Sunday, October 14, 2007

To Hangzhou the hard way (pt. 1)

Last week (Oct 8th) was a national holiday commemorating the founding of the People's Republic of China (PRC). While we were at the nearby Korean restaurant stuffing our faces with grilled meat, beer, and soju, a combination that I find greatly enhances one's ability to think clearly and make good decisions, we talked about planning a trip to a nearby province. Somehow during this conversation biking and Hangzhou came up, so we decided to put the two ideas together and had our preliminary plans for the upcoming holiday.

Sometime Mon or Tues it was decided to leave on Thursday morning (Oct11) and come back either Saturday or Sunday. Next steps were to buy our bikes, figure out how to get there, find a place to stay, and assign GI Joe call names. Step 1: We went to Carrefour (Big French department/grocery store) to pick out our 自行车. The bikes ranged from 200RMB to about 800RMB so as you can imagine the quality wasn't exactly all there. Which wasn't a problem since my budget was 300RMB, therefore quality wasn't exactly a high priority for me. After about 45min of kicking tires, I spotted my baby. She had everything I was looking for: big cushy seat - check, brushed dark purplish/blue steel finish - check, bell - check, I'll take it.

Step 2: Figuring out how to get there. I was a little nervous about this part, but after speaking with friends of friends of friends who have actually made this trip we were told the route to Hangzhou from Shanghai is relatively simple. So we headed to the local bookstore and picked up a 15RMB road atlas of Shanghai and its surrounding provinces. After consulting the map the trip would be about 220km (over 120miles), so if we were to average 20km/hr (15mph) throughout the trip we could get there in 11hrs + a few hours for breaks and food. We also plotted our route to Hangzhou, which was head SW from Shanghai and get onto road 320 and follow that for 180km.

Step 3: Lodging. Because it was a holiday week we knew it was going to be hard to find lodging especially this late in the game. Hangzhou is also a major tourist destination so that only complicated things. I figured we would just pay out of our noses for 1 or maybe 2 nights. But my friend Jae Hyun came up with a brilliant idea. Last week after a night of drinking he introduced us to this bath house in Shanghai were you can soak in hot tubs, get massages, and sleep overnight. He proposed finding a similar type place in Hangzhou rather than stay in a hotel. So he did the research and found the address to the place and made sure we would be able to stay the night.

Step 4: Pick appropriate GI Joe call names. Me - Beachhead, Doug - Snow Job, David - Hawk, Jae Hyun - Lifeline. Done. Everything came together relatively smoothly and I felt we were pretty well prepared despite the last minuteness of our planning. The next day, we planned to meet up at 6am in front of my dormitory, get breakfast and head out together.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Fall Semester

School started up again in the microcosm that we like to call Jiao Tong. With a semester of experience under my belt life in Shanghai has been noticeably smoother. This semester I tested into "beginner 4" and discovered that my spoken Chinese is better than a large majority of my classmates. Last semester, after 2 months of being in China studying Chinese I realized that I still couldn't say a complete sentence. The classes at Jiao Tong are really focused on reading Chinese rather than speaking and listening. Which is why I got a tutor and language partner this past Summer. You can study here for a year and finish "beginner 4", be able to read a 1000 characters, but not be able to understand nor be understood by the "real" Chinese. I didn't want to be that guy.

Over the Summer, while school was out, I spent an hour and half every day with my tutor (Jesse) practicing Chinese.
Her going rate is 30 RMB/hr, which seems to be the market rate for Chinese tutors at Jiao Tong. So I was shelling out 225RMB/week for 7 1/2 hours of tutoring, which so far has been worth every mao.

My tutor Jesse is from Shangxi province, which I really know nothing about except that they have a lot of coal. Her dad is a government official so I get to hear cool stories about the inner workings of the Chinese Communist Party. She moved to Shanghai to improve her English for a possible move overseas. Recently she asked me to be her language partner and teach her English, so we still keep in touch a couple times a week.

I also currently have a language partner named Tina. During the Summer I responded to her note that she left at the dorm bulletin board. Normally the ads posted on the bulletin board are a source of entertainment for me while waiting for the elevator. However, Tina's note seemed somewhat normal. A majority of the ads seem more like personals than requests to find language partners. So far things have gone well and we've been meeting regularly for about 3 times a week for about 2 hrs (1hr English/1hr Chinese).

A little about Tina: She is a account manager working for Epicor, which is an American ERP company here in Shanghai. She seems to be making a lot more than the average Chinese white collar worker. She just bought a brand new Honda Civic and 2BR house out in the suburbs of Shanghai. She wants to improve her English skills because all the business in her office is done in English and to improve her chances for career advancement. Most of our conversations usually revolve around work, life in the US vs China, etc...

Over the Summer I was putting in an average of 10-11hrs a week of Chinese practice. However,
now that classes have started I only spend about 4-5 hrs a week with my language partners. As a result I've been able to go to my bank and deposit USD and exchange for RMB, get totally lost on my bike and find my way asking directions, order 煎饼 (delicious pancake-burrito like food that I often eat for breakfast) and have basic conversation with the vendor across the street. I've found that using Chinese to accomplish these kinds of things has been worth all the effort and time I've put in.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Catching up

Much has happened since my last post, so I'll try to chronologically recap everything. I spent a weekend in Jeju (small South Korean island) playing in a nasty nines tournament. The Korean government along with various sponsors helped subsidize the tournament. One of the sponsors happened to be a Soju company so as you can imagine the soju was flowing freely Saturday and Sunday. Which was the main ingredient for a particular incident involving a former Michigan State ultimate player, a moving bus, projectile vomiting, screaming babies, and locked windows. We pwned everybody, won the tourney, and took the prize money (approx $1,100 USD).

