Monthly Archives: July 2007

I Love Volleyball!!

I have never played so much volleyball in my life!  I love summer in seattle!
Monday was my league game on Alki Beach.  We played not so great and loss (mainly b/c we couldn’t control our passes in the wind).  But we hung around to play for another couple of hours
Thurday we play for 4-5 hours on the campus sand courts.  So much fun!  It amazes me that there’s always people on the courts ready to play.  I love it!
Friday – another 4-5 hours!  This was to practice for the company picnic tournament my coworkers and I were in but not everyone was there and some folks bagged early.  So it was me and our usual vball crew plus some random strangers from the company.  The last game was amazing!  We played against this one team that was pretty good.  I think we were all pretty spent — towards the end, we were all saying, "ok, one last game".  After our 2nd "last game" (and our second loss), we really play our last game.  It was pretty competitive and ended in an amazing final point.  We dug kill after kill and they dug kill after kill.  Everyone ran down shanked balls, digs, etc.  I think everyone touched the ball on that last point.  I don’t know where it came from, but we pulled out a victory!!  We were so happy, we were jumping up and down hugging each other.  Amazing how something like that could make strangers bond just like that!
Saturday – yet another 4-5 hours!  This was the big company picnic we’ve been prepping for.  Though some would argue playing fiften hours or so of vball in the same week isn’t a good way to prep for a tourney.  =)  In any case, it was more or less my same team from last year (returning champs!).  We look up which bracket we’re in and holy cow were we suprised to find we were in the top of the four brackets playing that day!  We figured we were really in deep this time!  But we rallied together and our guys were pretty darn amazing!  They were in top form!  It was amazing that we communicated and jelled so well!  My own volleyball team, which has been playing for 2 seasons now is only now getting at that point of constant communication.   It feels great to play well.. have fun… and, yes, WIN!!  Champions two years running!  Yeah baby!!

Oh Seattle… how you tease me so…

I was just in Beijing for about a week and a half and here’s how my return to Seattle went:
Beijing -> SFO.  10 hours. Next to kid w/ bad BO.  Great.
SFO -> SEA.  Flight canceled???  Great.  Stand in line forever.  Earliest I can get back to Seattle 7pm (original flight 12pm).  Plus, I’m routed through Vancouver!!
SFO – wait for 2 hours
SFO -> Vancounver.  Had to go through US customs… again.  Upside – I did get a Canadian passport stamp!
Vancouver – wait for an hour
Vancouver -> SEA.  Small propeller plane.  Felt like it could barely get off the ground.  Land in seattle in 30 mins.
SEA – wait an hour for shuttle
SEA -> Home.  30 minutes.
Home – sick with a cold during the summer. 
This is quite the opposite of the Seattle’s red carpet welcome a couple months ago.  =(  Seattle must have overheard that I want to live in Beijing for 6 months.  I still love ya, Seattle!!  I’ll come back!!

Day 6: Food food food

Oh my gosh my stomach is about to burst!  Every meal seems to be many many courses… it never seems to end!  And the thing is, there is no rice!  You just eat the dishes… so no filler.  I think I have gained 10 lbs.  Maybe I can sweat it off on my walk to work tomorrow.  =)
My coworkers won’t order anything adventurous for me.  The most odd thing I’ve had is deer tendon, which well, is like beef tendon (which is in pho) so that’s not that exotic for me.   I will have to be more adventurous with my food when I come back.  Probably best I stay safe and not get sick.  
On my walk to work this morning I was thinking about what what kind of culture/society is bred from generations and generations of only-children.  In America, an only child has certain stigmas that are attached with it.  My tour guide Peggy told me she has a niece who’s very naughty because she gets spoiled.  In general, that’s the stereotype of only children — they are spoiled and bratty because they are used to getting their way.  So, in the end, what’s the overall effect of an entire nation of only child’s?  I haven’t been here long enough to really tell.  Everyone I work with seems pretty well adjusted.  No one is a jerk or difficult to work with — maybe we have a good screening process here.  =)  Next time I come back I’ll have to observe more closely.

