Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve

Its six o’clock in the evening on Christmas eve. I’m chewing on a wedge of cheese from a partial wheel a friend gave me when they left to go back to the US for the holidays, and I decided that it was time to write another blog.

You know how at every holiday there are kind of two sets of feelings? The commercial feeling with all the fake decorations, and then that secondary feeling that you can’t really explain. The feeling where everyone starts to anticipate the holiday, people start drinking and eating holiday type stuff, doing holiday type activities... Here in Zhengzhou, we only get the commercial side. Chinese people have partially picked up Christmas just as a commercial holiday. So we have Christmas decorations in the malls, large kitschy displays of presents staked outside malls, red plastered everywhere, and the occasional Christmas lights outside of hotels... But there is nothing in the way of life that is really changed. I know its not a holiday for the Chinese really, but it seriously changes the feeling of the time. December 24th seems like just another day really. A day full of traffic, old women spitting loudly, and a brisk wind that has found its way to our middle kingdom.

I think this feels significant to me for a reason. Christmas is by no means my favourite holiday. I do however like the season that surrounds it. I think I like the build up to christmas quite a bit more than the actual day. It creates a sense of unity for society, even if they don’t want to be unified. Im not saying its one of those “heal the world” moments (curse you Michael Jackson) where everyone forgets their anger and hatred... if anything, the anger level goes up ^_^ - But I think everyone DOES in some way get into their own version of the christmas spirit. Everyone has some kind of purpose. Aside from those unfortunate enough to have a deficiency of friends, or to be stranded from their friends etc. everyone has a way to “be a part”. Particularly for those of us who are just so stinking independent, I think the Christmas season gives us all a way to be different, but at the same time on the same plane. We are all looking for something to guide and connect our lives to something else, and the Christmas holiday gives us a few weeks of direction. Everything sort of points to christmas, regardless of your view on what the day is actually supposed to celebrate.

Here though - its a commercial holiday that is only appreciated for the novelty of being a ‘western’ holiday.

I suppose its a trade, because spring festival (two months away) is quite the affair, but...

All I have is an empty ‘but’ to follow that statement.

I think what I miss most in this journey of independence is the chance to really express how much I love those who have been there for me in the past. Friends and family alike.

For the last year I’ve been on the road to figure out what I can add to this stew of life.

From the time I thought about leaving, I felt that for me to be able to be a part of adding my own unique flavour, I need to spend a significant time apart from the context that I am used to. By taking myself “out of context” I think that will help my “me” or as they say in the new Alice in Wonderland “my muchness.” I think that when peoples’ worlds get shaken up they start necessarily change. That process of change is what I think exposes people for what they really are. Thats what i’ve been hoping to accomplish. I’m in the thick of that process myself.

The practical side of that ‘boring’ bit of theory is that, I want to add more. I am constantly invigorated by the idea of a world of many cultures, and many individuals, and everything that goes with that. I like the synergy, I like the clash. I like having my cake and eating it to.

But right now, in order to help make that happen, I’m missing out on my cake. No... not christmas presents - I’ve had incredibly considerate friends and family send me things ^_^. But I don’t have the chance to go and spend this time with people.

This year I will have to pass up on many cups of coffee, bottles of wine, and naps with a dog next to a fireside.

You know what they say, you don’t know what you had until it is gone. And its true.

Do I regret going on my self imposed exile, or not going home? Absolutely not. But it is difficult, and I look forward to the chance when I get to be a thoroughly contributing part of the time that we spend together.

Anticlimactic. (Christmas Evening)

I tried to pep myself into Christmasdom in a variety of ways. Lots of christmas carols, little oranges with whole cloves puncturing them in delightful patterns. Cinnamon sticks. A blow up doll of santa that my kinky friend from South Carolina sent me (o.O) Candy canes.

But nay - the season forthwith was not “the season” without a commitment to it by the community at large! which goes to say, that if you even remotely love Tinkerbell, you sure as hell better be one of those people who is on the edge of your seat muttering “I do believe in fairies” and clapping till your palms sting. I myself being a terrifyingly independent person in many ways, even I need to recognize that there are times where it is good to be a part of the crowd. The Christmas season is one of those times.

And a glass of Chilean christmas cheer definitely has its place in my heart... and in my hand... and possibly with association to other parts of my anatomy - particularly my gastronomy.

I spent this evening hanging out in a naturally overcrowded mall with my friends. After getting dinner on the seventh floor, we shopped around. After they left... I proceeded to do “the real shopping” and selected some fine genuine articles.

Merry christmas to you all. And if you’re reading this: I love you.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Hong Kong

The Blitzkrieg Adventure to the Smelly Boat-Place.

Santa-clause might as well be a’stuffin himself down the smokestacks of Zhengzhou, because I’m so excited I couldn’t sleep last night.

This evening I’m going to be getting on a plane to Hong-Kong, otherwise known (by me) as “the smelly boat place” or... perhaps more accurately translated “Fragrant Harbour.” Hong Kong is technically considered “out of the country” to China because of its political status... even though its a part of China... don’t ask me because I don’t really get it, but I’m just thankful that it IS, because it makes visa stuff much easier.

So I have myself packed up... with like 2-3 awesome outfits, ¥10,000 and a whole lotta excitement.

K - so this morning’s note didnt turn out to be too much. Its now 8 oclock and Im currently on the plane. I like planes (sometimes). Being in a population dense country, I certainly have learned to actually enjoy being in close spaces with other people. Fortunately, Chinese people don’t have BO (body odor)... at least most of the time. Oddly enough they dont really sweat either. Both features aren’t common with the Chinese... I never would have guessed it. Anyhow moving on to less vile topics.

I like planes because it gives me a chance to watch people when they are uncomfortable. Lets be honest - a foot and a half wide seat that has absolutely NO truly comfortable positions available no matter how you contort yourself, leaves a lot of room for people to still try. I think the results are quite tickling.

Also - several airlines are now carrying English versions of “China Daily” - one of the nation’s biggest newspapers. After getting myself caught up on all of the most delicious pieces of international gossip, I continually end back with the question of... “what am I doing”.

well... our wonderfully beautiful flight attendants just called for the destination approach shut down - so i’ll tell you more later.

