China


It’s been a long few months back, but I’ve been so busy that I’m not really sure where the time has gone. I’ve become somewhat of a student of logistics and supply chain crap now at work. I don’t think I’ve ever really had a more stressful job. However, the challenge is exciting and I don’t mind it all that much.

Well, the interesting news is that I received a request for more evidence from US Immigration. Apparently my photo’s of Pinky and I together were not enough to prove that we met within the two year time period prior to my submission of the petition. Basically, they wanted something with a date. Understandable. I provided them with copies of both of our passports which show that we were both in China at the same time. Then I sent them a picture of Pinky and I holding a handwritten note with the case number assigned to my petition. I figured that would give them definitive proof beyond the shadow of a doubt. Apparently it worked, as in just a few short days I received notice that my petition had been approved! I wish I knew who to thank there at the immigration office, but I’ll never know. If you’re out there, thanks!

Now the petition will be moving to the Philippines where we will have the next round of fun. Pinky get’s to do most of the work there. Medical exams and tracking down all her paperwork. I’ll keep you all posted.

China is celebrating it’s 60th anniversary this week. Although there’s technically no work, I can’t stop due to the immediate need for progress. However, we have found the time to do some running around and take a few pictures. Check the gallery for a few updates to the IR and HDR galleries.

More to come…

My trip back to China was mostly uneventful. It started out at four in the morning with a ride to the airport in Peoria. Like a good American, I did as advised and showed up to the airport two hours early for my six o’clock flight. Apparently, that’s not necessary anymore as I had to wait 45 minutes for the airline to show up and check me in. I guess next time I’ll opt for the extra sleep. But fear not dear reader, as this tale is only just beginning!

I’m convinced that the TSA (you know, those jerks at the airports that get paid way too much to protect us red blooded Americans from ourselves by making us take our shoes off before we get on a plane for fear of some internal terrorist attack… yes, those people.) is staffed by complete idiots. After scanning my backpack, the TSA decided that they needed to take a closer look and pull everything out and look at it. Pretty funny really as the contents they were concerned with was three pounds of caramel, individually wrapped and in a plastic bag. They were also astounded by the sheer volume of crap I can fit into that backpack. Rightfully so, as it’s been my trusty companion for several trips and has been stuffed beyond capacity several times before. Practice makes perfect you know. Fortunately, they managed to repack it with only minimal damage to my belongings. Perhaps one day I’ll spout off about my opinion of the TSA even more, but this is not the time.

So I have a nice flight to Chicago, and land right on time. I managed to find my way to the connecting flight without issue, which was exciting as this was my first time at O’Hare airport. O’Hare is really nice by the way. I used the three hours of spare time before my next flight to enjoy my last tastes of American food, which was satisfied with a full on Chicago style hot dog. Damn straight!

At this time I need to back up a little bit and tell you about the fun I had getting my new Chinese visa. Usually, you go to the consulate in Chicago in the morning and turn in your paperwork, and then pick up your visa in the afternoon. Upon arrival, we learned that the policy had changed due to the outbreak of the swine flu. It would now be a six day wait to pick up, which put the pickup time 24 hours before my flight. I knew right then that this was going to be an interesting trip.

In the days before, China had quarantined 300 people in a hotel in Hong Kong because one individual was sick with the flu. Several other people were quarantined in separate events in the days that followed. Rumor had it that everyone entering the country would be checked for a fever upon arrival. If anyone on the plan had a fever, the whole plane was quarantined. I really hoped that this wouldn’t happen to me, so I didn’t spend much time in Chicago as the confirmed cases of swine flu there were the highest in the country.

Anyway, getting back to the airport… I’m waiting at the gate where a flight to San Francisco is now boarding. Now I don’t want to be a jerk, but when a family of Mexicans walked into the gate area, I just thought to myself, “Oh crap, please god no.” Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with Mexico or Mexicans. I just don’t really want to be quarantined in China because I bumped into the wrong Mexicans. It struck me as sad that all eyes were on those folks until they got on the plane. You could sense the relief when they were gone.

