Friday, July 30, 2010

Turning the Wheels

I visited Jiuzhaigou in 2006 (my first full year in China), and I'm still fascinated by the park. It is the only place in China that I want to visit again (once is usually enough for any place).

Just outside Shuzheng village, where we spent the night, were these Tibetan mills.

The Tibetans channeled the rivers through chutes that powered small turbines that spun prayer wheels. They engineered a way for the water to pray.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Twisted in Shenzhen

Yesterday I heard about tornadoes in Shenzhen. I never heard about tornadoes in Shenzhen while I lived there, and this was quite shocking as it was actually three simultaneous tornadoes. And this came shortly after we were scared by warnings in the New York City area (one touched down in the Bronx). It really has been some unexpected weather lately.

Fortunately, I haven't heard anything about injuries in Shenzhen. The tornadoes were in Shenzhen Bay near Shekou--only a few miles from my last apartment. I guess these would be better classified as waterspouts as they didn't make landfall. According to the Shenzhen Daily, it is the first recorded in Shenzhen (though no word on how far back those records go).

There are some amazing photos of the tornadoes in Shenzhen here (captions are in Chinese).

Friday, July 23, 2010

Colorful, Cool

As we've experienced the hottest July on record here in New Jersey, I want to reflect on cooler times. (Funny how I was thinking about warmer times during the frigid winter.)

Still one of my favorite trips through China, Huanglong and Jiuzhaigou were beautiful. The calcified pools of Huanglong were amazing, though we arrived before the snow melt, so most of the pools were dry. It just gives me another reason to go back (next time I'll be sure to not take the 11-hour bus ride from Chengdu).

Thursday, July 22, 2010

My Chinese Wedding

A few days after Jia and I obtained our Chinese marriage certificate, we celebrated our wedding in Urumqi with family and friends (mostly hers).

Before the celebration, we had a few more things that needed to be prepared. Jia had already booked the hotel--the Yindu Hotel, which was one of the nicest hotels in the city. To save some money, she contacted a friend who worked at another hotel to supply us with soda, wine, and baijiu (he agreed to buy back any unopened bottles). After picking up the drinks, we went in search of firecrackers--we had to set off a long line of them before we entered the hotel for the reception--and purchased a roll of 1500. We also had to purchase cigarettes to be places on each table--I didn't want to buy them, but I was told that guests would be very disappointed if we didn't have them (fortunately, most of Jia's friends were kind enough to smoke outside).

Jia stayed with her aunt and uncle who lived just down the street from our hotel, so it was easy for me to pick her up. Because my Chinese wasn't too good, I didn't have to play all the painful games that grooms must endure on their wedding day. Traditions include refusing to open the door until the groom answers questions and slips hongbao under the door, hiding the bride's shoes, and other obstruction tactics courtesy of the bride and groom's friends. The worst test I had to endure was carrying my bride down four flights of steps to the car (why couldn't they have lived in a building with an elevator?).

The firecrackers were lit as our car arrived at the Yindu Hotel. We stood at the entrance, waiting to greet our guests as they arrived over the course of an hour. We got to see how other people in Urumqi celebrate their wedding as another couple hosted a ceremony next to us. We had a bit of a laugh as we saw the bride in her Western-style white wedding gown next to the groom who wore dress slacks and short-sleeve shirt and tie. I was tempted to offer my services as a stand in with a tuxedo--they could later edit the photo with his head.

Before I arrived in Xinjiang, Jia also hired a photographer and MC for the day. I was a little confused about the MC, but Jia explained that he was just there to host the reception and provide a little humorous fun. To prepare me, she told me what questions the MC would ask so I could prepare my answers. Unfortunately, he spoke too quickly and didn't go in the order I was told--Jia had to translate a lot for me. He asked me questions like "How tall is your bride?" and "What size shoe does she wear?" The MC also came with a local musician from the university--she played a few instruments and was quite impressive.