(By the way - at least one of the Chinese airlines actually does full body searches of flight attendants to inspect for scars and tattoos... yes... even the parts that are hidden by uniforms and the iconic hickey-hiding neck scarves that all female chinese flight attendants wear.)

Maybe I was wrong... They’re not stormin’ the compartments demanding things yet.

So my question... What am I doing. Im doing the only thing I know how to do right now. I’m going after my languages while getting a whole lot more than that.

The reason this is back on the table is (well its me... lets be straightforward{ish}) current events. I was reading in the newspaper that hiring is on the increase in China and the US - though that could absolutely be just political whitewash trying to make people optimistic. Regardless though, I was getting a massage with my Australian friend/ co-worker and we were both chatting along with our masseuses. Both of them in their mid-twenties, one of which I was particularly familiar with was taking care of MY feet, and my Australian friend had the masseuse I wasn’t too familiar with. Anyhow - it turns out she’s been doing the massage thing for four {4} years. I was floored. Not because I think it is a bad thing - I dont. I just have such a hard time putting myself in that situation. My imagination hits a total wall when it comes to settling in a job. Even one that I like the idea of. Something about me is so incredibly finicky and rogue at this point that I dont know what to do with myself. I wish I could pick a ‘line of work’ so I could settle in a little bit and at least have a bit of consistency between the jobs I take. Yes -- I do have that in teaching English, I suppose, but I’d like to have my cake and eat it too. I’d like to have a profession that I could pour myself into. Maybe I just haven’t ‘arrived’ on that level yet.

OK- - real descent time -- more to come.


Last night was drama drama. I landed and found the bus i needed to get on ~ and was very pleased to find that they spoke Mandarin and not Cantonese at this stage, because there was a lot of unknown... and a new city and I would like just one lifeline dangit!. (my “schedule” which was provided by the HR department will be submitted as evidence later explaining why that is such a feat. The schedule - happens to be entirely in Chinese... I guess I should be happy that they at least gave me one? Who knows... we can get into that when I submit it for evidence).

Took the bus from the airport into the main part of Shenzhen (深圳) which means the “deep furrows” (the fields that drain into the river). Cool enough - i’ve always been obsessed with the character “shen1 深” because it looks like a tree stuck under water with the two legs of a swimmer up on the surface. At least to me it does.

Anyhow I get off the bus at the place where my schedule said I should and a nice twenty something guy who was coincidentally enough on the same flight as I was because he had a business trip in Zhengzhou helped me to get the general direction of my hotel after calling the place. He had great English, and was from Hong Kong - which inherently made him about 3 shades cooler than he already was.

All filled with optimism, I set off in the direction he had talked about (he wasn’t super clear on where it was himself). Well I got over “that way” and didnt find it. I asked a taxi driver, but when he looked at the address he raised an eyebrow and cocked his head to the side - cross-culturally not a good sign.

I bout delicious bubble tea and asked the workers if they knew the place. They didnt - however the genius boy (one of three workers, the other two being girls) suggested that I call 4-0-0... and they could help me find the place. I appreciate you voicing an alternative boy... but lets consider how that conversation goes.... no ... lets don’t.

I called my headhunter, asking for help. He said he would call the HR lady who booked the place and then get back to me. The response I got was “You can call the hotel and they will help you. Let me know when you get there. I am waiting for the good news.” (Aneurism)

On my next round of pacing, I tried to convince myself that I didnt really mind walking around so much because I was getting to ogle a new and lesser polluted city. It was cool though. Shenzhen had an awesome first impression. They have more metropolitan than Zhengzhou, more foreigners (I was uncomfortable with the wierdies) and more effective traffic lights. BUT - there were dim-sum (yum-cha) places all over, there was bubble tea readily available and they spoke Mandarin ~ What more could I want?!

Oh well let me tell you what I didnt ask for. So two girls (imaginably 5-8 years my senior) walk up to me and strike up conversation. They’re wearing normal clothes, have reasonably... not particularly interesting... purses and are well groomed. Ok. fine. whatever. HEY! can YOU help me find my hotel? They tell me that they havent eaten yet this evening, and they were wondering if I had eaten. I’m thinking to myself - sleezy femmes aren’t my thing... but if they can help me find my hotel - I’ll deal with it... maybe they’ll turn out to be interesting. So I tell them I need to find my hotel before I can go eat, cause I dont want to be hauling around my incredibly sturdy bag. OHHHH K so they go to it. Theres a couple passers by - “hey do you know this place? No?... ok.” two or three
people are addressed in the same way. From there I’m trying to figure out the same move and the younger of the two starts yammering away in a pathetic and unpleasant tone. She said that they haven't eaten anything yet, and they dont have money, and and and ... and I kid you not - she stuck out her lower lip. She told me “(Big brother) We’re hungry - can you give us some money to go eat... how about...(and the lip disappears) KFC (inquisitive - oh look at that bit of innocent inspiration -look)?” I reached in my pocket and found a ¥10 note, which was my way of saying PISS OFF LEACH! To my rendering of funds the uglier older one said - but theres two of us.... (feigned patheticness) ... unamused and fiddling with my phone -- sorry thats all I have.... (LIES! I have ¥10,000 in my bag. How does that make you feel you miserable cretin!?!) Eventually they figured out that I wasnt going to give them more... and they went away. On a further round of pacing, I found them hounding another man as we crossed paths, and I loudly called out the question in Chinese “still hungry eh?!” - poor dude they were chasing was not amused with them whatsoever. They ignored me... but I just kept walking and chuckling in my overwhelmingly arrogant way.

I DID call the hotel - but I wasn’t able to follow their directions or really understand what was going on, so I hung up the phone all embarrassed.

I tried another taxi, and he said there was no reason to take me because it was so close - he then gave me the directions I needed with enough strong gesturing to get the point across thoroughly enough.

I finally get there, and it is the rough equivalent of a motel 8. In fact, I had to take the elevator to the eighth floor and then walk to the 9th because the elevator did not go all the way in their building... Their was a quilt... but no top sheet. Oh, and lets not neglect the fact that the bed was significantly shorter than the beds I was used to in Zhengzhou. They DO say that southerners are shorter... but thats only half true. I’ve still seen a number of elevated folk round these parts.

