Darrick's Diary

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Chinese Idol

I guess I let a couple of weekends go by. Well, two weeks ago I spent the weekend in Dalian city. The Hotel was unique in that it was more like an apartment. In fact, the hotel didn’t even start until you reached the fourth floor of the building.

That Friday night I had dinner with a couple of friends at a Japanese restaurant. Of course, there was way too much food. I also had to eat my share of sushi. First, I don’t really care for any type of food that comes out of a river or ocean. Second, I’d rather not eat anything raw. Lucky me, the Japanese have found a way to combine both. Honestly, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I’d eat there again (it was a very nice restaurant), but would never suggest it. Along with my dining experience, I tried some wasabi. Keep in mind I didn’t try my wasabi with anything, just one small bite. *Sigh* I’ll never learn. For those of you that aren’t familiar with wasabi, it’s very spicy and nobody eats just wasabi. After coughing for a solid 10 minutes, I was able to continue with the rest of my meal.

The next day I meet up with a different Dalian friend and walked around Xinghai Square. The square is one of several roundabouts and the largest square in Asia. The center of the roundabout is almost like a park area with several different stages and activities taking place. It’s also next to the ocean and has a beautiful road and sidewalk winding between the hills and water.

The afternoon was spent at Sun Asia Ocean/Polar World (basically Sea World). The only thing really unique about the place, as far as I know, is that there was a place to view birds also. Here, I was amused to see birds like turkeys and pheasants, animals that are common back home and would never be at a touristy place like Sea World.
Overall, it was a good weekend.

This past weekend I was forced into going to a KTV. What is a KTV, well I still don’t know. From what I’ve been told, it can be just about anything. The KTV that I went to was for karaoke. Basically, you go in, buy whatever snacks and drinks you want (anything from chips and popcorn to beer and wine), and then go to a private room and sing badly all night. Yes, I do mean all night. My group went to KTV at midnight and I crawled my way back across the street to my apartment sometime after 6:00AM. Ugh, karaoke.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

This isn't where I put my passport.

Wow, I let a lot of time go by without posting anything…..sorry everyone.

Since my last post, I had the opportunity to attend an American Chamber of Commerce meeting. Most of the discussions involved trying to compile a list of update business regulations and codes and what to do when trying to renew passports and visas. From what I could tell, the best thing to do was simply hope that your documents don’t expire while in country. Basically, you can't do anything without a passport (not even rent a hotel room), and the embassy will take it far a couple days at the very least. One audience member suggested keeping 2 passports at all times. A person can accomplish this by telling the embassy that he/she lost his/her passport and a replacement one is needed. Most other suggestions seemed to work only some of the time. The meeting was also a way for everyone to meet the US consulate’s satellite office staff.

Afterwards, everyone had the chance to enjoy some snacks and mingle. I had the pleasure of meeting Intel’s President of Asian Operations. He seemed rather friendly, but I only talked with him for 10 minutes. Other than Intel, I only met one other American. Half of the people at the meeting were Chinese, and the remaining individuals where from other countries like Mexico, Canada, and Germany. Even the Operation Administrator for the Chamber is from Russia.

The other major highlight I had once again involves food. On Saturday I had the pleasure of eating at a Korean restaurant thanks to my new friend Cindy. Although there was only two of us, we had an entire table full of food. It meal involved mostly beef and tofu, of course. Dessert was corn cake. Corn cake is basically something that’s flat and round like a pizza but with corn kernels inside. It all tasted pretty good, but I’m not really sure what makes Korean food different than Chinese. I’m not ever going to get use to hot drinks with my meals either.

Finally, spring is definitely here. The trees are turning green, flowers are blooming, my eyes are itching, and my nose is running. I love it.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Just a Walk in the Park

We finally had a nice weekend. It was a sunny 65 degrees outside which meant it was a good time to go for a walk. In the Kaifaqu, there is a large hill in the direction of the ocean. On top of said hill, there is a large object that looks like a flying saucer that can be seen from FAR away. “Why is there a flying saucer in the middle of the city,” I had to ask myself. I immediately responded “I don’t know self, let’s go get a closer look”. It was a great conversation.

Anyway, I hiked across the city and encountered a park where everyone was flying kites. Nearby where nicely shaded and paved hiking trails to the top of “space shuttle hill”. It turns out that the spaceship is just a big observation deck that happened to be closed for maintenance. The much cooler discovery, which also was being repaired, was a very big bell. Normally, two large logs would have been suspended on either side for striking, but where in the process of being replaced. It was definitely something that screamed Chinese and should be photo worthy later in the year. I was told that typically, the bell is rung to usher in the Lunar New Year.