Day 4: Silk Market

After four hours, I had to make the call whether or not to go to the Temple of Heaven.  Honestly, timewise, I could have swung it but my feet were killing me and I realized that the blocks of Beijing are not walkable.  Beijing is huge as are its blocks.
So, I decided to go straight to the Silk Market.  On the train to the Silk Market was the stop for the Wangfujing street, which is supposed to be clamouring with really fun shops and great local food.   It meant more walking though, so pass.  I know, very lame.  On to the Silk Market.
Much like Doota Mall near Dongdaemun Market in Seoul, the Silk Market is stories and stories of a woman’s paradise.  I realize that there is one common thing — they put the women’s floors on the upper levels.  They know that women will shop and are more persistent with looking & finding what they want.  Men on the otherhand, might give up if they don’t see right away what they’re after.  So the first floor is always men’s clothing.  And of course fakes reign supreme here.  In theory some are fakes and some are factory rejects… hard to really tell.  But either way, the name of the game is BARGAIN!
I arrived at Silk Market around 1:30pm after having nothing to eat but water and a frappuccino.  Yet, I had the energy to shop until close to 3:30 before finding some grub.  Amazing the energy shopping gives you!  =) 
Bargaining is fun, but it can also be tiring.  Everyone cautioned me to bargain as though my life depended on it.  My opening price for everything big or small was 10 Yuan (about $1.50USD).  This was promptly replied to with "you’re joking, right?".  I say, "no."  They say: "oh, euro?  US dollar? I take euro."   I just laugh.  Thankfully, I’m dressed shabbily enough and look young enough to pass as a student, so I rely on this… "I’m a student, I have no money."  I’ll never know if I really got good deals on the stuff I bought, but for about $100 USD, I did get a lot of stuff.  Here are some of the "deals" I got:
    • 10 RMB for magnetic doohickies (Original 45)
    • 10 RMB for sandalwood fans (Original 85)
    • 80 RMB for 100g of Jasmine flower tea (Original 80RMB for 50g)
    • 145 RMB for a Maxa Mara 3/4 length trench/rain coat (Original 1400)
    • 50 RMB for silk kid outfit (Original 650RMB)
    • 50 RMB for a Kipling backpack (Original 320-650 — I went to a lot of different places)
    • 75 RMB for a chop (Original 680)

I think I got them down anywhere from 50% to around 10% of original price… not too shabby I don’t think.  If not a good deal, I at least paid for them what I thought was cheap, and I’m sure they still profitted plenty so win win for everyone.

Some keys to bargaining:

    • Realize that you don’t really need any of what you’re buying, so be willing to walk away — in the end you save the most by not buying anything.
    • Start low and hold firm.
    • Don’t feel like you are jipping them.  If you are, believe me, they won’t sell.  No one sells for a loss.
    • Use the power of many.  If you’re buying a lot, you’ll generally get a better price.  Tell them that upfront.
    • Be nice and cordial.  Honey better than vinegar.
    • Don’t bargain with someone who’s just lost a sale to someone they’ve spent a lot of time on — they are in no mood for cutting anyone a deal after that.  Learned that one the hard way.
    • There’s a dozen places that sell the same thing — if you don’t get the price you want, try a different place.
    • Bargain to the point where after their last offer you refuse and they curse you.  Now you know what price to aim for so when you go to a different shop, you have a price to beat and worse case you know you can match.  If one place is willing to sell for that much, so will another.

This is my general routine:

Me:      How much?
Seller:  XXX (entered on a calculator)
Me:      Woah… too much.  (put on the "I’m so poor, I couldn’t afford that in a million years.  I shouldn’t even be touching it")
Seller:  Ok, you tell me how much
Me:      10
Seller:  Woah… you mean US dollar?
Me:      No.  I mean Yuan.  RMB.
Seller:  Oh you’re crazy. 
Me:      Ok.  Thanks anyway.  (walk away)
Seller:  (blocks my path or pulls me back) Ok.  Listen to me, don’t be so quick to leave.  You look nice.  I give you special price because you look Chinese.  So I give you Chinese price — (usually about half)
Me:       (depending on the situation, I’ll either stick to my original offer or increase by 5 or 10)
Seller:   Too little.  I won’t make profit on that.  You look nice, so I’ll give to you for XXX (usually dramatically closer to my offer)
Me:       I don’t have much money on me (which is true, even here I don’t have a lot of cash on hand).  You look nice too.  I don’t really need it, so you can sell to someone else and make nice profit. (walk away)
Seller:   (really pulling me back at this point)  Ok, I give to you for your price.
Me:       Really?  Thank you.  You’re so nice!!  (pat on shoulder)