(alarm troubles - not to mention SERIOUS vexation with the new phone... despite its awesomeness.)

So I walked in the room and just had myself a merry little chuckle. Nothing says, “We’re going to take care of you” like a room that barely fits a dwarf’s bed.” I must say however that the water pressure was phenomenal, and I had one of the best showers i’ve had in ten months. I then proceeded to get myself ready for bed, but realized after looking at my schedule that I needed to get up fairly early (before 7am) in order to keep on schedule. and my new phone is evidently a battery sucking savage that can only last a day without being charged. Luckily I brought my charger - or at least the part of it that connects from my phone to a USB (many of the phone chargers here are a USB attachment, and there is a plug portion that has the female USB attachment). I am a thinker! I knew that Hongkong plugs are still that massive British three pronged and five pounds heavy contraption, so I didnt bring the mainland China attachment ~ figuring I’d use my computer to charge my phone just like I would my Ipod. I also brought the Ipod HK adapter. There I am, plugging in my phone so I can set my alarm and maintain contact with ‘my people in Zhengzhou.’ (Dodaluoop! - Cheerful ‘plugging in noise’) And I notice that there is no indicating of charging on my phone... but it does indicate a USB connection. HAPPY DAY! I can download ringtones and such directly onto my phone!... but heaven forbid I should want to actually have the necessary energy in my phone to use it.

At this point my phone was in the red zone, and the address to my hotel in HongKong was only im my phone, because it was text messaged to me. Originally, my company wanted me to take the hour-long bus back to Shenzhen to spend the night. I imagine it is cheaper there... Anyhow, after I reminded them that I would need a passport to cross that border... and that my passport would be in the clutches of the Chinese Embassy, (not to mention) that I was on a zero entry tourist visa at the time... they saw reason, when I reminded them of this (they are telling me all this information in a 3 hour timeframe after which I am supposed to head to the airport), they frantically set about trying to find a hotel option in HK that was in their price range.

It was a flurry of activity.

I had to leave to the airport before they actually got a reservation somewhere - Hence the address and contact info was all on my phone - which was in the last 5-10% of energy on a phone battery that dies within a day because of its massive workload (crazy smart phones). In a stroke of genious - I emailed the message to myself! because it was all in chinese... and I wasnt sure if I’d be able to rewrite it in time. I then proceeded to pray desperately that the email function would actually work.

I then had to find another alternative for an alarm. Fortunately my Ipod touch (yay for toys!) has an alarm function, and a battery that will go for days. So I set the alarm and condition myself to wake up to it by acquainting myself to the alarm ringer, and building up the appropriate amount of anxiety that would penetrate my subconscious and wake me the $(^& up when I needed to get up.

Problems over!~ finally... or not.

I had another barrier to pass. That thought I had on the plane came back to me, but this time it brought a friend. Few things have the power to keep me awake like the future. What COULD happen. Even more powerful is when this potential is positive, and I begin to look forward to the possibilities. All of the sudden, I have more energy than I can possibly get out, and it just keeps coming.

The frustration I experienced with the way my company handled the organization of this trip - the hilarity of the ‘hotel’ itself. The sights, the smells, the ghetto elevator, the only real redeeming factors the place had were that it had lots of hot water and friendly people.

In this background of unimpressive, like a nutrient-deficient orphan child taking ultra-vitamins came my empowered hope.

I ADORE hotels. I LIVE to serve people. And I want to do something I can excel at. I had no internet access, and I was telling myself I needed to sleep, so doing research would be counter productive anyway, but I could not stop my mind from moving. The potential was endless. The world was open to me, and more importantly: it fed my desire to be me.

Lets look at a few of the factors I am qualifying that with:

- I want a life that allows me to learn languages and ‘meet people on their level’.
- I want to swim in a sea of culture.
- I want a job where that is the heart of what I do.

And Working in Hotels would let me do that. I get to serve people every day, and the more languages I can speak/ the more cultures I can groove with, the more valuable I am in the industry. I can go anywhere in the world without being ‘a flake’ and I could have a career that will actually have experience I can use when the next stage of life comes. If I want to move to a different line of work years down the road, the kind of language, high class service and business experience I am talking about would roll over in ways that would make a Ph.D holder cry.

I aim to go big Ladies and Gentlemen.

Next morning, I got up to my alarm as conditioned, and packed myself up. I tui’d my fangzi (checked out) and rolled down the road in the cool and surprisingly clean morning air. And once again I was totally smitten with Shenzhen - they had all sorts of awesome morning snack foods available. The variety was astounding it was Zhengzhou food plus other awesome cantonese stuff, plus - I dont even know. But there was all sorts of awesome going on there. I was supposed to take the same bus line as the one that came from the airport and dropped me off at this station, but after 10+ minutes of it not coming, I snatched up a different city bus that was going to the same place (huzzah for recognizing characters!)

At the port authority/border crossing to Hong Kong there were places to exchange money from the RMB to HongKong dollars (HKD). I switched out about ¥500 of my large stack concealed beneath layers of zippers in my bag, not knowing what to expect in HK. Another man rolls up after me and slams down a rubber banded wad of about ¥5,000. DANG!!!! going to Macau are we? (Las Vegas of China - also a stones throw from HK and Shenzhen). The exchange manager didnt want to do it... and I didnt really stick around to see the end of the story. The mainlander was kind of a... well... I dont have nice words for his sort.

(Do I buy a ticket here or... uh... erm... help?! Gosh Im glad y’all still speak putonghua) I was totally confused as to how I was supposed to get to the other side, because the area I was in looked like a waiting hall for boarding some sort of organized transportation... something you’d book a ticket for... and I’d not done such things. I looked. I looked some more. I paced too and fro a couple times swearing under my breath about lousy directions once again. Then I got up the courage and asked at the place I thought MIGHT be selling tickets, and they in fact were not. BUT I was on the wrong floor, and I simply needed to go down stairs... in the non-intuitive direction, go through customs and THEN buy a ticket. Thank God they can still speak putonghua (Mandarin) there.

