Sunday, August 21, 2005

August 21, 2005 - When in Rome, BE a Roman

I’ve been back home for a week. I still don’t know exactly where I am. Mentally and physically crossing this 12 hour span is not an easy thing to do. I miss my time in China, the new friends I made and the old ones I already had. Everything was surreal. This trip has made me feel more comfortable with who I am and where I belong. When I just got home in Salisbury I did not know what to do. The place was strange to me. But it didn’t take long for me to get in the groove in spite of a “violent” jet lag (or stomach bug, not sure of which) attack. I felt the same when I started to travel in China on my own when my SU comrades left me. In the beginning I didn’t feel comfortable at all but as the trip went on I became more and more Chinese. When I get to Shanghai, the tail end of my journey, I was almost 100% sure of myself.

When in Rome, BE a Roman.

Friday, August 12, 2005

August 12, 2005 - Going home

Today was my last day in China. After 80 days I was so ready and eager to go home. But the day was not over until I met two of my high school classmates PW and ZL. I saw PW last year and ZL a few weeks ago in my hometown Shiyan. PW worked as a surgeon in Shanghai. ZL just came back from his European tour and was here to spend a few days with his wife and daughter before returning to Shiyan. PW, ZL and his daughter met me in my hotel room in late afternoon. PW also brought a box I mailed him from Wuhan because I did not want to bring all the stuff with me while traveling. We went to a Guizhou cuisine. ZL ordered a lot of dishes because he missed Chinese food while traveling in Europe. On the dinning table, one serious topic regarding health care reform came up. China, like in the States, was facing a health care crisis. Most of common people couldn’t afford health care. This created resentment. The government was trying to reform the system that was currently state owned. The question was what direction to go. The choices were either market based like in the US or the welfare based line in Canada and Europe. At present, market based reform was ruled out. But with so many people it was nearly impossible to have a welfare system. Being a doctor, PW did not see much hope for a resolution in his lifetime. Maybe he was too pessimistic.

After dinner we went to German bar called Pauline along the HuangPu River. We had Munich dark beer and some other snacks. From our seats we could see the lighted Bund across the river. It was very pretty. We stayed there until almost midnight before I had to say goodbye and came back to pack for my trip tomorrow.

One thing happened today made me a believer of China’s transformation. I went to my Chinese bank’s online banking website and found out that the hotel I stayed in Xiamen had refunded me the money for a night I did not stay but paid for. Based on this experience I think China will become more and more credible and easier to do business with. This is definitely a good sign.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

August 11, 2005

Per Vivian’s invitation last night, I paid her a visit. I was a little late for the hotel was not too easily accessible by public transportation. The hotel itself was very impressive. The decoration was modern and slick. The lobby was large and open. Many guests walked in and out. It did not really look like just newly opened. The occupation rate was already at 70% to 80%. I guessed that all the hard work of Vivian’s and her staff’s now started to pay off.

Vivian invited me to have dinner in one of the hotel restaurants with one of her friend from out-of-town and one of her colleagues Ms. Mao. They were both very nice and friendly people. The restaurant was full of people, which was a proof of how good the food was. The main style was Shanghai food. While not a big fan for its sweetness, I found the food here was fitting and satisfactory.

After dinner, Vivian went to see her friend off to the airport while Ms. Mao showed me some of rooms in the hotel. I saw their standard, business and suite rooms. I was very impressed. All the rooms were clean, well designed and practical. It would be ideal place for both leisure and business stays.

A TV show was being shot in one of the suites on the top floor. We were invited to take a look. Being in movies before, I know how difficult to make them. A scene would have to be shut multiple times before it was satisfactory to directors. All the crew members have to play as a team. This particular show was perhaps a low budget endeavor. The main actor and actress were not big names. One of funny episode was that at one point the actress was supposed to cry but she couldn’t shed tears. She tried eye drops but all the drops went into her eyes and did not come up. The director joked that her eyes were holes for sucking in liquid. I could tell that she was a little embarrassed.

Vivian arranged a hotel car to send me back to my hotel. When I left the hotel late in the evening, the shut was still going on. None of the crew had dinner yet at the point. It is a tough business to be in. Nothing is easy.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

August 8, 2005

I fulfilled my dream tonight. I went dancing tango in Shanghai!

