Saturday, January 23, 2010

Shopping at the "Supermarket"

Supermarket -- You really dont know the meaning of the word, unless you’ve been to China.... or Ikea.

The supermarket is a multi-leveled affair here in Zhengzhou (and I believe the other cities of China). No... it is not a grocery store. It is Sears + Ikea + the grocery store, and several other little shops that are set up in the area. There are usually at least three stories to these Supermarkets... and there isnt really a “the” supermarket... you certainly have a selection to choose from. However, they all pretty much sell the same things... which is everything (minus those wonderful office organizer things that you see in N.A. ... I have been somewhat disappointed with the selection on desk organizing paraphernalia).

Each of these levels is connected by a kind of escalator that looks more like an elevated conveyer belt. You ride these up to the next level, and the employees set huge columns of carts on the belts. Keep in mind that there are probably 20+ carts in these columns... and they are going... up. They ought to roll back and crush the poor folk, if not just make them feel like Sisyphus... forever pushing their boulder up a hill. however, somehow the wheels on these carts like up with the slats of these conveyer belts, and they roll not! Its mind blowing to watch... but talk about tourist/foreigner moments when you do -- gawking open mouth and all.

Wal*mart is in China. Its not what you think it is. Aside from the yellow smiley faces on things that are on sale, it looks just like every other Chinese supermarket. There was even a really cool little tea shop at the entrance. I went over to look at it, and the girls in the shop summoned me in, to sit down at the tea table and try tea with them. YAY. I have tried to buy tea before, and I miserably failed.

These girls were really nice though, and super accommodating. The spoke a tiny bit of English, and my comprehension of mandarin has grown enough, that we could bridge the gap. Their tea table was awesome! She had all sorts of utensils, and little teapots, and gaiwan (teabowls). They had the tea cups in hot water like your supposed to, and even these little stone statues of a fish, some sort of guardian dog or something and a bullfrog. When she was making tea, the first round is thrown to the dogs... litterally. it was so cool, because the dogs start steaming, and over time build up the tea-y goodness I imagine.

And all of this in a Wal*mart!

Fortunately a lot of the supermarket have random bits of English all over the place to help guide you along, but you have to get creative after that. So if I am buying soy sauce lets say: I look for one that has english on it, memorize the character, and then compare which ones have the same character and get discriminating from there on. Its a great system.

Produce all has to be weighed before you get to the checkout. anything that even resembles bulk... two apples, one large carrot, must be weighed at the weigh station. It is given a price and a bar code, and then you can proceed to the checkout. Every supermarket I have seen has a bulk section next to the produce. They sell all sorts of strange meats, mostly cooked - some raw. There are live fish in tanks you can get, and a whole array of frozen things if you want to do hot-pot yourself.

Milk comes in a little bag, and there are all sorts of wonderful and interesting types of yoghurt, from normal things like pineapple and passionfruit, to exciting things like barley and mung beans (these are definitely growing on me.)

Being limited of kitchen however, I do not cook much these days... well... at all. Its a little sad, but it will make me appreciate my own kitchen, that day that I actually have one -- no matter the size. A real kitchen sure would beat a hot-plate in a hallway... any day.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


The Villages in the City

In Zhengzhou, there are these things that I have been introduced to as “the villages in the city.” White people call them “the alleys”, but I much prefer to call them the villages in the city, at least until I learn the mandarin word/phrase for it. You know the villages when you see them, because it is kind of like a state fare... jammed into an alley. Nothing but food and merchandise carts as far as you can see. Depending on the village you go to, you can get just about any kind of house hold knick knacks like mops, lunch pales, milk and socks, or you could buy shoes, pirated dvds and oh so much more.

My real reason for going to the villages, aside from the obvious allure of squalor... is the food. I like to walk home from work, worming my way from village to village, and picking up dinner as I go along. I figure all the walking counteracts the fried foods. Granted--- not all of it is fried! some of it is just swimming in oil BWAH HAHHA.