Once through the border, with no hope of returning to the mainland unless my visa was successfully processed (I had no more approved entries on ANY of my visas), I bought a ticket to HK via stagecoach, found a seat and then absolutely bathed in the amount of Cantonese that was being spoken around me. I was so giddy that all I wanted to do was bounce and listen. Then once we got going on our hour-long journey to Hong Kong, my list of activities grew to include looking out windows at clear skies (once again SHOCKING!), different terrain (mountainous... including that one kind of yellow-red sandstonish rock that you see in the monkey/ tiger parts of the zoo). And somewhat audibly ooing and ahhing. And then you see it. The so called “new territories” of Hong Kong. These are the suburban (suburban being 30+story housing lofts crammed together on the side of the bay before you actually get to Hong Kong Island). It was absolute decadence for my touristy eyes. I probably looked like a kid that was cracked out on wayyyyy too many gummy bears and sour-patch kids. We eventually got into Hong Kong, and the terminal station in a district known as Wan Chai (pro. Wahn Jai).

(The first look at downtown Hong Kong)
When I got off the bus at the Wan Chai station, which was just a normal bus-stop in the middle of a severely urban environment. It was a trip and a half - no mistake. Because Hong Kong is on an island, and also one of the most population dense areas in the world, everything is very close together, and everything goes UP. Eight story buildings seem tiny in comparison to the on average 30 story towers. Look more at eye-level and you’ll see an awesome cosmopolitan blur of traditional chinese characters and English in every direction. Everything was so much CLEANER than I am used to in Zhengzhou - and modern. What the heck - this isnt China! its totally different. The morning sunshine filtered in from between the colossal towers, and illuminated the explosive, metro-cosmopolitan landscape. I just had to stare for a while. Then, I took a look at my schedule and realised that I had better get moving if I actually wanted to get my visa within a reasonable amount of time so that I could pick it up the next day and catch my flight back. Tight schedule you could say.

I wandered around trying to find the building, but one of the major issues in navigating severely crowded metropolitan environments that are build around harbours/ into mountains is that the roads bend to accommodate all of those features. This means that the concept of a straight road is laughable. Everything bends and curves like a freaking Turkish belly dancer. I felt I was getting close to the embassy at one point, there was a monolithic dark tower called the “immigration tower” (could they seriously have made it more ominous?) and I was somewhat thankful that this wasn’t actually the place where my visa was going to be processed. The joy could be sucked out of my life forever in a place like that.

I bought a can of cold nescafe entitled “rich” and continued to roll around with my roller suitcase in tow. I finally accepted I didn’t fully know where I was going, so I went to a hotel doorman and he greeted me in English. Full of Folly, I asked for directions in Mandarin, and much to my surprise - he actually responded in Mandarin. I was sooo pleased! He told me, go down this street until you find the big black building, and take a right. There will be a red coloured building, thats the one you want. Surprise, Surprise - the Chinese embassy is in a Red building. I passed it, and somewhat confused and then doubled back and found it. It just so happened to be under a bridge... like a troll. I had to reflect on just how jack-@&$ed the directions I was given on my schedule were. “After you get off of the bus, walk to the Embassy - about five minutes.” . . . Real directions and or a map would have been wonderful.

(Disastrous visa encounters - but at least they took my red backgrounded photo)
(roaming the city looking for Wi-Fi to steal using my hi-tech gizmos. Its hard to fully appreciate how funny that is when you’re freaking out and trying to solve the problem.)

Well I did in fact find the “really red” coloured embassy and headed up the ladder to take care of my visa. One thing the HR people were quite prepared on was the paperwork that I would need, so I had it filled out before I even got to Hong Kong. I had an abundance of passport photos for the paperwork, because anything remotely official regarding Chinese bureaucratic paperwork requires them. I had a red background group of photos taken, but when I was applying for my tourist visa... evidently they had just changed the rules so that red was not valid anymore... it needed to be blue. BUT HEY! I was in Hong Kong... lets see if I can pawn me off one of these red photos. It ended up working WOO!

Let me back up for a minute though. As usual, when you go into a chinese embassy, you go through the metal detector and your small bag gets x-ray’d - roller bags are not permitted for valid enough reasons.

Then you wait in line... which is just shocking after almost a year of playing by chinese elevator rules. Clearly the heard of foreigners doesn’t know these rules yet... and I decide to not be the only jack$*# who gets within two inches of the elevator door to ensure that I get on... It would’ve been just to mind blowing for them.

Sure enough, we all get onto the elevator (SHOCKING) and up we go to the seventh floor, where visas are processed. In turn we all grab a number to be tolerated by some embassy worker. I wait, and people watch, basking in the array of English, French, Cantonese and whatever other languages decided to saunter through the waiting room. Eventually my number is called and I go up the counter with all of my papers in hand, passport, and my red little passport-like book that certifies my healthiness (and a red passport photo {snigger}). I put them through the window, bust out some putonghua to try and break the ice fortress off of the late twenties lady. She understood fairly well enough, because she responded back using putonghua and then switched back into English {thankfully}. She checks my paperwork and everything seems to be in order. That is... until she asked me about a contact number where I could be reached in Hong Kong. As it stands... my phone is dead, and from mainland china anyways, so it doesnt get service in HK without a HK simcard (no idea how to get one of those).... lets see other options? She says the number of my hotel is also ok... but I hadn’t checked in yet - and all of the contact information was in my phone... which I couldnt charge. Ohhhh dear.