I had dinner with Whitney, a friend I met last year via Helen. Afterward we went together. The location was easy to find and floor was nice. It was a dance studio in a youth training school, I think. I noticed that there are both Chinese and Westerners and they were very open and friendly. This was rather a contrast to the situation in Beijing. Jennifer, one of four organizers, told me since it was during the summer break, many people were out of town. She grew up in Canada and now lived in Shanghai. She used to teach but not any more. She just wanted to enjoy dancing, I guessed. She told that the tango club started about three years ago. It was still growing. Like any other places, people came and went. One of the problems, like in Beijing, was that there were not enough local teachers. Next week they would have two teachers from Japan visiting and Park of DC may be here in October. A few weeks ago, Jamie and Shorey whom I met in Beijing visited. Right now they only had one teacher locally. They hoped to get another one or two. This is absolutely true. The main reason for tango to prosper in Taipei and Hong Kong, I think, is that they had good local teachers for consistency of instructions. For tango to gain popularity in mainland China, this must be the first priority.

Tonight was a practica. There were about 10 people, most of whom were beginners. But they practiced hard and eager to learn. Overall, the participants were young to middle aged. I principally danced with Jennifer and Eva from Berlin. Jennifer danced very well. She had all a good tango dancer should have: tall, slim, quick feet, a fast learner. Eva danced well, too. Only one thing was that she couldn’t trust me enough to do a volcada. J Maybe when we meet again in Shanghai, DC, Berlin or somewhere else, I could earn that trust.

To my surprise they also played some alternative tango music.

I also taught Whitney a little bit. She was a good follower and moved well. Later on our way home, she told me that she was not that interested. It was a pity.

My overall impression of this club was that it was well organized and had a great potential. I wish them all the best.

August 10, 2005

WJ, a good friend of mine, came back home on vacation. We knew each other when I was at Florida Atlantic University where he was a professor computer science. We normally tried to meet every time when we both were in Shanghai. Last year, I postponed my trip by one day just trying to be able to see him. This was the third time we met here. He is a native and knows what’s going on. Apart from being helpful, he is also super nice.

We met in front a new shopping mall near People’s Square. This impressive building was not here last year but now already open for business. The pace of development in Shanghai was incredible. One of his students CX also joined us. She now worked in Texas State University and just recently obtained her tenure track. This was a good reason for celebration.

On our way to a restaurant we walked through different shopping malls to avoid hot wave outside. The malls were no different from those in the States. When we got a row of restaurants, we had a hard time deciding which one to eat in. Finally we decided to select that one we had dinner last year. We ordered shanghai style dishes and wine. Not surprisingly the food we ordered was again more than enough.

When the bill came, we all wanted to pay. Finally we agreed on CX for celebration of her recently acquired tenure. After dinner we went a new district of bars. There were two existing well known places HengShan Road and the New World. Both places were rather crowded. We selected the new one for its freshness and calmness. First we tried a bar called Baby Face upon a friend’s recommendation but the attitudes of servers were terribly unfriendly and it was rather noisy. We decided to go to a bar by the name of Chez Simone near by. We all liked the place. It was clean and quite with soft music in the background. A while later, Vivian, another mutual friend of WJ and mine, showed up. She worked in a newly open 5-star hotel and was rather busy. She invited us to pay her a visit and check out the hotel. She was very proud of what she had achieved. I remembered for awhile last year when I talked to her on the phone she was under tremendous pressure to get things in order.

We just sat there drinking and talking. Before long it was already mid-night when we said goodbye to each other and got on our own way.

You may be aware of the theory of 7 degree separation. I have a proof. Last night when talking to ZL, I found that he went to a conference at the same time as WJ did. I casually asked him if they happened to know each other. Guess what, they sat next to each other once at a dinner table during the conference. When I asked WJ today, he said he remembered this young professor who always spoke very orderly and dominated conversations. So much for 7 degrees!

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

August 9, 2005

After numerous efforts put forth by TL, some of our classmates of Wuhan University ’79 class in Shanghai would meet for dinner in the evening. Because everyone was busy nowadays, scheduling such a meeting was not a minor undertaking. Thanks to her persistence and perseverance, tonight’s event was made possible.

TL and I decided to go to a bar on HengShan Road to have a drink and some snacks in the afternoon before meeting the group for dinner. She moved from Wuhan two years ago to follow her husband’s promotion. Both of them worked in Shanghai University of Communications (JiaoDa). He was in the law school and she worked in Offices of Student Affairs and Academic Affairs while finishing up her Ph.D. in Computer Science. Right now the university is in process of moving to a new campus. She was rather busy with arranging moves for various labs. While drinking tea, she had to answer a couple of calls.

