Thursday, August 27, 2009

The New Leader awful customer service is not a bank in China. Anyone who has dealt with anything more than a simple deposit or withdrawal at a bank in China knows that customer service is not even a thought. And yet, today I found something worse.

We need to have electricity and gas in our new apartment, which means we have to call PSE&G to open a new account and get everything turned on (though the lights are on in the apartment right now because they never turned them off). I've tried getting through to PSE&G, but it's not that easy to stay on the phone for 40 minutes while they tell you that they'll get to your call when they can.

While we would like to live in our new apartment tomorrow, I was told that they can't come to turn on the electricity or gas until next Thursday between 8am and 4pm. Even Comcast (also known as one of the worst companies for customer service in America) provides a smaller window for their service. Honestly, how difficult is it to turn on these services? I know it's not rocket science. Maybe PSE&G could take the money that everyone in the area HAS to pay them and hire some more staff to actually do some work.

To put this in perspective, when I lived in Colorado I had to go through Xcel Energy. The property management company told me to call and transfer all the bills to my name. I called, waited a short amount of time and set everything up in a few minutes. No one ever had to come to my apartment and I never had any disruption of service.

So, it appears that we can move our stuff into the apartment tomorrow; we just can't live there until sometime next week.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Moving On...

Jia and I are moving closer to New York City. This means we have to pack up our stuff. You never know how much stuff you have until you have to move. It's not that we have a lot of stuff, just a lot of little things that need to go in boxes or bags.

Someday I'll fix this problem by either buying a teleportation device or dumping all of my stuff in the middle of a field and building a house around it.

Anyway, I may not post much for next week as we get everything together (who knows when I'll have a home internet connection).

Friday, August 21, 2009

Moon Upon the Hill

One of the greatest sights in Yangshuo is Moon Hill. Unfortunately, the weather prevented us from going hiking and getting a closer look at this magnificent natural formation. Supposedly there aren't any times of year that the weather is fully cooperative for seeing such sights in Guangxi province--everyone I've met who has been there complained about the rain.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Improbable Tour (part II)

During our Red Army tour of Guilin, we were taken to Yangshuo via a five-hour cruise (our guide drove 45 minutes to meet us at the dock) that would have been much more enjoyable had the weather been more cooperative. (My post about the cruise.)

We were given the option of heading back to Guilin that night or spending the night in Yangshuo--not wanting to head back to our hotel in middle of nowhere in Guilin, we opted for the hotel overlooking the Li River in Yangshuo. (Technically, my room had no windows while Jia's room was twice the size with a balcony overlooking the river, which was very pleasant the next morning.)

After our cruise, our PLA guide drove us around the countryside for some sightseeing. As any traveler who has spent some time in Yangshuo will tell you, the countryside is not what it seems. Even the quaintest of villages in the area are prepared for tourists--they'll have souvenirs and food ready. Still, it's beautiful to see the mountains that jut out--it's typical of many Chinese paintings, including the hand-ink painting I bought at Chen's College in Guangzhou.
For dinner, our guide had a small surprise lined up for us--he found a local guide who spoke English. And they took us to a restaurant in Chinatown. Three years later and I'm still confused how there can be a Chinatown in a town in China, but that was what our English-speaking guide told us.
Part of why we wanted to spend the night in Yangshuo was to experience the nightlife. Also, by staying there our guide was without a superior officer present and, therefore, could drink with us. He spent the first few days of our tour talking about all the things former president Bill Clinton saw on his tour through the region, and he was eager to show this foreigner how much fun Guilin and Yanshuo could be.

The following day we were supposed to have a bike tour through the town with our English-speaking guide, but the rain make that idea a little less desirable. Instead we walked the streets with umbrellas in hand (I'm still thankful I brought my water-proof Campmor coat that was purchased for my stay in London years before). I enjoyed walking the narrow streets where very few cars were allowed--it was quite a contrast to the chaotic streets of Shenzhen. Every storefront was welcoming, though overly touristy. Still, I enjoyed some of the cheesy souvenirs being peddled in Yangshuo--this was my first big trip out of Shenzhen afterall.