So I get on the plane, fly to China, and land. (Boy, if the 14.5 hour flight only went that quickly!) Upon arrival, we were greeted with a message on the plane intercom. “Ladies and gentlemen, we are the Chinese health organization. Due to the outbreak of the H1N1 flu epidemic, and to protect the lives and health of the people of China, we will now board the plane and perform a brief medical examination of all passengers. We apologize for any inconvenience, and thank you for your cooperation.”

Ok, let’s do this. So here come two teams of health inspectors in full hazardous materials suits. They are armed with a thermal gun, (like a radar gun for temperature) and a standard digital thermometer. They went through the plane and inspected every individual by pointing the gun at their foreheads and checking their temperature. If the reading was questionable, they checked orally. We all passed. Good thing I distributed that fever reducing ibuprofen I had in my carry on or we may have all been screwed! (Just kidding!)

Now I go through customs and pick up my luggage. That usually takes only a few minutes, but ended up being two hours because several international flights landed at the same time. So 1,000 people were there at the same time trying to get chopped in and get their crap. Succeeding in that, I found my driver and it was finally time to enter the final leg of the journey. An hour later I was knocking on the door at my apartment in Suzhou, where I received a wonderful greeting from my special lady.

Adapting again to life in China was easier than adapting back to the United States this last time home. I suppose the depth of immersion I went to the last time here had something to do with that. Perhaps it has something to do with my sole and its love of wandering. Either way, it’s good to be back. I missed my kitchen.

To make life easier here, I picked up an electric scooter. It’s sort of like a golf cart crossed with a motorcycle. Everyone here has one, and they cost less than the average bicycle in the US. Now I no longer have boundaries like bus routes and impatient taxi drivers. I can really explore Suzhou the way I want to and in my own time. I’m sure there will be many photos to come!

Just one more small addition here for consumption… I’ve submitted the paperwork to the USICS (US Immigration) to petition for a K1 fiance visa for Pinky Elopre Geroche. You read that right, I’m engaged. You can find several pictures of Pinky in the photo gallery. Pinky is a citizen of the Philippines. We met here in China and have a great time together. I look forward to a happy future with the Pinkster. I have no firm dates for anything yet as I am currently at the mercy of the USICS. However, they seem to be pretty reliable on these matters and I have faith that my petition will be processed in a reasonable amount of time.

Well that’s all for now. I must rest for work tomorrow. Thanks for reading and no matter who you are, be well wo de pengyou!

It’s been a while since my last update and much has happened, so here we go.

When we last left our hero, we were waiting for the word to come down on a contract. With that contract would come the long awaited answers to many a question. Of all the questions, the most important one is “How long will this China thing last?”. Read on my friends and I will tell you the fascinating story of how I still don’t know the answer!

The contract was approved. The next step was to have it actually signed by upper management and the legal department. However, that can take months and one of the agreements was that we were to begin work in a matter of weeks. To cover our business in the interim, we received a signed MOU (Memorandum Of Understanding) which stated that they customer had every intention of signing the contract, but realized that we needed to purchase equipment to start on time. The MOU would allow us to proceed with purchasing. So we did. I also interviewed thirty people or so and hired three. They started on a Monday. I’ve never hired anyone before so I was really enjoying working with my new people as we trained and prepared for what was to come.

That Friday morning I received a phone call. The customer’s corporate office sent out a directive slashing the budget and instructing the customer to eliminate any non essential third party suppliers. Furthermore, they were to fill those roles with their own people. So that Friday afternoon, I had to lay off my new hires. Also the first time I’ve had to do anything like that. I didn’t like it much. After that business was done we worked with the customer to determine if there was anything we could still do for them. We did come to an agreement, although it a much smaller operation than originally anticipated. At least we have managed to keep a foot in the door.

Now the other thing to consider is that we’ve spent a small fortune starting up our business here. To walk away from all the opportunity would be a mistake. And let’s face it, the employment situation in the US sucks. As long as I’m fighting it out here, I’m employed. That being said, we’ve gone to plan B. Now I can’t really discuss plan B at this time, but let me just say that I’m looking forward to the challenge. I will have to follow up later to let you know how it’s going. I don’t really know when I’ll get home. I guess I need to figure out how to get my taxes in before April. My main goal is to at least give my daughter a chance to come here. I think she’s earned that for the sacrifice she’s made by having her daddy be gone for so long.