We talked about many things. One of the usual topics was of course concerned with my single-hood. We discussed another classmate’s theory of separating love and marriage. We did not seem to be able to agree with him completely. She helped me sort out my thoughts and promised to help. We also talked about other classmates and news about them. We wonder why while we were classmates in the university we rarely spoken to each other, but now we seemed to have endless topics. Were we getting old enough to a point when we were fond of looking back to the past? J

I preferred this type of setting for communication to a dinning table with many people. In such an environment it is easy for people to open up and have meaningful discussions. When there are lots of people sitting around a big dinning table conversations would remain mostly superficial.

Around 6pm, we arrived in the restaurant. TXF and ZL (with his lovely daughter) were already there. I saw TXF two years during our reunion but had not seen ZL since the graduation. TXF and ZL worked in TongJi and Fudan Universities, respectively. With TL being in JiaoDa, we joked that we had an important insider in each of the three most prestigious universities in Shanghai.

DLP showed up a little later. Again I had not seen her since the graduation. During the four years in the university, we perhaps did not spoke a word to each other. I only remembered that she was from Shanghai. Both she and TL looked not that much different from twenty some years ago. They must have known how to take care of themselves. TXF did not look much different either except for having gained some weight on his waist. The major difference for ZL was the amount of hair he now had. TXF, being the highest ranked “official,” ordered food and drinks for us and later footed the bill. We all had a great time talking about our and other classmates’ past, present and future. One of the interesting points ZL brought up was that we were reaching such an age that we should know how to slow down and enjoy lives. A few recent premature deaths of some young elite professors due to overwhelming amount of work were the catalyst for such thinking. Another point was that universities in China no longer hired permanent professors. They had to sign contracts every five years. The new hires were not part of university personnel but belonged to a third party human resource management firm. This created numerous pressures for professors to produce quick results. Such pressures forced their research to be short term oriented. No one would commit to doing fundamental research due to the fact that they are long term in nature. To me this reform seems an over kill for it won’t not help China in the long run. To catch up with world class universities, China needs to have a long term view and plan. This calls for not only courage but also patience and perseverance.

A lighter topic: I’ve got two helpers in both TXF and DLP. Guess what they are going to help me for?

Saturday, August 06, 2005

August 6, 2005

What a day! I was supposed to go to Shanghai today for my last stop in China before returning to the States. During the checking out, we ran into a problem. I used my debit card and pre paid 7 day stay but I only stayed for six days. The hotel had a trouble refunding me the money. They said they had to credit my debit card instead of giving me the cash. So we had to wait and see if that was going to happen.

Because of the unexpected checking out delay, I was running late for my afternoon flight. My taxi driver drove rather fast to save time. I got to the airport only a few minutes before the checking in counter was supposed to close. The lines were long. Once it was my turn, I was given good and bad news. The good news was that I was upgraded to business class. The bad news was that my flight was delayed due to a typhoon in Shanghai. Unsure when flights would resume, the airlines company took us to a hotel to rest but two people had to share a room. I was assigned to a room with a Taiwanese businessman ZJS. He was in foot massage business. Given how many foot massages I have had so far, can one claim rooming with him was just a coincidence?

After dinner, he went out and bought some snacks, beer and a bottle of 56 degree Chinese liquor. We drank in our room because we did not want to miss any possible boarding call. He was good drinker for he almost finished the whole bottle. During the drinking, he talked a lot about his business. I learnt in details how a foot massage business was run. We also touched on religions and humanity before he got drunk. Now he is sleeping. I think I will survive sharing the room with him for he snores just so slightly. But what tomorrow will bring is another question.

Friday, August 05, 2005

August 5, 2005

It had been unbearably hot in Xiamen these days. Traveling at this time seemed to ask for suffering. And yet there were many tourists at various attractions. It is always a paradox. People have time to travel in the summer while the weather is hot and don’t have time when it is more pleasant in the fall or spring. We all have to make choices.

ML was still busy at work. She is one of the new capitalists in China. In other words, she is a wheeler and dealer. Seeing how hard she works and how richly she has been rewarded, I see hopes for China. It is obvious she works hard. For example, I got a message from her after midnight one night telling me that she was on her way for a meeting. In terms of rewards, she drives a new 5-series BMW with computer controlling everything and another Mercedes-Benz in Taiyuan. She also owns a mountain ridge stretching 2 kilometers under which there are iron ores.