Im only half kidding... oil is the lifeblood of salt of the earth chinese food. Oh and real chinese food is nothing like you get in a restaurant, at least not here in Henan (HUH-nahn). The most common foods I see are this type of.. its kind of like an english muffin meets a biscuit which is given the skillet treatment and then baked in the cavity beneath the huge skillet it is cooked on. These are usually cut open and filled with a mainland chinese equivalent of barbeque pork and green pepper... kind of like a bell pepper but not quite. this is hacked to death by a cleaver and then stuffed in the bread-thing.
it is quite delicious. There are tons of venders with what is essentially a kiln on wheels... and they all bake some variety of sweet potato. I got one today, and it was delicious aswell. There are venders selling raw meat, cooked meat, and crazy meat that you dont really understand like pigs foot...

The more delicious meats however... come on a skewer. There is lamb -- which is usually covered in this delicious spicy rub, there is octopus... which is fun... but not the most delicious, there are chicken wings, tofu and a whole range of other things-on-a-stick.

If you want something sweet, there are plenty of fruits with a sort of carmalized sugar crust on a stick, deep fried banana (which I got today) or you can get straight up sugar cane ~ which im addicted to right now, partially because of the novelty of it.

You can get dumplings, noodles, and various other wonderful things, and MORE!

There is no reason to starve in the city.

The most I have paid for anything was five kwai... and that was those delicious lamb skewers.. and there were like five of them in one of those biscuit-muffin dealies. For those of you who are not aware... the exchange rate is basically 6-1 so 5 kwai is not even one dollar... So I can eat to my hearts content easily on 10 kwai... and pay less than the equivalent of two american/canadian dollars. It is a thing of beauty.

Today I got up the guts to get one of the hot drinks sold in the villages. I wanted to buy from this vendor because he had the coolest cart ever. At first glance, it is a cart like all the others, with containers of various ingredients all over it. However, When you get past all the people, you notice this huge dragon kettle on it! Constructed from copper and brass, the basin being copper and the dragon which mounts the pot and forms the spout being made from brass, this contraption was definitely the seller for me. It was on a rocking type mechanism, so the vender simply had to tip the pot and huge vessel would pour within his control. He then mixed the contents of the kettle with some sort of white liquid... which I assume is starch because the whole drink is viscous, and throws in a variety of ingredients including black sesame seeds, green raisins, maybe lichee, peanuts and whatever else. The top of the plastic cup is then sealed and handed to you with an accommodating straw. well worth the two kwai... Shoot... i’d pay five dollars for that every once in a while... but dont tell my vendor that :D. (picture incoming on the dragon pot.)


The villages are emblematic of life in Zhengzhou I feel. They are dirtier than you would like to imagine, but so full of free enterprise and variety that you are a bit inspired at the same time. Not to mention the flavour and dirt cheapness of it is super attractive.

Almost every vendor has a single lightbulb suspended above them... bare. I dont know if I have seen any sort of lamp shade... ever.... on the street. It is almost like the idea is a ridiculous thought. Then there are the blinking signs along the street advertising a stores wares. Three out of five will be house merchandise, one will be dvd’s one might be clothes and almost all will sell alcohol.

I went walking down the street in a non-alley and there must have been nine alcohol shops within three city blocks... some of them right next to each other. It’s like these are Henan’s equivalent of Starbucks.

When I say dirty though, I mean dirty. Litter is a way of life. Everyone throws everything, everywhere. Squished fruit and trash adorn every corner, and this is Henan -- so the sounds of everyone around you include, yelling vendors, frying foods, the sound of cooking fires flaring up, and the hocking of lugies... by everyone. Everyone spits and hocks really loudly and nastily here. If you had a personal bond with the bottom of your shoes, you would never walk anywhere. *But like I said --- this is a way of life.

You buy your sugarcane for one kwai... or two kwai if it is the huge one. Sugarcane looks an awful lot like bamboo, if you have never had it. However, it is more of a purple colour, until the vendor takes their cleaver, shaving utensil and takes the hard outer layer off and wraps one end in a plastic bag for you. You then walk home gnawing on it and spitting out the woody contents after you have chomped the sugary juice out with your molars. I somewhat wonder if God designed this as a dental tool... because you definitely give your teeth a thorough going over in the process of extracting the goodness... maybe sugar was supposed to be incentive to clean one’s teeth I like that line of thought.
If you are trying to be really polite with the sugar cane like I do, you choose to spit in bushes or in the grates beneath the trees on the sidewalk... the same place dogs do their business...