Enough work, time to talk about some fun stuff!

So since my last update I’ve celebrated Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year… twice. I’ve moved out of the hotel and into an apartment. That’s an improvement of about 100 square meters with a much better kitchen. Here’s a quick rundown of the preceding.

Thanksgiving – The Chinese don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, but here in Suzhou they try to make us foreigners feel at home. Many of the local restaurants serve up a traditional thanksgiving feast. I went to dinner with a family from Wisconsin and my special friend Pinky. The menu was the usual turkey, stuffing, salad, etc. Not too bad really, but the Chinese don’t know how to carve a turkey.

Christmas – This is also not a big holiday in China, but they do seem to like Christmas and many of the locals get into the spirit. I spent Christmas Eve with my friends from Wisconsin and several of their friends. We had the usual too much food. Christmas day was just Pinky and me. Later we went out and had some party time in Suzhou.

New Year (calendar) – This is celebrated in China and in a very similar way to the US. Pinky and I went to visit our friends in Nanjing and had a great time. The white rice wine was flowing and the party was great. We spent about three days in Nanjing, well, two days and one “recovery” day. I still say the best food is in Nanjing. At least it was until I got the apartment.

Chinese New Year – Wow. To this day I’ve never seen anything quite like this. Fireworks are a usual thing here in China. They light them for everything from marriages to completing a new floor on a building. But nothing could prepare me for the sheer volume of gunpowder spent on New Year’s Eve. At midnight, the entire city exploded. It was quite the experience hearing big fireworks in every possible direction. When it was done, you couldn’t see half a block through the smoke. Absolutely amazing…cough, cough. This continued on through the night and the next couple of days. I’m told that there are fewer fireworks this year due to the economic issues, but this American was still impressed. My friend Kevin hosted a party to kick off the night. We had food and drinks and lots of laughs. I’m not sure what the final tally was, but I believe there were 10 or 11 countries represented.

The Apartment – Finally! After spending 5.5 months in an apart/hotel, this was a welcome change. I finally have a nice kitchen and my own stuff. My new favorite things are my wok and my chef’s knife. I’ve been cooking almost every day. Rather than waste a bunch of words describing it, I’ll refer you to this photo album so you can see for yourself. I love it.

So that’s about it. Time marches on for me here and I truly love every day. I’ve got some of the best friends one could ask for and the experience is second to none. As always, I miss my family and friends (some of which I consider family) back home as much as ever. But if I were given one wish, it would be for everyone to visit me here. I would love more than anything to share my home on the other side of the world with all of them.

Time to cook lunch! Cheers!

The number one tourist attraction in China is the great wall. I haven’t been there yet. I’ve seen several documentaries on the subject though, and I really enjoyed them because the physical investment is substantially less than actually going. I’ve done plenty of walking mind you. Perhaps I’ll have the opportunity to visit the wall before I go, but if not that’s fine too. I’m very content to have spent my time here as I have.

I’m at a very interesting time in my journey. Today is the day that “the customer” will decide if we are going to do business or not. I’ll find out if I have the opportunity to visit the other parts of China that I want to see, or not. It’s a very surreal time I assure you.

The past three months have come and gone so quickly. Perhaps too quickly! Now don’t get me wrong, I’m ready for a trip back to the states. I could really go for some real beef, milk, and mac & cheese right now. But at the same time I’ve found myself to be totally captivated by this place and the people here. And my new friends here would be missed should my adventure be finished. I feel like my daughter feels when she’s playing with her friends and it’s time to go home. No wonder she hates that time! Guess I’ve forgotten how bad it sucks!

I guess the point of this introspective is that I’m really glad I came. My life has changed forever once again. I’m going to keep my fingers crossed throughout the day until I get the decision. I’m sure you can read about the outcome here soon.