This young man was making a ginger candy that you can only buy in Yangshuo (supposedly)--it was quite tasty.

Monday, August 17, 2009

American Lifestyle

...with Chinese characteristics.

Jia has grown accustomed to the American way of life. She still has trouble with driving, but she's learning. Recently she discovered the wonder that is the garage sale. She has become so enthusiastic about this part of America that she even checks out Craigslist for a list of places to go.

As we are collecting stuff for our new apartment, we're trying to find anything decent at the garage sales around town. Yesterday we got lucky with a microwave and new toaster oven for $5. This gets added to the 100-year-old dresser we found getting thrown out (it's heavy and only needed one drawer fixed) and numerous picture frames (because Jia loves hanging up photos). She is fascinated by what Americans get rid of--especially when they're selling new items.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Most Scenic...

I heard plenty of Chinese talk about Guilin as the most scenic destination in China. I have agree that it is quite scenic, but I did see much more appealing scenery in northern Sichuan and Xinjiang (I enjoy snowcapped mountains).

Here is one view of Guilin. Note: there was a constant light rain, that haze wasn't pollution-induced.
The mountains of Guangxi province are probably the most recognizable sights of China--they've been painted uncountable times throughout the centuries. Before visiting Guilin and Yangshuo, I had never seen mountains like these--I found them fascinating. Unfortunately, the weather didn't cooperate and we were limited in our hiking efforts to the main tourist attractions that had stairs and railings.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Improbable Tour (part I)

My first big holiday journey in China was Spring Festival (Year of the Dog) 2006. Jia and I had been dating for almost two months, but weren't telling anyone about our relationship. She contacted some relatives who hooked us up with a People's Liberation Army tour of Guilin and Yangshuo. By the end of our stay, word had gotten back to Jia's mother that we were dating (but that's not the fun part of the story).

We landed late in Guilin and were greeted by an official in a suit and PLA soldier who would be our driver and guide. I hadn't been informed that I would meet anyone from the Chinese military, and they weren't informed that Jia would be traveling with a waiguoren. It certainly made for a nice surprise upon our arrival.

We were taken to a greasy spoon with only three walls to sample the Guilin's specialty noodles. I was exhausted and didn't care what we ate--no food would have been memorable at that time. I was much more excited about seeing our hotel rooms. I was certainly a little disappointed to see that my room was simple, yet clean while Jia was given a suite. The next day I realized how far out of the way our accomodations were--there was nothing nearby except for a very dirty Internet bar which we used a few times (it was a dark, smoke-filled concrete room with old computers that hadn't been cleaned in years). Every day we had private meals at the hotel--just Jia, myself, and our PLA guide.

On our last night we met the official who organized our tour of the area. He asked what I'd like to drink, and, being the naive foreigner at the time, I said I'd drink whatever he'd like. He got a bottle of some local baijiu (although it was not clear, but rather a slightly yellow hue) that tasted a bit like a smooth scotch. This was the only time in nearly four years that I can say I enjoyed drinking baijiu. Throughout the meal, we drank casually and my host and others toasted me. I remember dinner being very good, but not much afterwards. Jia says I was speaking Chinese the whole way back to the hotel.

The next day was painful. Even though it tasted better than other baijiu, it still produced that horrible day after result. To complicate matters, we were treated to dinner before our flight to Shanghai, at which time the official brought out a bottle of Moutai baijiu--which I still consider the worst tasting baijiu I have ever had despite it's great reputation in China.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

American Grads in China

The New York Times ran an article about recent graduates looking to China for careers because they can't find anything at home. Since I have repatriated, I know how difficult the job search can be--I've had to look for freelance writing and editing gigs more than I ever intended because there aren't many full-time jobs around, and there is a lot of competition for those jobs.

