coffee!  LOL.  The coffee was very strong, and drowned out my Kahlua pretty badly.  After finishing that, I paid my bill, and was on my way.  A pretty inexpensive meal still, but not as good a deal as I had a the Sichuan place.  I headed back to the hotel, and was in a pretty determined mood to have my coffee with Bailey’s. 

The lobby bar had about 4 people in it, so I got pretty quick service 🙂  I knew this time that I’d have to choose my type of coffee.   I chose the cheapest coffee I could find (25RMB!) and my shot of Bailey’s (25RMB). It was nice, if not a bit expensive.  There was a band playing (2 female singers, and guy on the piano).  They played various cover songs, and were pretty good.  Between sets, they came by and said “Hi!”  Nice folks.  We chatted for a bit. 

After my second Bailey’s and coffee, I headed back to the room, and took advantage of the first night that I actually had semi-half decent Internet connectivity to get some email done before Vancouver woke up.  I still woke up at 0300.  Sigh.  Tomorrow is Thursday…time is ticking to get everything done… Excitement at the prospect of a deadline and jet lag contributed to the middle of the night wake up I think.

A couple of quick pics from Guangzhou

19 01 2007

Sunset tonight (2007-01-19)

Fountain in front of my hotel (New Century Hotel) tonight:

Gaungzhou January 16, 2007

19 01 2007

2007-01-16 (Tuesday)

I still haven’t got the sleep thing right.  0400 is NOT when I’m supposed to wake up.  I last woke up about 20 minutes before my alarm, and noticed that my Internet connectivity at the hotel STILL sucks rocks… C’est la vie.  Down for breakfast..

“Sorry Sir… not included”

No!!!!! Not again!  We went through the routine again, and again we danced the dance.  I DID get breakfast though, and then headed down to the front desk (just like I did YESTERDAY!).  I explained to them that I don’t want to keep getting asked EVERY time… just bill it to the room…. PERIOD.

“Oh, Yes sir.  I’ll put a note on your room file”

Sure… we’ll see.

China is an interesting place to work.  Everything happens in its own way.  I was reminded again why I chose NOT to try driving the last time I was here.  Out here, on the outskirts of Guangzhou it is just as crazy (if not more so) than it is in the downtown area.  After the drive to work I find I need a few minutes to just regain my resting heartbeat!  Between scooters/motorcycles/cars/pedestrians and bicycles it’s amazing that we survive the drive every time.  People change lanes randomnly, and the only real rule appears to be if you’re a car you have the right of way over a motorbike, motorbikes have right of way over pedestrians.  Pedestrians… bottom of the totem pole.  It seems that it’s better NOT to signal your lane changes because then someone else might see you and get the same idea, taking your previously staked out little piece of the traffic flow.

Electrical standards are not quite the usual CSA.  The 160A breaker just sits in the warehouse with the bare wires available for any fool touch…. Nice.  Love it.

Apparently my servers all settled, and I had a working DC on Tuesday morning.  This was great, since I could now login and not have to have my electrons travel all around the world for a change.  It was a day of network wiring fun, and compromise appears to be one of the key words to surviving here in China.  I think we’ve ended up with a decent setup for networking.  The test will, of course, come when people actually try to USE the stuff… Eheh.

Tuesday was a bit harrowing, but I made it through the work day.  Now the hard part was to begin.  Dinner.

I figured I’d start with having dinner at the hotel on the first night, so I went to the front desk and asked them which of the hotel restaurants would be a good suggestion for Chinese food, as I knew they had Western as well.

“Do you like Sichuan, sir?”  (Everyone calls you “Sir”  I feel so OLD)


“OK, you go out of the hotel and then turn right.  2nd floor near corner”

Obviously she didn’t QUITE understand my query.  No worries.  I’m game.  “Can you give me a bit better directions?  Perhaps you can write the name on a piece of paper so that I can see if I have the right place”

“Just one moment, sir.”  (Just one moment is the phrase that means “You’ll be lucky if you see me again, or I’ll be back before you can even exhale”)

Bellhop shows up, “I’ll take you there, sir.”