After being roasted on stage and exchanging rings, dinner was served. Jia and I didn't get to enjoy dinner as we made our rounds and toasted our guests with wine and baijiu. My brother was disappointed as he thought he'd have to drink for me, which is the custom for the best man. After we toasted everyone, my brother made his rounds and tried to toast Jia's friends who became scared by the foreigner who wanted to drink baijiu.

I finally got to shovel some food into my mouth after two dozen drinks. I wish I could've eaten earlier because the food was excellent (or so I was told).

It was still early when the celebration ended. We decided to continue the party elsewhere after changing at the hotel. We rented a huge room at the local KTV--it had a projection screen and foosball table. We enjoyed more drinks and a buffet for a few more hours with about half the guests.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Wedding Story

Jia returned from her business trip to China, and it was just in time as we celebrate our anniversary in a couple days (the Chinese wedding anniversary). And I realized I never wrote anything about our weddings (Chinese or American--yeah, we had two).

The summer before I started working at the graduate school, Jia and I planned our wedding--actually, she did most of the planning as I had no idea what needed to be done in China, nor could I communicate effectively in Chinese to know how to plan a wedding. All I had to do was set a date for my family to fly to China and pay for the whole celebration. The date was one of three lucky dates my mother-in-law obtained from a monk at a Buddhist temple.

A month prior, I had to visit the U.S. consulate in Guangzhou to obtain a notarized document stating that I was not currently married to anyone else, which then had to be translated and notarized in Shenzhen by a disgruntled government employee who questioned why he should notarize such a document even though we were paying for the service. After pleading with the notary for almost an hour, he agree to stamp the document so we would stop bothering him.

I met my parents and brother in Beijing and we flew out to Urumqi, as Jia's hometown is a two-hour bus ride from there. Before we could have our wedding reception, we had to visit the government office to obtain our marriage license. We only had four days between the license and the reception, unlike Jia's friends who waited almost a year for their reception. While my family was treated to an extended foot massage, Jia and I took a bicycle taxi across town with her friend (it was her job to take photos).

The government office was not what I expected. The first room had a lot of wedding decorations for sale--this was where we got our forms to fill out and our photos to be included in the marriage license. We then entered a larger room to wait our turn. We were the only couple getting married. The room was split in half by a banister. Jia explained that our side, which had rows of chairs in pairs, was for weddings, and the other side, which had a line or chairs around the perimeter was for divorces. I think the setup would be a great idea in Vegas.

When we were finally called to the desk for our marriage license, the clerk reviewed our documents to ensure everything was in order. She then insisted that we read a statement that claims we are not related--I thought it was funny, but the clerk insisted that I read the Chinese, which Jia had to help with as I only recognized every third character. A simple statement that should have taken two minutes took ten. The clerk disappeared for a few minutes to prepare our marriage license. When she returned, she proclaimed us husband and wife (or so I assumed considering my limited Chinese abilities). The first thing I did was look at our marriage license, which is written in Chinese and Uyghur. The clerk looked amused as Jia and I posed for photos with our marriage license in front of a large government emblem.

That night we celebrated with a banquet with Jia's relatives and friends--it was partly to make up for those who couldn't travel to Urumqi for the reception. We finished off the evening with a night out at Clone City--a large club featuring plenty of shanzhai (counterfeit) alcohol. Jia's friend had a ticket for a free bottle, and I was excited when it arrived at our table as it looked like Jack Daniel's. However, it turned out to be Jack Conte and it smelled like baijiu (my brother and I didn't drink it). They did have real alcohol, which was sold next to the shanzhai bottles (the price difference was a few hundred Yuan for the real thing and 10 Yuan for fakes). We decided to settle for Tsingtao.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Off the Coast

It really isn't surprising to anyone who has lived in China or follows the news of the country. But, this article popped up today about foreign companies leaving the coastal manufacturing areas of China.

The article begins with tales of workers demanding higher wages and better working conditions, such as the Honda plant strike in Foshan. It then goes into the attractiveness of sending some of the manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. or Mexico, or even some other Southeast Asian countries that don't have the manpower or infrastructure of China.