Because she was too busy to accompany me, she sent one of her nephews to go out with me. A Xing was nineteen year old but much more mature than his age. He was very nice and considerate. When we first met, we had nothing to talk about. Then after I discovered that he was a big NBA and Michael Jordon fan, we started to bond. He played basketball for his high school. His team won three county championships in a row. Today he wanted to go out and play some ball but I told him that I did not have sneakers. He insisted that he buy a pair for me. I told him that I did not have any space to bring them with me, he sounded upset and said that he sincerely wanted me to have them as souvenir. I had no heart to turn it down. Now my luggage was even fuller.

I went to see Seven Swords, a big Hollywood like movie in China. There were only handful people in the theater. In the middle of the movie, someone’s phone rang. The person actually started a conversation as if he had not been at the movie. Another observation was that taxi drivers liked to spit outward by opening window or door while they stopped at lights. They did this quite often in these couple of days.

I took bus to Xiamen University (XU). China was promoting a conservation program trying to save resources. Part of the program was to encourage people to take public transportation. So I gave it a try. The ride was not too bad once I figured out which direction I was going. XU’s campus, situated between a mountain and sea, was beautiful. The landscape and building structures were rather European like. I went to and visited their School of Business. Unfortunately since now was also their summer break I did not get to meet too many people.

August 2, 2005

I left Kunming for Xiamen yesterday. The purpose of this segment was to meet Ms. DML. She was a friend of a friend’s of my older sister’s. She just recently opened an iron mine near Taiyuan in northern part of China, which was rural and undeveloped. It was amazing how a tiny girl could survive such harsh conditions. I admired her. By all means she was a successful businesswoman. It was interesting that I could have good conversations with her on the phone but couldn’t face-to-face. She was constantly on the phone dealing with her business. Well, in fact for last two days we never spent time alone except when she went to the airport to pick me up. She always invited others (her friends and relatives) to join us for activities. She told me that it was rare for her to have contact with an academia. Maybe this was the only way we could get conversations going.

Last night five of us went a hot springs resort in which there were hundreds of ponds filled with hot spring water and other stuff such as milk, rose, herbs, etc. Also two big swimming pools were present. I found that it was really easy to swim in them. Maybe the water was more floating than regular one. No matter what the reason was, I was a happy camper.

July 31, 2005

I spent this couple of days with YQ. She was very sweet and helpful. We went to General Wu Shangui’s resort yesterday. It was an interesting historical story. At the end of the Ming Dynasty he was put in charge of an important fortress to protect the country from the Manchurians. His beloved concubine Chen YuanYuan was left behind in Peking. When the rebels took over the city, one of the rebel generals forcefully took CYY as his possession. General Wu was so furious that he let in the Manchurians. That was the beginning of the Qing Dynasty. Later, he was sent to Yunnan to be away from the power center. CYY came with him but gradually lost his favor. She decided to become a monk when she saw no hope to regain his interests. A few years later, General Wu established his own empire and was soon destroyed by the Qing army. Seeing enough of life’s ups and downs, CYY jumped into a lotus lake near the resort and killed herself.
Today we went to West Mountain. It was the mountain that we did not get to climb last time when I was here due to heavy rain. According to a local saying, one would become hundred times more valuable after he climbed to the top. So I made a point to come back to this place. It was not far from my hotel. We walked through a lakeside park and took a cable car to the starting point. That was the place where our conference buses stopped last time. Now being here, I saw my friends again in my head. Funny, uh? What was even more wired was that on our way down we bumped into another tour guide that was with the conference. She was with a group of tourists. Before coming to Kunming, I told her my itinerary. She said she had to work. I thought were not going to able to meet this time. And yet, there we were! Incident or fate?

July 29, 2005

It has been unbearably hot in Wuhan. I was happy to leave for Kunming where the temperature was around 22 C. My brother-in-law took me to the airport and said goodbye. It was all possible that we wouldn’t see each other until a year later. My remaining journey would take me to Taiyuan to see a friend and Shanghai to exit the country.

The hotel I stayed was called Dianchi Garden Hotel and Spa. Although a little far from the city, it was a perfect place for relaxing. Hot spring water was sent to each room. There was a swimming pool filled with the water as well. The grounding looked like a garden. From my room I could see many golden fish swim in a pond underneath. There were two tennis courts and a gulf course. Nearby were the famous Dianchi Park, West Mountain and the Village of Minorities.

YQ came over to see me after work. She was one of the tour guides for the conference held here a month ago. We were happy to see each other. After having dinner together, we walked around the hotel and saw some fireworks. Tonight happened to be one of the most important festivals for Yi people. We saw sea of people in the Village. They were singing and dancing. Everyone was happy. After a while we came back to my room and chatted a little more before she had to go home before bus stopped running.