So, I wanted to do this about a week ago, but I didn’t get the last of the China pictures until Friday, which corresponds pretty closely to when Chilkat got an ear infection, which corresponds pretty closely to when I was adjusted to the local time zone and when I stopped getting anything done.
China. It’s an interesting place. I came to a conclusion: Cities are cities, and people are people. I didn’t get any real time on my own to explore, and only limited (and rushed) touristiness altogether. But I’ll give you the run down, day by day. If I can remember anything any more.
As you may or may not recall, the purpose of this trip was for me to provide a week-long training class on the latest release of our software to my parent company’s China sales and support branch. I was chosen primarily because I’m tall and rather difficult to lose in a sea of Chinamen (oh how I’ve been itching to use that word). Well, I’m not so sure that was the reasoning, but it seems likely, because I arrived speaking no more Chinese than “beer,” although I’m reasonably knowledgeable about our software. My boss was going with me for two reasons: (1) It’s a company-paid trip to China and he can go visit family essentially for free and (2) He speaks fluent Chinese and fluent English (and fluent Japanese, which is also useful due to the high proportion of Japanese management personnel in China) and has a good understanding of our software.
~2.5 hour flight to LA, ~14.5 hour flight to Shanghai. I did not sleep. Boss was supposed to be on the same flight as me, but changed day-of to go through San Francisco for a better chance at upgrade. This meant that he would arrive an hour later than me (rather than on the same flight as me), which posed the boringly commonplace problem of how to connect an out of place foreigner sans local language skills with hosts who know where he should be going and what he should be doing but don’t know anything about how he looks. There were three of them; they held up a sign. We waited around and chatted poorly and awkwardly in English for about an hour, until my boss arrived. Then we took about an hour and a half drive to Suzhou. I slept most of the way.
The we went out for Japanese food at a place named Kiku. I mentioned that most management in China is Japanese (for my Japanese company). It was good, they were friendly, I was tired. I passed around pictures of Chilkat and KrisDi on my phone, and they earned many well-deserved accolades. Most conversation was in Japanese. I can count to six in Japanese, and sometimes I can remember how to say, “I am not a doctor.”
I zonked pretty much immediately when I got back to the hotel. I think I might have Skyped with KrisDi and Chilkat. I think so, because I ran my laptop on battery power that night until I got an outlet adapter the next day. I’m not sure any more. The mattress was hard. Really hard. It did not deter me in the slightest.
I already spoiled this little gem: I got an outlet adapter from the hotel so I could plug in my laptop.
Aside from that, I woke up a little early and wandered around the hotel grounds. There was little of interest, but I noticed when I was taking pictures that I could see dust particles light up in the flash. There is a lot of pollution in this industrial area of China. I also quickly realized that after four weeks of having a good camera, my little pocket camera seems like a frustrating piece of shit.
Breakfast was pretty uneventful. Then first weird awkward day of class (starting with about three hours of configuration/installation/OS permissions/hardware issues). It actually went pretty well, thanks to my boss’ lingual proficiency and healthy understanding of the technical subject matter. Lunch was provided at work. It was a mediocre Japanese bento box.
Dinner was a big production; everyone in the class went. I ate camel (dryer and tougher than beef, reminded me of beef jerky but moister, pretty tasty). They thought they were going to shock me with it, but I was pretty visibly excited about sampling another of God’s tasty creatures. Beer, and huangjiu (rice wine of some sort, maybe sometimes called yellow wine). Lots of Chinese conversation; one guy from Hong Kong was practicing any English he could remember with me. “How old are you?” “Where are you from?” “Are you married?” Etc. It took him a few minutes between questions to think of the next question. He was actually very nice and friendly — he just doesn’t speak much English and I speak much less Chinese. I passed around pictures of Chilkat and KrisDi on my phone, and they earned many well-deserved accolades.
Back to the hotel, quick bed time. They actually sent me home with a couple extra beers that I never had time or inclination to drink in the hotel room.