Well so much for keeping the blog up to date! Anyone who knows me knows that I would much rather go out and experience the world than write about it. Let this site serve as an example!

I’ve seen a great many things since the last update. Of those the most impressive so far was the trip to Nanjing. Nanjing is one of the oldest capital cities in China. The city also has so much history that one could spend years researching there. For the sake of time, you can learn more here at wikipedia.

Our main attraction for this adventure was a place called Purple Mountain. This is the resting place of Dr. Sun who is regarded as the father of modern China. It was an impressive site indeed. Many photos from the trip can be found here.

We followed that trip up with a second visit to Shanghai. I think we did it mainly to prove that we could get there ourselves. Besides, it’s fun to hang out with 18,670,000 people. I will get pictures of that adventure up ASAP.

I had the pleasure of meeting the parents of my cadet Emily also. They speak no English, so it was up to Emily to translate. They are wonderful people and very generous. I’ve been invited to their home town of Xi’an, which is the capital city of Shaanxi province. The history buff will know this as the home of the Terracotta Army. I think this will be one of my favorite trips yet and I’m very excited to have been thought of so highly.

This coming weekend we will have an exciting adventure as well. The owners of my company, Pierre and Patrick, along with Matt, Colin and myself will visit the town of Guilin. I promise some of the most amazing photographs yet from this trip. Any true geek will know that this location provided footage for the planet Kashyyyk in Star Wars III. (That would be the Wookie planet)

After that, it’s back to Nanjing and Shanghai. Then, we will head north to Beijing. In case anyone is wondering… no, I don’t get very much sleep here.

My study of the common language is coming along as well. I’ve learned to read just like the grade school kids and have build a solid foundation from which to learn. As with most things I learn, it’s starting to come much faster now that I have the rules down. I really can’t wait to go out for Chinese in the states and whip out my new skills!

Oh yeah… Work! Work goes well. No point in talking about the details here, but I continue to enjoy collaborating with the fine people at Caterpillar Suzhou.

Well enough of this for now. As always I hope everyone back home is in good health and enjoying life. Peace on earth and good will towards men. Potomuss out!

After two weeks of frustration, I’ve purchased a new camera. It seemed a waste to miss out on all the amazing sights and the little dude just wasn’t cutting the mustard. Picked up a nice Nikon D80 and an 8G card. Battery lasts forever and it holds about 450 shots at 10Meg each. Rock and freakin roll! The first set of results are HERE. Attempted several time laps shots among other things. You can also see our Chinese cadets trying Mexican food for the first time, as well as our latest meal. (And some people actually thought we were going to starve! I’m telling you… goose liver sauce is the bomb!!!)

We’re planning a trip to Nanjing this weekend, so I probably acquired the new photo rig just in time. No dead battery an hour into the trip this time!

Everything is going very well. It’s still hot as hell, but I’m slowly getting used to it. I don’t start sweating the second I turn off the shower anymore. Will update again after Nanjing unless something interesting happens!

Cheers!

This place is amazing. Jet lag is pretty much gone, although I do have some odd days when for no apparent reason I’m wide awake at 5am. I’ve seen so much and have gotten so far behind on my updates here. I guess there’s just been too much to do! So that being said, here is a quick summary for the main categories of my life in China.

Work

The people at the company we are here to work with are amazing. Everyone here treats us very well. Our meetings are very productive and I think they are learning as much from us as we are from them. We attended the celebration for the raising of the first pillar for the new plant. They had lots of fireworks of course. You can find pictures from that event in the gallery. We’ve gone to eat with several of the guys from here as well. Dinner is always a good time!

Living

I’ve gotten pretty good at getting around. I walk more than I ever have. Not because I have to but because sometimes it’s just easier. I’ve gotten really good at running the taxi as well. Did my first EMT service the other day when a girl on a scooter got hit by a car. I rolled up and there was an english speaker who also spoke good Chinese. I asked if she was an EMT and she said no. I did a quick assessment and determined that without a doubt that she had a broken leg. Said she didn’t hit her head. Leg was not compound, but deformed. They informed me that it couldn’t be broken because she stood up once. I told them not to let her do that again. Emergency medical care here would make any U.S. EMT cringe. Have a friend named Thomas who has been very kind about teaching me some survival skills. Got propositioned by several hookers. Tried a million different kinds of food. Had Burger King in Shanghai! I’m going to buy a new camera soon so my photography should take a major step forward.