“Uh… OK”, say I – somewhat confused.

Sure ‘nough this dude takes me about a block over to the restaurant and says “Have a good dinner!”, turns around and is gone.  Didn’t sit there waiting for a tip or anything.  Wow!

I went up into the little second floor restaurant and was greeted very pleasantly in Chinese. Only.  Uh Oh!  OK – I indicate that I’m just one person for dinner and I get a table.  I got the menu and started perusing the pictures.  After a short bit, a waitress comes by to take my order… In Chinese. Only.  I’m not sure what to have.  The hostess comes over to help (thinking that two people speaking mandarin makes is sooo much easier?) They both are pointing at something on the menu and nodding their heads while speaking at me.  I nod too…. and then there’s a pause.  They look like they think I might want to order more.  I try to indicate that I’d like to know how big it is with my hands, and making “Full tummy” motions with a questioning look.  Quite comical.  That got NOWHERE.  So… I say no more, while waving my hands in the “no more” fashion.  Away goes my waitress.  Tea shows up, and I’m happily sipping away, while she comes back and asks something else in Mandarin.  We figure out that she’s asking about drinks.  What kind?  I dunno.  She disappears again and comes back with a beer. (500ml bottles are the norm).  Gives the quizzical look, and hovers with the bottle opener over the beer.  I try to ask “How much?”, but then think…whatever!  Let’s just get me my beer.  So, I nod again, and she opens it.  I indicate via my quality mandarin hand gestures, that I’d like a glass.  Poof!  One glass.  Good cold refreshing beer, albeit quite light.  Only 2.5%!

My dish showed up shortly after that.  It was a HUGE rack of 3 pork ribs (full length pork ribs) arched across the plate, and smothered in chilies and chili oil!  I did expect spicy food though, so I was OK with that.  It was REALLY good.  That one dish stuffed me.  It’s a good thing I didn’t order anything else – I wouldn’t have been able to touch the second dish.  As it was, I was taking home a doggy bag from this meal to spice up tomorrow’s lunch.

Two beers a plate of giant ribs later, I was heading back to my hotel, contented and ready for the 3rd and 4th hour of 24.  I got settled in, realized that I had no Internet connectivity to speak of (Boo Hoo!) and started watching my show.  Holy crazy episode 4!  If you’re a 24 fan, you’ll know what I mean!

2300 came around and it was time to rack out.  I figured I’d sleep well.  Not so much. I woke up again at 0330 and tossed a while before falling back to sleep again.  Damned jet lag.  Tomorrow (Wednesday, I’ll have been here half a week already… Time flies!)

Guangzhou – January 15, 2007

18 01 2007


First day at work.

My colleagues were to come and get me at 0850, so I had to make sure I was ready! After sleeping quite well (Who wouldn’t after travelling for the last 40 or so hours) I woke up pretty early at 0700.  After figuring out what bits and pieces I needed to bring with me to work I headed down for my “included” breakfast.  I got down to the restaurant and handed her my card. 

“Oh… sorry sir – Not Included”

“Uhm…. can I pay?”

“Yes, Yes!  right this way.”

I proceeded to have a good breakfast with a mix of western and asian cuisine on the buffet with the oddity of the fact that people here smoke EVERYWHERE, like at the buffet while choosing what to eat.  Derrick would die here.  I kept wondering what happened to my “included breakfast”.  As I finished breakfast a woman came up to me with the bill and I asked “Do I need to pay cash?” She said that I could either pay cash, or I could sign my name with the room.  (kind of like Including it …hmmm) Excellent.  No receipt game necessary – We’re good!