What more can I say? they are dingy ~ but such a wonderful cultural artifact that I actually feel like North America is deficient for not having something like this. This is open every day... and it is not ruled by health codes, bosses or anything other than the people’s desire to make money and stand out from the crowd so that they can attract more customers.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

First day on the Eastern Front

Where in A Shrouded Sun Rises

I woke up the day after arriving with plans to meet my director at 9am. No problem considering that jet-lag allowed me to sleep hard-core through the night and wake up at around 5am. I fell back asleep without too much difficulty and woke up around 7am. Feeling once again like an adopted pet from the shelter, looking around my apartment to see if all the corners are safe, I continued the process of acquainting myself with my environment.

Nine O’clock rolled around and there came a nock at the door. Emily, the person I keep referring to as “my director” arrived, and so naturally I let her in. I got myself ready, coat scarf and whatnot and we headed back down the elevator, which can cover twenty stories remarkably quickly.

Before I get too much further, let me describe Emily for you. There is not a whole lot I can really say about who she is, because I haven’t known her for sufficient enough time, but I know that she is in her mid twenties, has been in Zhengzhou for nine months and just recently completed her masters degree. She is from Ontario Canada, and has a whole slew of life stories that reach far beyond your average canadian/american travel scheme. She has moderately long, light-brown hair, and enough adorable little freckles to upstage the entire Irish nation, as well as qualify as a Palomino. I say that with all possible respect of course. She cannot weigh more than 100lbs/45kg. Very skinny, but with more than substantial enough of an attitude to be a director at her age.

We head out of my building, dodging bicycles and pedestrians alike and she proceeds to give me the most important introduction to Chinese protocol,

“In China, you can walk whenever you want, but you also have the right to die if you are in someone else’s way.”

She wasn’t kidding. Driving rules are very similar. The lines on the middle of the road that we rely on in North America, really might as well not exist. The great fortune however is that traffic never really jammed. Now that I have had the opportunity to watch traffic, both pedestrian and automotive, I have noticed that even though it seems chaotic there are very few cars with major dents in them. Everyone is so attuned to watching all sides at all times that very few major accidents occur. Im still waiting for that fateful day when I see a cyclist eat it, but I hope it never comes just the same.

Across the street, I am then introduced to my first chinese taxi-cab experience. All of the red or green (often beater type cars) are cabs in Zhengzhou. The nicer looking cars are almost always private. I have seen a few upper-scale looking taxis, but they all still have the typical red or green paint. Emily flags down a taxi by extending her arm and fanning her hand up and down. Screeching to a halt in front of us, a nice red taxicab with a cage inside has arrived to ferry us to the next unknown part of Zhengzhou. Emily sits in the front part of the cage nearest the driver, separated by a barred partition (not all of the cabs have this feature) and gets ‘that’ look where you know they are trying to remember something taxing. After a moments pause, she says, “Jing San Lu (uhhh) Feng Chan Lu”... And were off! The driver clearly understood whatever she just said, even though I had no Idea what was going on. I later learned that ‘Lu’ is the chinese word for road, and that was the nearest intersection to our school.

We pull up to the afore mentioned intersection and I hear Emily say to herself -- “She is going to hate me... I dont have change.” I counter by asking in my most interested youthful voice how much it was going to be. It turns out that I had exact change from my part of my currency exchange in Vancouver - Seven kwai (the Chinese equivalent of ‘buck’) well that basically works out to a five minute cab ride costing $1.15 US. Oh my! I like this city already!

Fare paid, we stroll up the steps past all the parked bicycles and motor/electric-cycles and into our building - known as Fortune Plaza. We head past the elevators which were on the twenty-somethingth floor, and enter the dank and filthy stairwell. Another thing I would have to get used to evidently. The bare concrete steps were less than inviting, and I was told that our mutual friend Summer was planning on writing a novel where the murder takes place in a stairwell like this: great plan- bound to make millions... except in China, where no one would quite get it.... Emily stomped loudly and the next flight of stairs was light up by an exposed lightbulb (also commonplace). Lights in many stairwells are sound activated, and everyone has their own preferred way of triggering them. Some people stomp, some clap (something I enjoyed for the first few days, because I happen to be able to make thunder roll with these bear-paws of mine), some bellow up the stairs, and I like to whistle.