The article can be misleading--it claims that many recent graduates are finding high-level positions at international companies. The fact is, the companies are hiring recent grads while repatriating the older employees so that they can cut costs. The reason that these jobs exist is because there aren't enough local Chinese qualified in these fields. But, there are plenty of Chinese studying these fields, and they will work for far less money than a recent American grad. As more educated Chinese break into the market, there will be fewer jobs for those expats.

The standard of living is mentioned in The New York Times as a driving factor for the migration, but it doesn't mention what the living situation is for these expats. Many new expats in such positions see the standard of living and become obsessed with the fact that they can afford anything and everything in China. This is an attitude that can be detrimental to expats living on much lower salaries (i.e. EFL teachers). I saw the way some expats lived in Shenzhen, and it was uncomfortable to me--it was as if they weren't living in China at all. These tend to be the people who don't learn much Chinese and don't bargain at markets, thus making things more difficult for those who don't live the same lifestyle.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Greener Pastures

I really do wish I was moving to greener pastures...

I finally got around to hooking up and using my old scanner. While I had it out, I decided I should scan some writing samples. Most importantly, I had to scan my short hotel reviews from Guangzhou. A few years ago I was commissioned to write about the three best hotels in Guangzhou (China Hotel, Garden Hotel, and the White Swan) for Insight Guides' Asia's Best Hotels & Resorts.

My copy of the book was sent to my parents' house while I was still living in China, so I never really had the opportunity to look through it until now. I'm amazed by some of the hotels listed in this book--I doubt I would be able to afford to stay in most of them (I'd rather not spend $400+ a night on room). But reading some of the information about the destinations reminds me of what I'm missing by no longer living in China--the ease of international travel. Now that I'm home, I have to make a lot more money in order to save enough to take a decent vacation.

Reading about these opulent hotels has at least provided me with a little more motivation to get writing in the hopes of making enough money to stay just one night in any of them. (Actually, I did get to stay at one of the hotels listed for Hong Kong because I stayed in my uncle's room.)

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Heroes' Welcome

Euna Lee and Laura Ling returned to the US today after being detained in North Korea for the past several months. The news coverage of this story is astounding. I listened to them speaking at a news conference this morning along with former Vice President Al Gore. It sounded like these two journalists were being treated as heroes for enduring their imprisionment.

Why is America so concerned about these two journalists? Sure, they were convicted of trumped-up charges of espionage, which was ridiculous. But, they did enter North Korean territory without a visa. Entering a country illegally is always a criminal offense. Some countries just handle the legal proceedings in a different manner. The logical reaction from the North Koreans should have been to confiscate their cameras and notes and have them fined and deported. But, that's not the way that country operates.

Now, Euna Lee and Laura Ling will probably get a book deal and go on the talk show circuit. All this for knowingly crossing an international border illegally. Granted, some of the blame for their actions fall on Al Gore's news channel--and he should take some personal responsibility, but he probably won't. I won't deny that they endured hardships in a North Korean prison, but they don't deserve any sympathy.

Journalists also have to follow international laws. Journalistic integrity does not give anyone the right to flout the law.

Monday, August 03, 2009

More Scam Jobs

I got an email today from what appeared to be a recruiter via Only problem is that Monster always says that it's sent through their system--this email did not. But the subject line said, "Respectful company seeks new staff."

I began reading the recruiter's sales pitch--I could work at home for a few hours a day and make $2000 a month. The title of the job sounded promising: Money Manager Assistant. So, what would I need to do for a few hours a day to obtain such a pipe dream?

It seems I would have to process money. "You will receive payments (Direct Bank Deposits and wire transfers) from client within United States and send it by instant payment sistem such as Western Union."

So, this "job" would require me to provide my bank information so that I could receive "money" from "clients," and I would then send this "money" to someone else via Western Union. (I also like the misspelling of system.) Odd how this "job" sounds like money laundering. But it can't be illegal because they also say, "We do not ask any personal information and we run business according to laws of the United States of America."

Of course the company email addresses are on different servers. The one I got was through and the one I'm supposed to respond to is on gmail.