It only glances over the migration of factory jobs to inland cities. These cities are cropping up because of better roads and transportation improvements that make such factories competitive with their coastal counterparts. Inland cities are also more attractive to migrant workers because they might be closer to home and the standard of living is much lower, enabling workers to save more money. These cities are also attractive to smaller businesses and factories because the costs are lower--construction, rent, and wages are significantly lower than in places like Shenzhen and Shanghai. Only some of the rising cost of business in major cities is attributed to the rising exchange rate of the Yuan--the minimum wage increases in the regions plays a more important role.

Around Spring Festival, China Daily ran an article about the lack of returning employees to the major industrial cities of Guangdong Province. The estimated shortage of workers was in the hundreds of thousands. There was speculation then that the employees who didn't plan to return to their jobs were searching for work closer to home. Of course, Spring Festival is also the time of year for job hopping around China, which means most factories were already searching for new employees.

The next phase of the migration of factories is converting the old factory districts. What will become of the enormous factories around coastal cities? Some of these structures were built to accommodate more than 100,000 workers. What can be done with structures than take up so much space? In Shenzhen and Guangzhou, private schools and universities are opening up outside the center of the cities--Shenzhen has three top-tier graduate schools that share a campus in the northern city limits; and Beijing converted its old factories near the airport into the 798 arts district.

A silver lining to the exodus of manufacturing jobs from major cities may be that the heavily inflated real estate market will become more reasonable. Of course, such predictions have been made before and nothing has changed. In the coming year I'm certain there will be more predictions about real estate, the Yuan, foreign business, and overall manufacturing from the "experts" that will be proven wrong, just as they have been in the past.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Textbook Coincidence

I got an e-mail the other day offering me an adjunct position at the community college--they want me to teach two classes (though I was hoping for four) of high-level ESL writing and grammar. I scanned the syllabus to see what I'd be teaching for the semester and realized it's the same writing course I taught at the graduate school in Shenzhen. What really surprised me was that the writing textbook is the same as the one I used in China, though I think it's a newer edition. I just have to hope that the newer edition has updated and more interesting sample essays. In the event that the textbook really isn't updated, I do still have some resources to substitute into the course.

At least I'm familiar with the material and should have an easy time planning for class in the fall.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Things I Miss About Shenzhen (5)


I'm reminded of lychee season (though it usually starts in early June), and I really miss seeing them for sale on almost every corner of Shenzhen. Plus, there was the crowd around the lychees at Carrefour, which prompted me to avoid shopping at peak hours (which was almost anytime of day).

It's possible to get lychees, and other tropical Asian fruit, here in Jersey City, but it's prohibitively expensive. The cheapest I've seen is $5 for a pound. Fortunately, I took a trip to Chinatown and found lychees at a more reasonable price of $2 per pound. They're definitely not as good as they were in Shenzhen--the pits are larger in the varieties sold here and they're not as sweet.

I was tempted to make some lychee sangria like I did in Shenzhen, but that would require me to not eat all the lychees I bought. I also enjoyed making the sangria with dragon fruit, which is much more expensive in the US than in Asia (usually $5 for one).

On the bright side, I don't have to deal with the extreme heat and humidity of Shenzhen this time of year, which is worsened by the nonstop rain.

Friday, July 02, 2010

The Guards

I still dream of returning to Bali. It was too beautiful and friendly to forget, and four days was not nearly enough time to enjoy it. One of my favorite things around Bali (besides the beautiful views) was the sculptures--the Hindu influence around the island is amazing.

This temple guard was photographed at Ubud Palace. Our tour guide didn't know what to call it. He did, however, explain that its purpose depends on the color of the cloth that is wrapped around it (I think black and white means it's a destroyer, but I don't remember what any other colors mean). When we visited Tegalalang, Jia convinced me to purchase a colorfully-painted wooden temple guard for $7.