Reaching the third floor, we enter the domain of ESLI - by far more modern, inviting and chic than the derelict stairwell. We made our way through the rectangular office, meeting glass office after glass office in a very professional and urbane environment. I began with the introductions immediately, and thanks to the advice of “Names and Faces Made Easy,” I actually managed to keep the names in my head, neatly stored with the faces that already stick in my head. YAY! I love self-help skills that work. Heading to the back end of the rectangle, we arrived at the teachers office, and I was introduced to my desk. Something about meeting one’s desk in a professional environment is significant to me.

After a few more introductions, the cleaning off of my desk from previous residents, and getting somewhat settled, Emily decided to take me to see one of the many large supermarkets in the area.

A more full description of that experience will have to wait however, because more work needs to be done while this is being written :D

Until next time~
And here I am, over a week later. Longest ... week... of... my... life. Yet.

Well there is just so much, I should start at the beginning.

I arrived in Zhengzhou city on a pretty chilly night last thursday. I was met by the director of the school I teach at, and a driver chartered by the school. After an official introduction to one of the people I had been facebook stalking for a while... (secrets secrets) we took my two bags, which made it all the way from Vancouver without being lost, not even once, and headed to the car. On the ride back, my director began the onslaught of information that is starting new job, with a new organization, in a very new country.

One of the first bits of advice was... welcome to Zhengzhou - get used to pollution. Yay.

Continuing down the highway towards Zhengzhou proper (the airport is in an adjacent town, not actually Zhengzhou itself), I was exposed to the shocking truth of chinese advertisements. Of course, everything is in Chinese characters, but to one up that little stipulation is the fact that everything is illuminated by those really tacky neon type lights. Digesting all of this new stimulation as I saw it, my director told me, “before you think you’re going insane, yes the lights on the highway are changing colour.” I had been staring at the lights that were lining the sidelines of the highway, and only just really registered the fact that the colours were actually changing colours like a lava lamp. welcome to China indeed.

Past the seven layers of the candy cane forest and all that, we arrive at my appartment building, which is a 26 story tower, surrounded by other towers of similar or greater hight. We get my bags out of the car and hop in a relatively derelict feeling elevator. Twenty floors later, and we arrive at my door. My director rummages around in her purse and produces the security wand that you might otherwise call a key. This however was much much more than your average car key. No thats not a typo... it actually looks like a car key, but it is even more complicated than that. this key has varied levels of pin indentations in it, meaning that it is essentially impossible to pick. Even if you were to pick the initial lock, it needs to be rotated three full times in order to open the door. It is essentially a vault. That does a number to make a body feel safe, let me tell you.

After we figured out the three turn pass-code, we walked into my apartment, and were greeted by a chilly dank smell that is very similar to an old farmhouse basement. Quickly browsing around the place, and by quickly I mean that I took five steps and turned around, I took stock of where I was about to spend the next year or so sleeping.

Small, compact and... efficient? are all words that come to mind. My director took a moment to explain the situation to me. Immediately after entry, on the right is “the kitchen” which consists of a sink, counter, microwave, electric kettle, hotplate and exhaust hood. Careful! try not to get too envious now. On the left is my bathroom, which fortunately equipped with a western toilet, shower and washing machine. I am told that no one has a dryer... and my week of being in Zhengzhou has shown that to be accurate... dryers just aren’t sold. Outside the bathroom are a series of interesting switches. Now up is down and down is on. - Not kidding, welcome to China... Down = On. One of these turns on the fan, one the lights... dunno what the third one does, but the big fourth one starts my water heater. Well, lets just say that I need to know that I am going to take a shower about 30-45 minutes before I want to do it.

Proceeding into the great hall, or... my room, is a window (YAY-- though it does steal my heat frequently). There is also a very large cabinet to hang up my clothes, a TV (which will probably never be used for any reason...) a mini-fridge, which for my purposes will be a normal fridge, and a little water dispenser sitting on top of it. There is also a large bed with somewhat questionable blankets on it that read, “fashion fashion fashion etc” and of course my desk.