The following Monday we fly back to Shanghai. I get a night of rest and have to get ready for the trip to Guilin (Guangxi Province) with 8 other Jiao Tong friends. This was was my second trip to Guilin and Yangshuo. It was just a beautiful as last time, but much more crowded because of the May holiday. My friend AH set the trip up with the help of his aunt who lives in Guangzhou, whom has some guanxi (connections). Which meant our group had our own personal bus driver to take us where ever we wanted and a tour guide. The trip was fun and I got to do a lot of things that I didn't do the last time (back in 2000). My highlights were the riverboat tour down to Yangshuo from Guilin, the hot springs in long sheng, the bike tour around the Yangshuo countryside (esp Uncle do a Dave Mira off the side of the road), and bonding with my friends.

When we got back I hit the books again and get my Chinese back on track. Resumed spartan training, which has now become: Track workout, 5 X 12 dips, 25 min of abs, 8 X 25 pushups, 100M walking lunges, 5 X 10 pullups. Been doing this workout about 2x a week and playing some pickup ultimate on Saturdays. Partied some more, introduced some beer pong to Asia, catching up on Naruto, 24, Sopranos, and Entourage.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

怎么说 "Wingman"? part II

...I do a quick scan of the situation and room. The left most side sat three girls in isolation who were friends of another girl who was an acquaintance of my friend (probably also wondering wtf is going on). There were approx 1.5 hostess girls for every man in our group. Each of us had our own hilarious look of feeling slightly embarrassed and awkward written on our faces. My Korean friend beckoned me over to him and his woman and introduced me to a couple of girls sitting next to him. I was promptly introduced as "my friend from America" (“美国的朋有”). So I broke out the chinese I accumulated over the last 1 1/2 months, which meant I could hold a conversation for about 45 seconds. Everyone else in my group is already pretty fluent and seemed to be holding their own, which meant watching the girls play dice games and drinking our liquor. Fortunately this memorable experience lasted for only about 10min. After which all the girls left our room in the most efficient formation possible. I suspect for two reasons: (1) They had paying clients elsewhere in the club. (2) Someone in our group leaked that we were students and had no jobs (thus no $$$). I keep telling myself it was #1.

We were basically back to the same situation as before. The three other girls were hanging out by themselves, six of us drinking and wondering what the hell just happened, while my Korean friend is making out with his women. I initiate some conversation with the three girls whom I originally thought were all Korean. I found out two were actually Chinese after complimenting one of them on their speaking ability. Unfortunately one of the girls had her mind polluted with Western culture after spending 8 years in England studying. She didn't find my sexist jokes charming and was speaking out of turn. So I go back to my friends who are hitting on the serving girl (服务员), who was actually much prettier than the hostess girls.

It was still early so I call around and make plans to meet up with some other friends at Attica. BTW while all of this is happening my Korean friend is making out with his woman. While coming up for air he would occasionally look over at us with a slightly guilty and embarrassed expression. Plans get squared away and we take off for Attica sans Korean friend and woman.

Updates since: Korean friend and his girlfriend of 10 days broke up. Korean friend lost a lot of face with us that night. If he would do the right thing and cut off his pinkie perhaps we could find it in our hearts to forgive him. We also still have two bottles of cognac reserved at that club, we are looking for the opportune moment to go back and pre-game there.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

怎么说 "Wingman"? part I

Last Friday the boys and I headed out to the semi-new Korean club. Forgot the name and location of the club or at least it has been repressed by my subconscious. A week before, we had all promised our Korean friend that we would all go there this past Friday. Said friend had attended the club's opening night a couple weeks ago, where he met his current "girlfriend". I was told said girlfriend wanted to introduce us to her friends. Where do I sign up?

For some reason we plan to meet and leave the Tao at 8:30pm(太早了!). Didn't actually leave until 9:45pm, which is how things kind of work in China. While walking to pick up a cab my Korean friend and I talk a little more about the evening to come. Through this conversation I gleaned a few more kernels of information and put together a very different picture of what to expect that night. It turns out that the girlfriend also works at the bar along with her friends that we are supposed to meet. The ladies all work as "Hostess girls" at this Korean club. Hostess girls are employed by the club and are paid money by clients to pretend to like you and drink your overpriced alcohol. I think the rate for these particular ladies was 300RMB for the night. I've heard the going rate is between 200RMB - 700RMB. However, since my friend was dating one of these girls we were going to receive this special privilege for free.

So the crew hit the club around 10pm or so, K-lou and I got some quick pre-gaming with a semi-nasty 白酒and orange juice concoction. We walk in like movie stars and are immediately led to our private room on the 2nd floor. On the way to our room, I did a quick scan of the joint and noticed it was mostly empty with the exception of a few groups of ladies at various tables and older business men (turned out to be this way for the rest of the night). So the 7 of us + 1 girlfriend are hanging out in our room. We are given the soft sell on why we need to buy 3 bottles of cognac..done (1,700RMB). Actually not a bad price and we were told the bottles would be saved for us if we didn't finish them that night. We spend the next 30min or so sipping cognac and green tea. Our Korean friend and his woman were getting cozy in the corner while the rest of us were just chilling and pretending to not be uncomfortable.

Korean friend asks his woman about the rest of her friends, considering that was the only pretext for us being at this place. I get up to use the bathroom and come back to find all the seats in our room occupied by "the girls we were supposed to meet" be continued.