I ended up down in the lobby about 30 minutes early (better early than late I figured).  The only problem with that (otherwise great) plan was the fact that the only couches in the entire lobby were hidden behind the escalators, facing AWAY from any chance of seeing the front door, and as such I ended up craning my neck around most of the time to make sure I didn’t miss the van.  My colleague came into the lobby pretty sharply at 0850 and I was pretty happy that I managed to recognize him after 4 months 🙂  The deal is that we have a van driver drives the route of the 3 staff and my hotel picking up the crowd.  We arrive at work around 0900 and the fun begins! 

It was a VERY challenging morning and I was afraid that we wouldn’t be able to overcome the problems when I first got there, but then I learned that many of the staff are quite handy, and we managed to get things almost looking normal.   My first day at the site, and I miss lunch because I’m talking with my boss back in Vancouver.  Sigh…  There’s always tomorrow.

After lunch things started to get better, and we made some changes that had a significant effect on our Internet link.  Thank God.  By the end of the afternoon it was time to leave my servers to work overnight and “settle”.  I was praying that they WOULD settle, and that I wouldn’t come back on Tuesday to a little disaster.  Oh well… Van’s leaving – gotta leave with the gang!

I had a pleasant surprise after work, as myself, and 3 of my colleagues (and the van driver) went out for dinner after work.  We were at some place that (like many Chinese businesses) seemed to have 1 staff/guest ratio.  If you even so much as looked at your teacup with a sideways glance they were there filling it up!  We had some very tasty food.  A classic Guangzhou dish which seemed to be very similar to “Beef Cheung Faan”  It was good, but one of the most interesting dishes was some sort of giant shrimp with pretty sharp shell.  The stripes were a light purple colour and they were tasty!  Also in the meal were the more usual shrimp on a stick – with a twist… They were smothered in a MOUND of Chilies!!!!  Very spicy! But very tasty too.  Tough on the mouth.

We finished dinner and then continued to my hotel.  I got dropped off, and basically just collapsed.  Slightly lagged and a long day, compiled with a big dinner meant time to sleep.  The problem was that there were 4 episodes of 24 calling my name, so I just HAD to watch 6am-8am.  Pretty interesting start to the season.  THEN I went to sleep 🙂  Sleep was different.  Asians like HARD beds.  Not firm – HARD.  I had that “celery on a cutting board” feeling”  It wasn’t too comfortable to sleep on my side.  On the back it was…Zzzzzz.

I woke up at 0300 to see that my Outlook still couldn’t sync with the Exchange server.  Damned earthquake is just KILLING asian connectivity 😦 and the hotel was the worst I had seen yet.  Sigh.  Hopefully my servers are settling despite that.  I suppose we’ll find out….

Vancouver to Guangzhou… A wild ride Jan 12-14, 2007

16 01 2007

2007-01-12 – 2007-01-14

Well, it’s been a crazy few days since I blogged.

The flight:

Our flight was delayed out of YVR until 0200.  Not bad.  In reality, we didn’t leave until probably closer to 0220 😦  That means I left home at about 2200 on the 12th and didn’t get on a plane even until about 4 hours later.  The flight was long and uneventful for the most part.  I sat between a gentleman living in Dubai who travels to Vancouver 2x/mos to look after his properties and a man heading for a vacation in Taiwan.  As usual, Cathay has the good looking flight crew and great service.

The flight was scheduled to be 13:45 long, but due to the very strong headwind and the full plane, we ran out of gas.  Actually, unlike a car, they don’t wait until the “E” light is on, so we had to make a stop in Taiwan for gas.  It sucks to be the poor guy next to me who will still have to fly to HK and then turn around and head to Taipei because we don’t actually hit a terminal at the airport, we just stop at the pump, and “fill ‘er up”.  It was a good thing we stopped, as we were also out of water for washing etc.  Interesting.  Better to stop in Taipei than run out over the South China sea, I guess.  We arrived late in HK, and people scurried everywhere to make their connecting flights.  The frequent traveller next to me helped me on my way to the China Southern transfer desk, and I got prioritized there, so that I could get to my plane.