Now above my desk and window is an interesting looking machine.... what is it? Well it turns out that this object is known as an air conditioner. The term “air conditioner” is generic in China, and also refers to a heater. Unfortunately it did not work well for quite a few days. I then learned the value of cleaning the filters from another expat. Now it purrs like a lamb ~ or whatever.

I am informed not to drink the water straight, for all sorts of good reasons. Because my water dispenser was empty, I needed to use the kettle and boil all drinking water. The boiling will kill any sort of bacteria, and I am informed that I simply need to leave the last half inch of the kettle and pour it out... as to not consume the heavy metals contained within!

Wishing me a goodnight, my director and the driver said goodnight, and I got myself settled in for my first chilly night in China.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

free bird

Finally I get to fly across the big water!!

I am currently on the plane to Beijing and basking in all its glory. Before I go getting entirely too giddy to form cogent thoughts lets start at the beginning so that there will at least be some background.

Getting up this morning was a bit taxing I suppose. I fortunately stayed awake, but it took some considerable effort. I finally quit myself of those wonderful parachute pants and donned my suit for another day stuffed full of traveling. I ironed my favourite dress shirt to a professional crispness and slid myself into its cozy readiness. The rest of the suit gradually made its way over the remaining surfaces of my body. Adorned in a manner that represented the gravity of this journey, I set out with my friends to drop off their kids at school and then go to have tea and say good-bye to some very special people. We took a picture as a token for me to remember them by and began our next leg of the journey ~ the last of many trips to and from the vancouver airport (it has only been one week since I came from Missouri, and yet I have managed to make that journey no less than four times with another ‘short trip’ to downtown Vancouver that you can read in another thread).
I somehow survived a bounty of Christian pop and Veggie tales Doo-Wop ‘gems’ before I edged in with my Ipod and basked in the glory of Yann Tiersen and music that reminds one of my friends of summer vacation in Italy or France.... I dunno entirely how that became one of her mental categories for summer vacation - but that is Ok.

We got to the airport and my friends parked their car and had the wonderful generosity to walk me to the terminal and help me make sure my bags were all checked appropriately. Any of the fears I had about baggage restrictions were quelled without any sort of resistance. We peaceably went and I bought a round of coffees for my friends and myself and we all quietly dwelled on what was about to take place. This was one of those times where the feeling is tangible in what feels like a sort of cloud between the parties involved. It is that same feeling when you look at a hot road and you swear that you can see the heat waves radiating off of it, instead this feeling was a somber acknowledgement of everything that had taken place in the subsequent year and a half of our time spent together. Before I had even gotten half way through my overly-hot americano coffee, I knew that my time had come ~ and that I needed to move on.

Exchanging a few hugs and acknowledging that we would see eachother again in some distant reach of the world, we parted ways and I hopped into the security checkpoint line. Aside from having to part with half of my wardrobe to the X-ray machine, the scan was one of the easiest I have ever passed through. MUCH much easier than going to the US these days. Arriving at the gate a few moments before boarding started, I got myself situated - checking every other moment that my passport was still where it ought to be, and every two moments that my chinese visa was still firmly glued in my passport--- possibly an unnecessary step, but I was willing to take it just the same.

A word of advice from my friends who dropped me off was: to always be touching your wallet if is out, and to have it firmly attached to your person at all times regardless of its visibility status. I supposed that my security measures were sufficient... but I was no where near willing to tolerate any potential loss of my precious passport - nor my newest variety of funny money - the Chinese Yuan. Let me just say that compared to the Yuan, American dollars are so boring that I get the feeling I should just bury them in my wallet rather than spending them - a valid money saving strategy I suppose.

Boarding began, and I shuffled myself into the line of chinese people boarding our long adventure to Beijing -- which is now three hours over out of the 11 hours 40 minute total fly time... and I dont even feel too horribly antsy yet. Clearly I’m enjoying myself. Give me time.. I still have over two-thirds of the flight to go.

Lets go back to the flight for a minute. I made my through the entry door, one of two I believe, and the sharply dressed flight attendant directed me down the appropriate aisle. Suffice it to say that I have flown many many times in my life -- but never international. I have flown in many many different types of plane.... but never one so colossal as this one! This is no double decker monolith, so I know there are bigger out there, but this is still big to me. There are two rows on the outside edges of the plane with two seats in depth to their names, and a rather beefy four seat center column that I am sitting in. A few of the things I noticed right away were... all the seat had their own TV screen built into the seat infront of them, which was not only theirs to see... but it was at their disposal. This means that there were over 14 channels with 6 or so movies to choose from. Some in English, some were available in French, some were only in Mandaring... but ALL - had Chinese characters flooding the bottom portion of the screen.