Not a whole lot to cover really. Matt and I are planning a couple of trips in the future. My main goal right now is to do my job, learn Chinese, take lots of pictures and enjoy my time here. I believe none of that will be a problem!

Keep an eye on the gallery. I just put some more up today and will be adding regularly!

Peace out!

p0s


I boarded a plane from Peoria, Illinois for a two hour flight to Atlanta, Georgia. There I took a train from one concourse to another where I boarded a Delta Boeing 777-200 for the trip to Shanghai. This plane is huge. (Note to self… bring snacks next time!)  During the sixteen hour flight, I had the pleasure of meeting Becky and Emma. They are a mother and daughter traveling from Maryland to Becky’s home in China. Becky is a Chinese citizen who is married to a US doctor. Emma is a US citizen born in America. I had a wonderful conversation with Becky about differences between the US and China. Emma, upon first impression, is a shy five year old lady. Then I got to meet the real Emma who is by no means shy! Boy what a swell kid. She amazed me with her knowledge of her family which is distributed throughout America, Europe, and China. What a great opening to the trip.

Upon arrival in Shanghai, I had the immediate realization that I wasn’t in Illinois anymore. Of course the most noticeable difference being the fact that 99% of the people were Chinese. We passed through customs with no problems. Everyone seems to be very nice.

I’m noticing something else. The people working in and around the airport are all young and clean cut. It is apparent that the Chinese are very particular about who is representing them to new arrivals.

We meet with Colin Wong, our company asset in China. Colin and his driver are going to take us for a two hour drive to Suzhou. This is where the fun begins! For the uninitiated, driving in China is a whole new experience. I lost count of how many times I thought I was going to die. And those painted lines that denote lanes… more like a guideline than anything. Colin thought that next time we should have a drink at the airport before the drive to Suzhou. I agree.

We arrive at the hotel and are surprised (sarcasm) to find that the wire transfer from work has not come through. The next thought was that we will secure the rooms with our personal credit cards. Sorry, but I don’t think my daily limit is going to work for a three month hotel stay. Not even in China. Eventually Colin gets us taken care of and we get to our rooms. I don’t even bother to really check it out as I’ve been up for twenty four hours and all I really want is a shower. The water smells a little funny. It doesn’t feel dirty, just smells funny.

All cleaned up and time for dinner. Colin picks us up and we head across the street to the restaurant. There we meet Alan, Oliver, and Emily. These are our new company cadets. Alan is very quiet. I think Oliver has a permanent smile on his face. Emmy is equally outgoing and kind. So here sits the whole team for this adventure. I don’t think I could ask for a more wonderful group. Throughout dinner Oliver and Emmy were having a great time exploring the differences between China and America with me. Oliver really wants to work on his English, so we agreed that he would help me with Chinese and I will help him with English. Emily also helped me to properly pronounce schezwan. (As in schezwan beef) Although I found myself feeling very far from home, I also felt a profound sense of excitement and comfort. That this is going to be one of the greatest experiences of my life.

After dinner we stopped at a small store to get some essentials. I’ll have to go back and shop some more, but had a great time identifying US products with Chinese packaging. The good news is that they have my brand of toothpaste, soap, and shampoo here!

Next, Colin takes us for a quick drive around Suzhou. I will have to take the time to photograph this place, but let me assure you that this city as absolutely astounding. One word, lights. I could go on forever just describing what I saw in the next half hour, but I’ll just get some pictures instead. This place is truly amazing. I love it here.

Back home for sleep now. I’ve been up for at least 28 hours and have only slept for about an hour before leaving. Sleep comes quickly. Oh yeah, and the floor feels like its moving. You know, like the plane.

Pictures are in the image gallery.