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.

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