Giggling to myself with excitement about the whole scenario (and also that my row had two empty seats between me and my neighbor- and therefore ample leg room) I touched everything that looked new and exciting. The screen could be adjusted WAY up, and I originally thought that this was super nice and accommodating of those really tall whities that would otherwise find the viewing experience unsatisfying, until I realized how very far these seats reclined! I test leaned my seat and was very pleased with the results. A little while later, I started working in my Chinese language books and and got the receiving end of the leaning range of these chairs, but I just giggled and contented myself to work in a tighter space.
Hearing all the chinese being spoken around me was really motivating and definitely a kick in the rear end to get cracking on those books.

Just giddy with my situation, I got settled in and was taking in the sites, when a wonderful little presentation about safety and the gratitude of Air China came on my own personal TV. Oh Yay! Being used to the boring American safety schpeil... I usually tune it out; However, with the tranquil Chinese music in the background, and equivalent of supermodel flight attendants being oh so kind, how could I resist? Couldn’t.

After the notifications, I noticed some other screens being used for watching movies and all sorts of other excitement, so I began to play around with my remote to see what I could make happen. Lo and behold! I found some movie with that girl from Sex in the City -- (for the white people i guess...) Madagascar two or so..., Kung Fu, Kung Fu Panda (a wonderful cliche... but im not complaining, no sirreee) and some inspiring movie about a horrible earthquake in China about how the PLA army saves the day and how great ‘The Party’ is. I am glad they got to be heroes in a motion picture. There was even a full lineup of motivational orchestral music to get your hairs standing on end as the PLA army pulled people from the wreckage of huge slabs of concrete. Very inspirational.

The announcements come in over the intercom and we are informed that we are going to be receiving a meal, a light meal and refreshments throughout the flight. YAY!! granted its an 11hr40m flight... so it makes sense, but I was excited either way.

Round one was refreshments, and let me tell you - I love flying Air China (anything is a huge step up from United...). There was good tea, in addition to a whole line of sodas and juice etc. Hell yah ill take Cha!!!

Round two was ‘the meal’. The flight attendants, some of which are SUPER young -- what they cant be any older than... (me?) With a choice of pork or seafood and rice... ill take pork please. A platter with a mini salad, multi grain roll, pork, what I think was gai lan (kinda like asparagus meets spinach...) rice, and some chocolate cake! HAHAHA says I, taking in the sights of my schmorgespord, and noticing the plastic packet containing plastic utensils, a napkin and salt. My gaze was caught by the plastic wear and something deep within me went.... AW HELL NAW!!! - I think that was my alter-ego, a 300lb black woman named ‘Loquacious’ speaking. I reached into the depths of my messenger bag and pulled out my chopstick carrier. I felt a little tacky doing it... but I got compliments from the flight attendants and what I imagine were a few envious glances from my Chinese neighbors. Effectively plowing through my meal and enjoying my tea immensely, I finished my meal while intermittently watching the second half of Kung Fu Panda.

As my inspirational ‘China is Wonderful’ came to an end, I started flipping through the chanels again... I realized that that wasnt some movie with the girl from sex in the city... it IS sex in the city. Right on...

Well -- time passes and nature takes its toll on ones various tracts. One also already has the desire to get up and walk around and one of the best excuses to do so without looking and feeling like a total vagrant is to find the lavatory. Well, lets say that Air China lavatories are pretty much the same as everyone else’s - except they also have the little hotel style folded toilet paper ends (though Im not sure why they were still folded because a ton of people had been using these lavatories-- just about non-stop.... was I supposed to fold it? yah not gonna worry about that one for now.) Anyhow, without getting graphic I’d say the key difference between this type of lavatory and the rest of the North American lavatories i’ve used is the flushing mechanism. The sneaky contraption was, I am still convinced, a supercharged hoover. Much less of that crazy blue scary business was used in the process - but much less of the job was done on the first go. If there is no suction near the port of the basin... it doesnt do its job.