I was also surprised that on the next hill over was a large statue of a winged bull with a baby(?) sitting on it. Even better, though, was that the beach was just a little ways beyond the bottom of this hill. Well, it technically a beach, but instead of sand the ground is covered in rocks. There was a mini amusement back down here though. Things like paddle boats, bumper cars, and a shooting gallery where available to enjoy. There were also a number of restaurants here. The mostly serve seafood which I don’t care for, but they also server pigeon which might be worth trying. It’s definitely a place to check out again.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

hot, Hot, HOT pot!

Hot pot is something in China were a pot is placed on the center of a table. The water is constantly heated to a simmer or boil. Everyone at the table places the food of their choosing into the pot. Once cooked, everyone eats their food from the same pot.

Well, I tried hot pot. We actually had three different pots. I chose something that was spicy, because I like spicy from time to time. That was a BIG mistake. Before hand, I was warned that spicy is very spicy, so I ordered something only "mildly" spicy thinking it would be ok. When my food arrived, I placed a bunch into the hot pot.

At this point I made my second mistake. I definitely let things cook to long. When I removed a bite from the hot pot, the food was unknowingly (by me anyway) way to hot temperature wise. I immediately shoved the food into my mouth before it had a chance to drop from my chopsticks or to even cool down.

I'm almost positive steam was coming from my ears. The intense heat combined with the way to spicy food set my mouth on fire. But wait! Bad things come in threes. I instinctively reached for my cup of water to douse the inferno in my mouth. However, typical Chinese drinks tend to be hot. My drink on during this particular meal was typical of Chinese drinks. I took a big drink of water that, had I been thinking clearly, would have been left to cool for another 10 minutes.

I was paralyzed. My cognitive and motor abilities completely shut down. I could move or think. I wanted to spit everything out, but couldn’t do that at a restaurant full of people watching me. Eventually, I just swallowed hard. I was left with tears streaming down my face, a profusely running nose, and a mouth that should have been declared a disaster zone. I wish I could say the food was good, but that wasn’t my top priority at the time. I couldn't taste anything for the rest of the night. After that, I stayed away from my spicy hot pot and ate from the other two.

The new number one in my top ten list of fears....hot pot.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Daily Grind

Well, I’ve received a few requests to write about my daily life. So, I’ll go ahead and start in the location where my day begins… in my apartment. It’s comparable to an efficiency apartment back home with maybe a little more space. I have a bedroom/living area. Kelly, the previous UNI student in China, left her air mattress; otherwise the bed would be nearly as hard as the wooden frame.

My kitchen only has two gas burners to cook on and a sink. However, there isn’t any hot water here. If I want hot water to wash dishes, I need to get it from the bathroom. Speaking of which, the bathroom has a toilet, sink, and shower. The toilet is not the kind flush (no pun intended) with the floor like I’ve heard about. I should also point out that the shower doesn’t have any kind of stall or tub around it. This means that after I shower in the morning my bathroom is a complete mess. Water goes everywhere and the whole floor gets a grimy quicker than normal.

Breakfast is usually some type of bread and a bag of milk. Yes, I said a bag of milk. I usually buy a box of 18 bags. Each one is 220mL, or about 1 glass. At 7:25 I head downstairs and across the street to get picked up for work.

A company van usually picks up four of us. The ride is about 30 hair raising minutes to the north. We actually leave the area I live in known as Kaifaqu, travel through Jinzhou, and into a “small” town that which nobody seems to know the name.

I probably could talk about the wonders of working at a Chinese company, but I’ll bore everyone with that later. I’m at work until 4:30 and back home just after 5:00. I just joined the gym at An Sheng shopping mall, so that’s where I try to go once I’m home. It’s pretty standard as far as gym equipment goes. They have spinning classes and some kind of dance/yoga thing. The one unique thing about a Chinese gym is that they also have badminton courts that seem to get heavy use.
After the gym, I head back home. Sometimes I read. Other times I watch TV. I only have one English channel, but many channels have some kind of karaoke, dating, or comedy programming. Basically, I don’t have to understand what’s being said. Body language actually explains a lot.

When 10:00 rolls around I go to bed. This is a typical day for the work week with Wednesday being the exception. Maybe I’ll tell you about that later. This is another really long entry. However, after 1 ½ months I finally have internet access in my apartment thanks to a favor called in by the HR manager at work. I’ll post more frequently….I promise.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Gimme a litre o' cola

I continue to be slow on the updates. However, I’m told that I should have internet in the next day or two! In the meantime, this new entry is just going to have to hold over everyone out there.

After being in China for a month, I can definitely say that I miss the food back home. Now don’t get me wrong, I do like many things. In fact, one of my favorite places to eat is at a small restaurant on the fifth floor of An Sheng shopping mall. A standard meal there is usually a small bowl of rice, a fried egg, some kind of cooked cabbage, a small bowl of soup, and a main dish of either beef or chicken. It’s very filling and very cheap. Plus, during one of the meals at work, I was served some kind of fried turnip which was really good. Tofu, I’d like to point out, is also pretty decent. However, with all of that said, I just can’t get past that need for the standard fatty, greasy food I’m use to eating back home.