“You can go try and get a contact number available to you from your hotel or your friend, and then come back ... yea - just leave the papers.” - Ice Fortress Embassy Worker

So out on a limb, in need of a solution... and a fast one - I had less than an hour to figure out how to get electricity into my phone and and check the phone number and or address to the hotel so I actually had somewhere to stay the night. And then a stroke of genius struck me - I had emailed the information to myself, so i didnt actually need my phone at all! But what I did need was somewhere that had internet. SO I pulled out my Ipod touch and started walking around Hong Kong looking for a Wi-Fi signal that I could purloin for my furtive attempt at getting an incredibly important email. Here is my word picture for you: A young man in a black suit jacket, awesome sort of flannel patterned sweater-vest and jeans walking around hong kong with a suitcase trailing behind him in one hand and a red-backed Ipod touch in the other. He stops every thirty seconds or so to press “refresh” on the network connections section of his ipod. And no real success. After about 10-15 minutes of this, I sat down on the sidewalk and pulled out my computer, hoping for better luck. And I did have some. I found a connection that wasn’t password protected, and was open to me just long enough to see that the email had come through! But.... not long enough to download the content of the email. Crap. BUT I went back to the embassy entrance and asked where I could get internet - a cafe or something, I had seen some Guailou (ghost people... honkeys... crackers... Foreigners) with Starbucks’ Cups, so I had hope. They pointed me in the right direction, and I quickly found it. I ordered a cup of brewed coffee - which is significant because 11 months ago i would never have done such a crazy and ridiculous thing. They had Columbia, so I was willing to reach out in hopes of being met by the loving embrace of coffee. And I was. The coffee found me and gave me a touch-stone. It was almost galvanizing you might say. It steeled my resolve and gave me backbone. I asked the workers about Internet, and sure enough - the first 20 minutes were free. I didn’t even have to sign up for a hot-spot. It was blissful.

I logged onto my internet, and within five minutes I had the address and phone number copy pasted in a document file and enlarged so I could take it to the embassy worker. Full of might and vigor, I rolled out of the Starbucks, eaves dropping on a very interesting conversation about the American/Global economic recession between a college student working in Taiwan and an American Corporate Chef working in Shanghai. That would have to wait I suppose.

I left my roller outside the embassy with my 5/6ths full coffee on top of it in strong hopes that it would be there when I got back... undosed with non-coffee substances. And within five minutes, I went up the elevator, provided the contact number of the hotel, got my claim ticket for the following morning, and was back down the elevator sipping on my coffee as I headed back to Starbucks. I have since then gained a huge love for Starbucks.... because it was there for me ^_^.

(The wave of the future - Shanghai Mark and Swedish-Taiwan Guy who saved my life theoretically speaking and in a less hyper indebted way - exhausted).

I went back to Starbucks and found myself a seat adjacent to the two that I had left on my way out, still having their incredibly engaging conversation. The Corporate chef was doing most of the talking, with the college student hanging on to his every word. And lemme tell you - meeee tooo.

This man was like one of those traveling salesmen that you hear about from the pioneer days. He struck me as something between Hemingway, a transient and a traveling salesman. I was waiting for him to stand up on the furniture and start calling out: Step right up, step right up and buy your self an EEEEELixer: cures everything from boredom to gas.

Anyhow, he had moved to Shanghai because evidently the job market in America is just as bad as everyone has been saying. People at every level and in all sectors of the work force are either having to severely downgrade or find something else to do. Instead he found some new frontier for himself in Shanghai. Interesting how more and more people are ending up in this explosion of developmental energy called China. He evidently makes more now in shanghai than he could in the US. I have heard the same about pilots, and a whole slew of people that had limited opportunities in the west. The money and room for growth are just significantly higher here at this stage of history it seems.

The college student was a twenty something, who I just assumed was American, but was evidently from Sweden. Phenomenal English. Once again Europe has proven its awesomeness at being a part of a globally widening community.

We talked for a while, as I was completely unable to focus on anything else after that bout of problem solving at the embassy/ Hong Kong’s by-ways. Incredibly enough, as I told my own story, the boy from Taiwan had the same charger as the one my phone used, AND a Hong Kong adapter - prepared punk :D .

He was so kind as to let me use it while we talked and they both waited for either the time to grow closer for them to go to the airport, or some other affair that left them with downtime to fill.

It was so terribly fascinating to be a part of that conversation, because as I walked around Hong Kong I could see the validity of what he was saying. He painted China, specifically Shanghai has the new place where things were happening. He came from New York, and it was interesting to hear him talk about the transition of people from Paris back in the day, to New York, and now to Shanghai. Its funny to me, because Shanghai is definitely not traditional China. from what I have heard from so many other people, Shanghai is just a western subset in the backdrop of mainland China’s vision for the future. Not a great place to learn Chinese... because so much of the city caters towards international involvement (namely English speaking). While it would be a terrible place to learn Chinese, the fact that the city can so comfortably accommodate westerners, speaks to the cosmopolitan nature of the city. Maybe that is one of the benchmarks of a cosmopolitan, the fusion of many different cultures, but not necessarily containing the essence of any of them. In a way that is part of what allows a cosmopolitan to create something new. Who knows... just a few random initial thoughts on the topic.

Once again my musing on switching to Hospitality/Hotel industry bubbled up in the river of my mind. It lingered for a while as I thought about what I could do in the future if I spend the upcoming year or two teaching English and developing my mandarin skills. One of the things that would make me particularly unique is just how few foreigners actually ever get established and operational in Mandarin, even if they’ve lived in China for a while. Once again, who knows what options there are for me - but im excited to see that there are options... and they dont all include me being the dancing white monkey.

Eventually we parted ways, they had to return to the airport to catch a flight or change ticket times to accommodate a delayed visa rendering. So I returned the charger, and expressed my gratitude for the use of it, and then said goodbye.

(Walking all over HK)
(This...doesn’t feel like mainland China at all.... Developed v.s. DevelopING --- AND culturally preserved versus culturally self-rejecting)

I set out from there to try and find my hotel. I asked the baristas if they knew where the particular bus stop I was, and they pointed me in the right direction. After going over a few crazy pedestrian over passes, and through everything else that goes into the composition of a bustling metropolis - I found the bus stop. The double-decker fiend made its way there, and the bus fare was HKD13.40 compared to the Zhengzhou busses which are RMB ¥1 and the exchange rate is basically the same with reference to the US Dollar. The Hong Kong Dollar is worth slightly less than the RMB. If the RMB is ¥6.6 - USD$1 then the HKD is basically HKD$7.7 - USD$1. Not a huge difference in the exchange, however a definitely huge difference in the cost of goods and services! Holy snipe. I only had a $20 on me too... but - the bus had to be caught so in it goes. A small coffee was $22 (once again the $ is HongKong Dollars... keep that in mind in this situation... not quite so bad as USD $22). random street food was $10 compared to the ZZ ¥3. Crazy I say. But hey - that is the price you pay to live in a developed city. I got off the bus where my schedule told me to, and once again I was confronted with the next set of directions which where:

“Get off the bus and walk to the hotel, (about five minutes).”