So the moral of the story is ~ if your ever on an international flight and you hear someone flush four times... it might be with good reason.

-- Several hours passed much in the same way... except I misunderstood the cute little announcement being made.. we get two meals of the same proportion. This time I got some sort of pork that was done up in a style kind of like those italian roast beef sandwiches - but this was on top of noodles, and of course the gai lan made an appearance again.

All told the flight consisted of two much appreciated meals............. and a sammich HAHAHHA! I laughed on the inside when I saw this white-bread, double decker cheese, tuna, tomato, no crust sammich. Dunno if I could have been entertained by a snack any more than I was... we’ll let the future disclose that kind of information (and wonder I do).

Regardless of food the flight was definitely long, but not unbearable. Certainly this was my first time taking a seriously international flight, but I actually enjoyed it. the first 2/3rds was totally reasonable. I didnt start getting cabin fever until about the last 3 hours, and then it was easy to console myself with the fact that I have had plenty of three hour flights in my life ~ and that it really was no big deal. One simply has to find the best way of passing it. . . I chose sleep.
Rather than dosing myself with traveler’s plague by touching my eyes while taking out my contacts, I made my way down the narrow isles and made use of the lavatory sink to thoroughly wash my hands. I made my way back to my seat, took out my contacts and placed them in my container in the ‘safety approved’ see through zip-lock baggie.


An intermittent two hours later and I look at my personal TV screen and see that there is only one hour left in flight -- no time at all when you think about the breadth of the beast.
As a side note ~ I think one of the things that made the flight most bearable was the fact that they had a channel that showed the progress of the flight on a map and provides projected remaining flight times. Perhaps United could boost their flight ratings if they implemented such a thing... doubtful.
Consequently you also grow to hate Russia/ Siberia because of how much time you spend over it on the way to Beijing.

At long last I arrived at Beijing, I could see mountains in the distance, snow on the terrain, and the airport which looks like some sort of weird armadillo with its sloping ruff structure and sky-lights peaking up all over.

Being an international flight, I had to claim my bags and get them transferred: a task I was a little apprehensive about - but still trusting just the same. Fortunately Beijing airport provides free trollies, and both of my bags showed up without any complications (praise definitely be due on that one).

Checked in ~ through customs and bags rechecked, I now await my flight to Zhengzhou. I am still wondering exactly what Jet lagg is. Im holding up pretty well, and Air China was very good about making sure we had the opportunity to hydrate. I also bought a delicious green tea chilled beverage near my gate for two yuan (basically less than 50c -- HAHA! love China already!). When I gave my ten yuan bill to the cashier, he gave me change that I had not seen before -- a 5 yuan bill and two (2x) ones. At first I was a little thrown off by the one dollar bills, but I had to double take and remember: oh yah, we use those in the US too.

Little over an hour before I board my next flight, and I am very excited about what comes next in this journey. I am also glad this next flight is only about an hour and a half long, and that I get to sleep somewhere tonight... I hope :D.

Somehow I think my general peppiness is going to confuse my director... but I like to be confusing.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Pedro Flies to San Fran

How Pedro’s Spine just about snapped off while waiting in line to get into his own country.

Oh my, oh my, oh my!

Well you hear talk about getting into the US these days via air, but I did not expect what I just went through.

Let me start by saying that I have flown stand-by my entire life. My Father is a pilot, which means that his family flies free if there is room on the plane. These days... such room is a very rare thing. Branching out on my own and taking on an adult lifestyle has brought with it an actual ticket - which is just great! The downside is that my country has somehow gone senile and decided to totally ruin the worlds desire to travel to it.
These days, in order to fly into the United states from abroad, several thing are GOING to happen to you. There will be no carry-on luggage with you. the closest thing to a carry on is the laptop - book or clutch sized purses that you can get your hands on. Aside from that everything is required to be checked. The implications of that are that everyone and their mother will be in line to check bags (even those of us who only brought one measly messenger bag for a short trip!) and the resulting lines will take you at least one full hour to get through. No sighs of relief please, there is more to come. -- You will then take your bags to the security drop off point and proceed to wait another 20-30 minutes in this line. From that point you will wait to go through the x-ray line and thorough search, wherein ‘all persons’ will be thoroughly groped by a smelly asian, iranian, or whichever other ethnicity that the vancouver equivalent of TSA has provided you. Normally i’d say im cosmopolitan and culturally sensitive, but not when I am ignored and not when body odor is present~

Ahh yes - one up side. Due to the horrendous lineups prior to the actual US customs, the custom lines are but a trickle and you get to move through them quickly. Granted... its 7:10am and I’ve been here since 4:20am.... hmmm whats 2pm like? I dont intend to ever find out.