Class got into gear this day. We went to a local noodle shop for lunch. We had noodles with pig knuckle (meat/skin/fat/connective tissues pressed into a loaf and sliced into thick slabs). It was amazing. I would eat it every day. Every day. Delightedly. Gosh.
We sort of tourised that night. We went to old town Suzhou. We visited a calligraphy shop (I tried Chinese calligraphy), a teapot shop, a tea shop (where my boss lectured the clearly knowledgeable owner on his hometown’s particular tea), and then out to a different place for more Suzhou noodles. It wasn’t as good as lunch, but the sides were pretty amazing. Wonderful soupy dumplings. We got there just before they closed, and spent some time conversing with the night watchman, who was entertaining and animated (and strongly reminds me of Weesh’s dad). His emphatic advice: Enjoy life.
I learned a little Chinese. I think this is the day I learned “Do you have any questions?” Which can apparently be easily mispronounced in a way that makes it sound like a gruff, “You got any problems?” I learned to count to three.
We went to hot pot, which was awesome. I ate pig brains (delicious!) and duck tongues (good, but a pain in the butt) and various other strange parts of strange animals. Once again, my hosts experienced a letdown for not being able to shock me with weird foods. As I described it, “delicious zoo.”
This was the last substantial day of class. I learned how to say “teacher” in Chinese, and got made fun of for being a teacher in China who could only say, “Do you have any questions?”
We went to another big class dinner. We went to a restaurant pier on a lake; the food was pretty, but only so-so. One of the students made a comment that tickled me: My boss walked away from my table to help order food, and one of the students said, “Teacher has no mouth!” I passed around pictures of Chilkat and KrisDi on my phone, and they earned many well-deserved accolades.
Afterwards, they put me in a stranger’s car (all Buicks apparently look the same). This was quickly sorted out. Then two of my hosts (and not my boss) took me out to drink at the Japanese place from the first night. We had a little sushi, some sake, some more huangjiu, some other little snacks. I passed around pictures of Chilkat and KrisDi on my phone, and they earned many well-deserved accolades.
Then we went to a bar named Alcohol. Alcohol is a bar that will keep bottles for its regular patrons; they’ll put your name tag on it. One of my two compatriots fell asleep. I saved him from self-immolation by noticing that smoke was wafting from his jacket and then plucking the burning cigarette out. As a self reward, I drank the rest of his bottle of Wild Turkey 101. My other comrade and I continued to drink and talk. I passed around pictures of Chilkat and KrisDi on my phone, and they earned many well-deserved accolades. He and I talked about language and alcohol and lots of things. He’s a very good guy. I taught him the term “BFF”.
I was a little cranky the following morning. We didn’t leave Alcohol until about 2:30 AM. We finished up our class and did some sightseeing around Suzhou. We ate noodles for lunch again. We saw a temple and we visited a very cool mansion (maybe a palace? not really sure what to call it). I rode a rickshaw. I felt silly.
We drove into Shanghai in the evening. Traffic was trafficky, and I could taste the increasing pollution level as we got closer and closer to the city. We went to the Shanghai office briefly and met a bunch of bigwigs, and then we went out to a very expensive dinner with same bigwigs.
Dinner included lots of food (though nothing as exciting as pig brains). They tried to shock me with spicy food. They mocked my chopsticks skills until I out-chopsticked one of their own (I picked up a greasy peanut faster than him!). They tried to shock me with local strong liquor (baijiu). Then they told me I’m not American, since I like pig brains and spicy food and I can feed myself with chopsticks and I have no problem with baijiu.
Afterwards, I had a short period of checking out some of the Shanghai sights from a distance by night followed by a little more whiskey with my new BFF. Then hotel and sleep. This hotel was much nicer.
The following morning, I had a short period of time to wander around. Nothing was open. But I snuck to the top of my very tall hotel and looked around. Shanghai seems like a never-ending expanse. It is freaking huge.
Then I was guided along the subway system to the Mag Lev train, which took me to the airport. 10 hour flight to San Francisco, 2 hour flight to Seattle, and voila. I ate burgers and drank good beer for lunch. And I zonked at 8 PM.