Fortunately, when I just have to have a burger, I can head down to McDonald’s. Truth be told, eating at American restaurants might be my favorite part of being in China so far. I know that sounds terrible, but at these places, I have the opportunity to see which franchises have opted to go with standardized menus and which ones have felt the need to adopt a more local menu. I’m always interested in finding the similarities and differences of new places with home.

For starters, Subway is practically the same restaurant in China as in the US. McDonald’s and Dairy Queen have reduced menus (with a couple new items) and smaller serving sizes. That means no super-sizing. This is actually a surprise considering how much food I’ve seen Chinese people eat. Finally, Pizza Hut has a surprisingly small portion of its menu dedicated to pizza. The rest is made up of chicken, spaghetti, deserts, seafood, and nearly everything else. I would consider it an unique experience even if it is based on something very American.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Long Overdue

Whew! I don't know where to start. Maybe I should first apologize to all those people out there that have been waiting on an update. However, that should be our first lesson about China. Everything gets done slower. In fact, I've been here for 2 weeks now and I'm still waiting for somebody to install internet into my apartment. I was told that there isn't any more internet cable available for a new connection. What exactly this means, I don't know. However, I do know the result is that I have to wait another week for somebody to cancel their internet before I can get hooked up.

In any case, I've seen so many things of interest here, and I haven't even left my small area of the city. The first thing that jumps to mind is the final day of Spring Festival called Lantern Festival. Fourth of July types of fireworks were going off all over the city. This happened until 1:00am roughly. Plus, small floating bags of fire called "Wish Lamps" where allowed to float into the sky. It was very pretty, but all I could think about was how big a fire hazard these things were. I'm shocked that I didn't even see one fire truck flying down the road.

Actually speaking of fire trucks, I feel that I should talk a little about the driving. Yes, I know this is old news to many, but for those not familiar with China or the previous bloggers writings I'll touch on the subject. I hear that there is indeed such a thing as a driver’s license. However, I'm just going to go ahead and assume that traffic laws aren't really laws and are more like suggestions. If you want to drive in two lanes at once go ahead. If you're in the wrong lane, it’s the oncoming traffics responsibility to get out of your lane. Oh, and traffic lights have almost no value to them what so ever. I'm can't believe I haven't seen one accident yet. Seriously!

Well, this is getting long, so I'm going to wrap this up even though there is soooooo much more to talk about. I end with this story. I haven't really gotten the attention yet that some other bloggers have talked about. Most Chinese in Dalian are used to seeing foreigners. However, I went to Pizza Hut (which is entire blog entry in itself) yesterday with some co-workers. There were a number of people sitting in the waiting area and I assumed at least a 15 minute wait. Well, my party was informed that our wait would be about 2 minutes. Ok, great! Shortly after being seated my table started to talk to each other and laugh a little. Quickly, they informed me that the same hostess that sat us in 2 minutes told the next group of people that came in that they would need to wait 30 - 40 minutes. Apparently we got the VIP treatment because of me. How exciting!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

(Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers)

Well, since it is now 12:02AM I can say that I officially leave for China tomorrow. I'm actually feeling pretty nervous, which is unusual. It's a good feeling, though. I finally get to take the next step. The opportunity to go abroad for an extended period of time is like a dream come true. I've been out of the US multiple times; twice to Europe and once to El Salvador. No trip was longer than three weeks, however. Now, I get to go to China, a place I've never been, and stay for a whole six months. I'll have the opportunity to really immerse myself into a whole new culture and experience a way of life that I wouldn't normally get to. What a blast! I only hope that I can live up to the expectations of my employer, the employees, and everyone else that I have the pleasure of meeting.

I've been asked several times by friends and family about details like where am I going to live, how will I get to work not knowing how to speak the language, and will I have a roommate. The simple answer is I don't know. The only thing that I'm fairly certain of is that I have a room to sleep in. Is it furnished? I don't know. Do I have my own bathroom? I don't know. Where is it located in the city? I don't know. I really don't care either. I've been in some pretty skeezy places and survived, so whatever I'm given works for me. I'm just happy knowing that I have some sort of shelter to stay in when I find it. Plus, the surprise just adds to the adventure that I'm about to embark on.

So, dear readers, please check in from time to time, and feel free to comment (I'm sure if you're reading this you probably have my email). I'm not much of a blogger and could really use some encouragement to regularly update. Also, I don't know what everyone would like to read about. The more interactive you are, hopefully the more entertaining I can make this.

Goodnight. Sleep tight. The next time I post, I'll be on the other side of the world! :D