Fortunately I do not have to run any sort of gambit as to whether or not I get on the plane this time -- and for that I am truly thankful. -- My plane was also conveniently delayed enough for me to get on to it comfortably. To top it all off! its not United Airlines!

And that is the boarding call - Time to work my magic (contemplated leaving by saying work my thaaang... but that sounded a little to profane to be official.)


Oh but the journey continues. In my stupor, I only half registered that our plane was becoming more and more late. For unknown reasons, we were sitting like some sort of delicious poultry at the gate. If we would have started rotating, that would have only made further sense of why we were waiting because we would officially qualify as rotisserie. After a healthy chunk of time we take off, and my worries of making my next flight take a serious back burner as I fought with my consciousness for a state somewhere between sleep and patient sloth. It seemed that by the time we actually leveled out on our ascent, we tilted back down and began our DEcent. It was a very short flight ~ with an even shorter connection. We landed at 9:15 local time with my plane scheduled to take off at 9:30.

Oh No! We have a gate change. Instead of going to C concourse like we were supposed to, (from which I could DASH to D concourse) we were being relocated.

Well, the Lord works in mysterious ways. Our plane ended up being assigned to gate D5 - a mere stones throw from gate D9 where I was bound.

I got on the flight and took my seat with my naked laptop (even the airport-safe neoprene laptop sleeve was not safe from the American policy) - all around me the overhead bins were filling up with roll-aboard bags from the domestically flying Americans. I wasn’t too terribly jealous, though I was a bit nervous for my messenger bag - given the almost 4 day ordeal with United airlines not too long ago. Even more nerve wracking was the fact that all my official Chinese documents were in that bag. Another character building moment. Another opportunity you might say to strengthen my trust in God ~ shoot if I can do it with my precious cargo, maybe I will be able to do it with so much more as my life changes in China.

Here’s hoping.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Pedro goes to San Francisco

Stage Two - Wherein Pedro’s adventure becomes an incredibly international affair.

(exhale - Inhale - exhale - - - inhale)

For those of you who read my previous post - Wherein Pedro goes to the Chinese Embassy - you know that there have been some interesting developments in my adventure of going to China. I was sent the right paperwork... for the wrong country. So, I am going on a “little” side adventure 1000 miles away in order to make my primary adventure... five-thousand miles away.
The events are going to transpire as follows: tomorrow I will be getting on a plane and heading down to meet some wonderful new in-laws in San Francisco. Then I get to take the scenic route to the Chinese Embassy in San Francisco to bring to an end the quest I started this past thursday. As long as nothing flops majorly, I will have my work permit and be heading back up to Vancouver on monday evening or tuesday morning (I HOPE!) Which brings me to my next point!
In the magical events with United Airlines over three days ago, my bag was somehow... magic’ed away. I have been without most of my clothes for over 72 hours. Those MC Hammer parachute pants that I have been enjoying have been my much appreciated nocturnal change of clothes. Otherwise - I have been sporting this incredibly attractive european cut three piece suit and lovely purple tie. Oh yes - I do look good ~ thanks for noticing.
Because of the dumbfounding incompetence of United airlines, I have been fleecing them for travel vouchers equating to about $100 per day. oh yes-- right now I am entitled to a travel voucher in the amount of $150 and one more in the amount of $250. - Not enough to quite pay for the round trip - but at least for my return journey from San Francisco :D! -- the negligence of United means that I still dont quite have the second voucher in my possession yet... but not to worry -- Ill make sure it gets there.

There is a lot of work to do ~ and I thoroughly dislike not having my bag with me. However, this is one of those moments that builds perseverance, and I will persevere until my goal is met. I am doing my best to trust.

I will not be shaken.