I wandered around, asking shop owners if they knew where the hotel was, and no one had a clue. I certainly had no clue... because directions like those above are worthless. The people who DID have a clue could only give vague directions, which really is not helpful in Hong Kong. You can get within 50 meters of something and still easily have no idea how to get there. It also doesn’t help that the roads are insane and non-grid like. After walking back in the same direction I had come, going up onto a pedestrian overpass again, a random Hong Kong Auntie stopped in her tracks as she was on her way down the stairs and I up them, and she asks... are you a visitor here? Thinking to myself... what gave it away? the whiteness, my confused look or the suitcase?

So I say “... yyeess.” somewhat hesitantly, wondering what would come next - used to the traditional responses from Beijingers or other mainland Chinese. Sure enough, she launches into a schpeil about how she is in a communications class where one of her projects is to be bold enough to reach out and talk to a foreigner. Im sitting here thinking to myself... yea, you met the bold requirements lady. Anyhow, she starts asking for my phone number and email address and I am just thinking to myself... “I really dont want to be doing this right now... I just want to get to my hotel and get rid of these forsaken bags and then find some place to relax.”

She is certainly persistent, and then I had a stroke of genius. “ Hey, you know what, if you can help me find my hotel, I would LOVE to help you with your project. I pull out the number for the hotel and she pops it into her cell phone and has the hotel front desk on the phone within 45 seconds blasting away in Cantonese. Gom suk gow leeeee Fei fou dip sem lok sei yaaaa Gow ahhhhhh How - mmm goi ok bye bye thank you (seriously... they ended with english parting statements - HAH - how cool is that). And about a surreal minute later, she says - “This way, She will meet you at the SOGO building, I’ll take you there.” Giggling to myself and totally pleased that this moment worked out the way it did - knowing full well that these events happened the way they were supposed to.

They didn’t happen the right way, but they happened the way they were supposed to. Wrap your head around that!

So I gave her my contact information and thanked her for her incredible help, and then she also gave me her contact info. We headed to the meeting point, and after two more phone calls, a portly lady from the hotel arrived and gave me a business card with the hotel’s contact information on it, and a map on the back so I could get back to the place. Thank God! I have been waiting soooo long for a map! The Hong Kong Auntie also wanted a business card, so she was given one, and then we said good-bye. She told me to remember to add her on Email - which I have.

I followed the portly hotel worker down the streets of hongkong, turning and twisting taking by-ways and alleys here and there, and then coming to the gate where we could find the hotel. Except wait... it was a gate to an alley... and things start to fall into place. We go through the gate... turn right, go up some stairs, go down another pedestrian walkway in the alleys and then turn to a solitary small door like that of any apartment building, and the lady punches in a code. The door opens. We get into the ground floor, and there is a security guard in the booth, and the two exchange a few words in cantonese and then we take the elevator up to the fifth floor where we go into the office and I paid the key deposit - and she confirmed with me that the room had in fact been prepaid by my company. How generous... We then go through some narrow swinging doors and up the stairs to the suite I would be in. There are three keys... the gate key, the door key and then my room key. We get in and she says that the people I would be living with are “very nice people, very nice” Most of the time we would speak mandarin, but she would through in the random english she knew - like Key 1, key 2, and key three 3... remember that. These people... very nice, very nice.”

After she showed me my room, and then left. I put my bags down, and then addressed the thought that I had been pushing to the back of my mind since we came to the gate leading into the first alley.

Oh my Gosh... They seriously booked me in a HOSTEL!

Wow.... I’ve heard of going cheap and what not, but it seems odd to me that the company would “pay for me” and “take care of me” and then go with the cheapest possible options.

Shoot - I can pay for it... why would you ... guh.... shaaaaaa?!!? Wonderful impression of your words “We will take care of you. Trust us.” The thing that has me flabbergasted is that, from my cultural point of view, the reason to pay for someone’s trip or travel expenses is to demonstrate that you have their interests at heart. If that is the communicative aim... then why would you use that communication tool to communicate that someone is NOT worth it? It seems that it would have been better to have me pay for it. I might have been annoyed to have to pay for it, but I also wouldn’t have had all these negative manifestations about what I feel my company can/cannot be trusted on.

I decided very quickly that I didn’t want to let my irritation to trap me in my....hostel... room and so i set myself in order by packing my pockets with all my hong kong money, and an additional thousand RMB to exchange if I was feelin’ particularly spendy. I was not interested in waisting my visit with grumpiness and wallowing in a hostel - how lame would that be?

So I took to the streets, pockets full of money, and no real idea of where I was going - Nor did I really care, because it seemed that I was bound to get lost, and bound to get found. If that is going to be the way of it, I might as well get royally lost :D.

I put on my awesome playboy shoes for the affair (dah dum tch), walking around my chunk of Hong Kong in Christian Dior Haute-couture boots in a mountainous concrete city-scape didn’t seem wise.

Minus a couple bags, traveling was wonderful. There is definitely a much smaller bicycling community in the mountain-harbour city, and traffic was crazy. I realized though that the J-walking norms of Zhengzhou weren’t as useful in HK. There were barriers everywhere, and where there weren’t barriers, there were double decker busses barreling down the road.

Absolutely candy for the eyes and ears and nose - for once there were pleasant smells... instead of stench. Clean streets... instead of squalor. And hey - there was a sky. It was clear to see why so many of the Hong Kongers emigrated to Vancouver - they are strikingly similar in many ways. Vancouver however has significantly more space though.

There were import stores all over the place, almost as many coffee shops as the pacific north west, well priced imported wines, and everything else that a developed cosmopolitan city should have. It was indeed a strange and wondrous place. Yes... the British did horrible things in taking Hong-Kong... oh wait... I lied.