After getting my boarding pass for the 30 minute flight I headed through yet another security checkpoint.  I guess HK airport wants to be able to say “It wasn’t OUR fault” if someone goes terrorist somewhere.  I can see their point, but man is that annoying.  After clearing security, I found myself heading to the same gate that Mrs D and I left  from when we flew for our tour last year.  Funny coincidence.

I got on the 737 and sat in my little middle seat (which I had been assigned because the plane was full), only to figure out that the Emergency windows were still empty.  Oh well – it was only 30 minutes.  Strangely there were a lot of guys from Nigeria travelling on the plane.  It’s too bad that they were so tired, as I was curious what was bringing them to Guangzhou.

We arrived a bit late, but unlike Canadian immigration and customs, it was quite quick to go through the various checkpoints and my brother-in-law was there to greet me as I came out.  It was quite a relief seeing him as I had been a bit nervous about my first venture into China without my wife and interpreter – Mrs D.

We left the airport and headed out to find the hotel.  After a few fruitless searches we ended up paying 20RMB to have some dude on a motorcycle lead us there.  OMG, I forgot how crazy traffic is here.  As a passenger, you really have to put your faith in the driver, and just relax (as best you can).  We got to the hotel, and I checked in.  It’s a fairly modern hotel (10 years old) and like many of the Chinese hotels I have been to, it has a HUGE, and largely empty, lobby.  I’m up on the 14th floor, and have a corner room.  It’s an interesting view of the world below.  People, motorcycles, bikes, cars – All blending and weaving… Crazy!   my brother-in-law gave me my Guangzhou SIM card and I was set to go!

From the hotel, I headed out with my BIL (brother in law) for lunch.  We were going to head into downtown Guangzhou for lunch, which would be about 30 minutes, since my hotel is in Huadu (a district to the north of the downtown).  We ran into an interesting problem. There is a new onramp being built for the expressway to take you to/from the airport.  The problem is that the sign builders are faster than the road builders, so all the signs in the area for the airport expressway take you to the dead-end on ramp.  I’m sure in a couple of months it will all be great, but right now it meant we got a tour of Huadu on which we weren’t planning.  We drove around so much, that BIL decided we’d eat out in Huadu.  That was OK.   We had a good lunch.  For Mrs D: I even ate tofu!  Beer around here seems to come in 500ml bottles.  Cool!

When we finished lunch we finally found our way into downtown, and I got to visit for a while with my little nephew.  He’s growing up quite quickly!  He does need to find some other playmates his age soon.  He’s quite into cars and trucks, and was happy to show me his different toys.  We had a good time!  After playing for a while, I went shopping with BIL to see if we could find me a nice dress shirt for my cousin in-law’s upcoming wedding. Asian necks and arms aren’t quite the same size as mine. If I got a neck to fit the arms were too short, or if the arms fit, the  chest was too tight.  No luck there.  We must have walked a few kilometres there.  It was good to get out and walk around.  We had a great dinner with Grampa, Grandma, Auntie, Uncle etc.  A  big crowd, and a big dinner. I was stuffed!  The long day started getting to me, so BIL drove me back to the hotel so that I could crash out. Whew…what a long day.

Headed off for Guangzhou/Hong Kong

13 01 2007

I’m at YVR killing time until my 0200 departure.    I figure I’ll take advantage of the down time to do a little ‘Net surfing and emailing.  My main goal right now is to stay awake for the next 4 hours so that I can pass out on the plane and wake up in HK timezone.

It looks like it’ll be a pretty crazy time.  I’m going to be working for 2 weeks and then my cousin-in-law is getting married.  Then – time on my own in HK.  Should be interesting, as this time I don’t have Mrs. D with me.

I’ll try to keep the blog up to date as I travel and I hope you’ll have as much fun as me!

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