I made it back to the US last night. The flight was okay, except for a nagging stomach ache throughout. I didn't realize until last night, but yesterday was a 48-hour day for me. I left Shanghai at 4pm yesterday, and arrived in Chicago at 4pm yesterday (This whole time-travel stuff is very odd... I slept in until Noon today). Janine picked me up at the airport, and we went directly from O'Hare to Michigan to celebrate Lauren's 21st birthday. We'll be here until tomorrow.
Overall, the trip was great. The culture shock wasn't as large as I thought it would be, but I did learn a few things (like how they do their family-style eating, their driving style, and the fact that every city block seems to have at least one major construction job including a crane). I do expect that I'll need to go back in the future, but I'm going to try and avoid business travel for the rest of the year. We'll see how well that idea works out. ;-)
So I was watching CNN this morning in the hotel, and it was general world news. Blah blah this dictator, business blah that. I was paying little attention to a news story about Falun Gong members not being able to get passports to travel to Hong Kong. Unexpectedly in the middle of the story, the screen went black. This caught my attention, as I've never seen that happen quite like that. CNN going black?
About 10 seconds later, the picture came back showing the two anchors at their desk and staring back at me. That story was over, and they were introducing a new one.
So today I traveled to a customer site to do a last-minute presentation on technology we have invested in and they are asking questions about. The business manager pretty much heard that a guy from the US was in town and had knowledge of this, so get his read end out here ASAP.
That meant about 5 hours of travel... each way! I left at 8am this morning, and just got back to my hotel about 10 minutes ago (it's just shy of 10pm now). I'm going to grab dinner and then go to bed. Too bad I'm leaving tomorrow and won't be able to see much else of Shanghai.
My duty is done. I think it's time to go home.
So people and food have been two suprisingly positive experiences on this trip. I've been very lucky to work with some very generous and helpful folks. They've taken me to dinner, dragged me through streets and tourist destinations, invited me into their homes (and others' homes), fed me, and pretty much carted me through places and experiences I would have never done on my own.
When it comes to food, they've also been extremely helpful to pick out new and different foods that have been absolutely wonderful. I've tried Northern China cooking (Beijind Roast Duck, salad for breakfast), Southern China cooking (Fresh grouper cooked in soy sauce... fish so fresh it was swimming 15 minutes ago), and Western China cooking (Fried jumbo prawns, spicy tofu & bean paste, strips of beef cooked in oil heated by hot stones). Now I've also had a few western-oriented meals in the hotels, but they're not as different or unique as more traditional fare.
I've made it to Shanghai now, but unfortunately will not be able to experience as much of the city as I hoped. I will be traveling to a customer site that is 5 hours away from Shanghai, so I will leave at 8am and won't be back until after 10pm. I then have Friday morning in the office before heading to the airport to come home. I'll probably have future trips to enjoy Shanghai, but I wish I could have seen more.
(FYI, pictures start here)
So I just spent the weekend in Beijing, touring around with the help and generocity of my program manager. He moved to Beijing when he was a kid, and now lives outside the city. He worked in downtown, though, so he knows a lot about the area and where to go/what to see. Let's just say that without his help I would have had no idea where I was going!
We started right off with a wander through Tiannamen Square. Lots of people, but it's pretty empty except for the center-building that houses the casket of Chairman Mao. Directly across the street is the Forbidden City, which is absolutelt monsterous! You don't even enter the heart of the palace until you go through 3 different gates. Once you're in, the palace is gi-normous, way too big to ever think of seeing in only one day. The architecture and buildings were a signt to see; large, ornate, and beautiful to see.
We then traveled to the Temple of Heaven, a park-like temple that is actually made up of large walled areas with buildings... and the park/Temple itself is enclosed by it's own exterior wall. The whole temple is geared toward worhshiping to heaven and praying for a bountiful harvest, and every building and artistic/architectural detail has a meaning. There are other temples to worship the Earth, Sun and Moon, but the Heavens are much larger so they require the largest temple.
Today we started with a morning jaunt to the Great Wall site in Mutianyu, which is about 45 minutes from downtown Beijing. You have to be fit to walk up and around this wall. Since the wall follows incredibly tall mountain peaks, the sharp rises and falls of the mountain are mimicked by the wall. This means the wall can get very steep and steps are bountiful. This was definitely my workout for the day!
The rest of the day was spend in downtown Beijing with eating and shopping. I'll have to dedicate a small posting to the shopping in the markets, as this is an adventure that rivals the driving.
Today was my first full day in China. I'm in a city called Tianjin... well, technically I'm in an "economic development area" about 20km outside of the city, but everyone still calls it Tianjin. It's a very manufacturing-oriented city, with quite a few large factories. The Motorola factory (conveniently next door to ours) employs 16,000 people.
There are people all over the place, and most are either quiet or very nice. A lot of people can be seen just walking around very slowly through the streets. Others are riding bicycles or tricycles in the streets. There is a decent number of cars, but because of the tight rules for obtaining a drivers license - and the expense of owning a car - many people either take taxis or hire drivers. Tonight I walked by a few restaurants near my hotel, and there were dozens of cars in the parking lots with an equal number of men just hanging around in the parking lot, waiting for their 'bosses' to finish dinner and be driven back home.
That brings me to the driving. Take everything you know about the rules of the road, and throw 'em out the window. That's driving in China. The normal 'laws' are merely suggestions around here. Most drivers don't drive very fast, but a traffic cop from the US would have a heart attack. Everyone usually follows the right-side-of-the-road rule, but other than that it's everyone for themselves. Pedestrians, too. There's no right-of-way on the roads... more like get-out-of-the-way.
Tomorrow I head to Beijing for a weekend-long touristy tromp through areas like Tiennemen Square, the Forbidden City, and the Great Wall. Wish me luck finding my way!
Well, it finally happened. I'm in China. I just arrived this afternoon after a 13.5 hour flight from Chicago. It's about 12:30am local time, and I'm actually kinda tired. I'm hopeful that the jetlag won't be too difficult to overcome, but I'm sure I'll be awake in 3 hours tossing and turning in bed.
I left home on Wednesday morning, and I have to admit I was a little scared about this trip. Being the seasoned traveler that I am, I know this comes as a shock. I couldn't get the thought out of my head that this is the first time that I've traveled anywhere that doesn't use the same alphabet (let alone the same language), and that it's also the farthest I've ever been from home. I knew the trip would eventually happen, but it's still taking my head a while to wrap itself around the idea that I'm actually here!
So far things have gone smoothly. The ride from the airport to the hotel was okay (that's a whole other blog entry), and the hotel is quite nice and very Western-oriented. I'll be visiting our plant tomorrow, and will then probably spend a good part of the weekend touring around Beijing to visit the sights. I'll try to keep you guys updated on the goings-on, and I brought my camera in hopes of getting some good pictures.