(Cost of living (you’ve only got one life... and what you’re paid shouldn’t control that potential) - and the way i’ll spend the next year)

I walked all over the place looking for some sort of tangent that would take me to interesting shopping, or something “different”, but I couldn’t seem to find a rabbit trail that would take me out of Wan Chai and into something worthwhile. I walked through all sorts of places. Past a few catholic schools, what im assuming was a kung-fu school... cause there were little dudes running around in bright yellow silk outfits that i’ve only ever seen associated with wushu (kung-fu). I went past a sort of new-agey street that had spas and cosmetic type stuff... and smelled wonderful (what can I say... new-agey). I would my way all over the place and at one point found a large Hong-Kong Library... which I thought was interesting, because I don’t know if Zhengzhou even has a library... I see tons of bookstores... and magazine stands.. but I dunno about the establishment of civil facilities ^_^.

On the back side of the library on the second floor was an outdoor sitting area and a cafe, so I sat down and basked in the evening light. The interesting thing is that the mountains of HongKong are in the west, so it creates a really intense sensation when you are watching the light filter down the side of the mountains, and then between the sky-scrapers. I relaxed and mused there for a while, and watched some younger folk playing soccer, while the old people adjacent to them were sort of playing hackie sack with a soccer ball... or trying... in find “respectable old chinese people playing some sort of ridiculous game and calling it exercise” fashion. After the sun had passed beyond a position that captivated my attention, I decided it was time to move on, and continued to meander through the city... finding a somewhat sketch mechanical district where they fixed cars. Its still Hong Kong though... how sketch would it get? I dunno... I’m sure theres Hong-Kong underground... but I dunno anything about it... and im a non-threatening twenty something.

I ran out of things to do soon after this point, because I didn’t know anything about Hong Kong... and I didn’t really have any time before hand to do research. So it was a bit of a bone. I figured i’d be coming back in may at the latest anyhow for a friend’s wedding (WOOOO!)

I gradually found my way back to one of the wine shops I found, bought some Argentinian excitement and headed back to my apartment to do a little blogging. Midway through booze-blogging I decided that I should probably eat, so I hit the streets again and wandered around looking for Dimsum... but most of them closed at about 4pm... so I was once again boned. I found a basement Japanese restaurant that made sashimi and gave it a go. For being a supreme harbour town... I was really disappointed, and it certainly didn’t help my opinion of sashimi (fish on top of rice) by comparison with the wonders of sushi.

I sat in the basement restaurant, a rogue white kid in a small restaurant of cantonese kids. It was one of those moments that I felt particularly alone. Freaking three musketeers and their plurality. I want me some of that! I need a little less solo in my life. Anytime I get that feeling I think back on my early teenage years when I spent a lot of time on my own.

I was the kind of person that was really dedicated to a very small group of friends, but pretended not to need anyone else. And in some ways I didn’t... as long as those people were available to me. Kinda lousy how that never really works out though.

Instead, as I’ve become my own sort of butterfly, I’ve also spread to wider circles of friends. Through that, i’ve learned to meet a lot of different kinds of people in many different ways. I’d like to take that to another level and make it international. One of my biggest pursuits in all of this living abroad is to connect bigger groups of people -people from across languages, and cultures and in contexts. I want to be a part of connecting people that would otherwise be unable to. I’d like to see what can happen in that {place or time}. We’ll see where that takes me

(The next day)

After my as required emotionally draining trip to the Chinese embassy, the agent told me I could pick up my visa at about 10am the next day, so last night I set myself an ipod alarm and some plans to wake up, get to that life saving Starbucks and then head into the embassy slightly before 9:30 - hoping to get out of HK and to the Shenzhen airport on or ahead of schedule. And for once - it all functioned like clock-work. I had myself a medium sized cup of Columbian coffee, and you KNOW im changing because I can actually drink and enjoy filtered Starbucks coffee now. Somethings wrong with me ~ and I dont think its gonna get fixed for quite some while... but im not worried ^_^. I spent some time writing this blog, and then bounced on over to the embassy as I said. Paid for my visa, got my passport and rolled out of there. Last night I had the foresight to find the address of a bus that would get me back to Shenzhen airport, as the instructions on my schedule just said “return to Shenzhen airport” ~ I’m assuming they wanted me to try and just retrace my steps... which would absolutely not have worked...

Moving on with our lives, I walked to the hotel that the bus would be leaving from, and made it in just enough time to buy a ticket, put my luggage on the bus and get my butt on the bus right before the driver pulled out.

I had to chuckle at the fact, and sat back in my seat totally unstressed by what just happened. The chuckle having diminished into an understanding grin at this point, I recalled a conversation with some very international friends of mine in University. She’s from Austria, he’s from Romania, and they lived in the Philippines for a number of years. They both qualify as multi-lingual because they have so many languages we stop giving them numerical titles. (beyond trilingual we don’t use numerical prefixes because its ridiculous). They told me, get used to accepting that things are going to go wrong, but that it will work out. That is what it means to live internationally. Wow do I miss their company.


Actually... it all went quite smoothly.

Though -- (and its monday now that i’m finally able to finish this blog {returned home to Zhengzhou on Friday}) my mind has been totally overrun by the thought of moving into the hospitality industry. That is one area where I think “Inception” the movie might have been on to something. - Ideas are possessive...

But that is a conversation for another day

Snake in my boot.

Someb’dy poisn’d the Waterhoale - Thars a snaeke in mai booot!

Any of you conservative types that think shopping is a worthless activity can grab yourself a beverage of choice, popcorn (salty American, or sweet Chinese {kettle corn}).

Keep in mind that a lot of this current blog is my rant/ processing the event - so I use “you” a lot in a very direct sense. Keep in mind I’m not talking about YOU... but actually “them”, and that should hopefully become clear in the course of this blog.

I like to shop - I think that skeleton in the closet has totally reanimated and come out dancin’. I also love to haggle, depending on the environment. If you’ll recall from my trip to Beijing, I can haggle like a mad beast - and those skills are now being put to use in a high-caliber business setting where I am {re}negotiating my contract terms.

And everything was going so well. I finally got all of the paperwork signed and I have everything stamped and I no longer have affiliation with the previous company. I got the severance fee reduced, and new company paid it. I had to pay my visa transfer fee... but I guess I can handle that (sniff sniff - offended ^_^).

AND now... with ten days left until my visa expires - I need to have something new lined up.

So yesterday after classes I am told the awesome HR (human resources) person is coming to talk to me about “something.” The rumor mill had gotten to me and I heard I might (quite probably) have to go to Hong Kong (technically out of the country) before the new visa can be processed.

She shows up and we start looking at {da duh duH!!!} the contract - so she can get moving on the next step of getting my visa switched over quickly.

Well this is where it gets interesting. Keep in mind that when I was headhunted - my general compensation as promised by the owner of the three companies was ¥10,000 and they wanted flash my pasty white self on T.V. and have me be the {figure}head of the VIP center with significant sales bonuses if certain tuition goals were met for my center.

The HR Lady, and my headhunter, and I sequester ourselves in the board room and begin the process...

Checkin out the contract and the first thing I notice is that the compensation is ¥6,000. Hmmm... Excuse me... 这是SHAAA?!(dialect for WHAT!?) I actually asked that in a much more reserved and polite way. Anyhow - evidently they cant take the original copy to the foreign bureau saying that they are paying me much more than my first company because it would look like they are headhunting people... like hill-folk... and we wouldn’t want to appear that way of course. Understandable - not a problem. Im not signing it.

Everything I was ever told by my parents - both Marines, and captains at that - always get it {promises} in writing, or don’t believe them.

So that is just what I did.

Directly to the HR woman who speaks next to no English - “不好意思 但是 我不会 签证 着个 合同。 我的父母都是军人, 然后 这么 办法 - 我 不能做。 Im sorry but I cant sign this contract. My parents are both military people, so I can’t sign a contract this way.

他们 好多次 告诉我, 如果 你的 合同 不同意 跟 谁的说话, 别签证。
They have told me many times (growing up), If your contract isn’t the same as what you were told... dont sign.

Once again I apologized for the inconvenience, but stated firmly that I was unable to proceed with signing until I had some alternative that showed what I was entitled to. This wasnt about money for me - it was about having the alternatives recognized by the appropriate people.

I told them: If I am to sign something that says ¥6,000 blah blah blah and it does not get adjusted - I need you to recognize what significance that will have for our interaction. If I get stiffed, I’ll jump ship and you’ll never hear from me again. Its that serious.

So we wrote up another contract - the same thing, but a copy for me. and.... it still said ¥6,000 and their answer to that (the copy the foreign bureau would never see) is that if we sign on an alternative copy that says a higher amount of money, we would also need to go ahead and resolve all of the responsibilities/ time off agreements etc. I am fine with that.... HR lady wasn’t pleased.

Evidently she needs to have this done tonight or she doesn’t get to sleep. If we doesn’t take care of it tonight and go to the foreign bureau straight away in the morning, it is possible that I could be barred from working in China. . . I dont see how that makes sense considering all the work we went through getting the release from previous employment paperwork... but whatever - moving on.

I am not going to be cornered and forced to sign a contract that is significantly different without having something in my corner that acknowledges what I was promised.

So she scowls and goes off to adjust the standard contract appendix to acknowledge the pay difference and all the extra stuff.

Finally she finishes - and my dinner date for sushi with the VIP teachers was being seriously encroached upon. I had several phone calls to the Spanish teacher of the group that consisted of severely uncontrolled switching between Spanish and Chinese on my part. I blew some minds in that office :D.

Form editing ComPLETE!!

Back in the boardroom, we go over the appendix piece by piece. The pay has been changed to ¥8,000 - still 2,000 short of what I was promised. Interesting. Looking through the rest of the appendix - there is no mention of the sales bonus for tuition levels. There is no mention of under what conditions I would be put on TV or if that would happen at all - and no mention of what compensation I would receive.

I brought up the pay again... and they pull out a graduated pay scale for the specific school I was working at for the largest portion... and sure enough - I dont have 2-3 years of experience and the IELTS background to justify the pay. I recognize that - no problem.

Its not about money - its about having promises be kept. When a company is changing directions as constantly as this one, and has fired to foreigners within the past month and a half - i’d say I have the right to be a bit twitchy. Especially if you are going to ask me to leave another company and come to yours, you and had better honor your promises or we’re going to have some serious issues.

They tried to justify the lowering of the salary by showing me the pay scale and by bringing up my resume... which they had only just in the past week or so asked for. We’ve had dealings for the past month and a half. Not once was I questioned about my past or was my resume asked for.

We didn’t know before hand, so we needed to change the amount to be fair to the other teachers. Maybe in the near future you will be qualified for the amount of money that we had previously talked about. {paraphrase}

Im sorry... how do you as the executives try and feign being the victims of circumstance. You stand to win big in business - it is your responsibility to also make sure that things run smoothly. It is your responsibility to be well informed. I will not sacrifice MY position because of YOUR ignorance. Not fly.

It smells a lot like me becoming just a normal teacher, but instead of having the comforts of a normal teacher, I am still shuffled between two schools (one of which is the kids school - which I don’t really want to do anyways) do demonstration classes, and am expected to be at work 5 days a week even if I dont have class (in other companies you can go home if you dont have class). No thank you.

You’re haggling now my precious. If you want to change the offer, you have to expect counter offer. I will not be backed into the corner and terrified into saying yes to a much lesser deal.

If you want me to be a normal teacher, we need to revisit the deal - and I want the owner back at the table.

Once again.... I have a box of cash and endless opportunity. If I get boxed out of working in China for a year or whatever - I can live with that. I’ll go somewhere else they speak mandarin... and there are several ^_^

If you do want to revisit the deal - then talk with me... face to face... and lets do this correctly please.


I am not worried - heck I might even be home for Christmas.

I think it is terribly fascinating how fast these things can change. Things develop and degrade SO fast here.

So much is paid to the face of things - dont worry, dont worry - trust us - but there is no follow up or communication. Nothing on the middle... like Chinese bread.