For a couple things, I just state my price and I don’t budge.  They’ll point out how clearly ludicrous your offer is — like my offer to buy 10 fans for 100 when they sold 1 for 85.  I just walk even against pulling and tugging until I hear the price I offer, I don’t turn back.  You have to have a tough skin and hold firm.  Sometimes they’ll say mean things when you’ve given them an offer so low it’s insulting.  But whatever just move on.  That’s part of the fun!  I know I’ve done a good job when they say I’m very tough.  For some of the things I bought I know I could have gotten less b/c they agreed either too quickly or w/o enough of a gripe or fuss.  But oh well, they’ve got to make a living afterall.

So, four hours later, I’m armed with my new loot.  I wanted to get some more clothes for myself, but didn’t have the strength to go on… even after the half Peking duck I had for lunch.  Yes, I polished off half a duck myself!   When the first food you’ve had all dat is at 3pm, you get hungry!

Silk Market.  Check!

Day 4: Forbidden City

Today was my "see if I can live here for 3 months" trial, which, to me means, can I get around Beijing on my own. 
On the itinerary was:  1) Forbidden City, 2) Temple of Heaven, 3) Silk Market
I woke up at around 5:30 and was out the door around 6 heading to the subway station at Zhichun, by my hotel.  I have to say, my hotel is about as far from the Forbidden City as you could get.  I had to take all three trains to get there (they are building 4 more lines but right now there are only 3).  So, I get to the stop I want w/o getting lost despite at one junction there being a transfer where you had to exit outside to get to the other line (this is between line 13 & 2).
I get to Tiananmen West and start walking.  It was still only 7:30 and I had an hour to kill before the Forbidden City was open, so I walk around — all up and down Tiananmen Square, past the Great People’s Hall.  I wanted to walk through the Ben Hai park but I couldn’t find the road that led to it… or I should say, I found the road (Nan Chang Dajie) but when I went down it (pretty far I might add), there wasn’t a nice park and lake where I expected but instead just old buildings.
Anywho… an hour later and I head back to the Forbidden City, which there really aren’t clear signs for… I wasn’t sure if I was seeing Mao’s tomb or the Forbidden City but when in doubt, follow the bright neon hats and folks with flags (aka tour groups).  Surprisingly, there were more Chinese tourists (probably from other provinces) than there were Americans.  I wait in line for my ticket, which took forever… in my relief to get to the front of the line, I forgot to pick up my 40RMB change.  Two steps away I remember and come back and thankfully the woman remembered and there was no nead to exchange words.  Thank goodness because that’s the cost of the audio tour and if I couldn’t get my change back I would have forgone the audio tour, which would have been a BIG mistake.
Enter the Forbidden City… man, this is the coolest place ever!  First off, it’s huge!!  But secondly, it’s just like in the movies!  I grew up watching those period movies/tv shows from HK (dubbed into Vietnamese).  It was just so cool to walk around the Forbidden City imagining myself during that period when all the servants scuttle back and forth serving the Emperor and Empresses.  The main thing I wanted to see was the Nine Dragon Screen.  I saw one in Chinatown Chicago but I wanted to see an authentic one.  I walked around and around and I finally stumbled upon it only to notice later on my audio map that it was labeled right there in clear English!  Oy…  The screen is gimungous!  It was so beautiful.  Interesting tidbit:
The Nine Dragon Screen is a mosaic of thousands of pieces of tile.  There’s one dragon — the white dragon — that has 1 tile missing.  Legend has it that the servants who made the screen broke one of the pieces.  These pieces were one of a kind carved specifically to the dragon’s shape.   Fearful that the Emperor would punish them, they fabricated a replacement piece made of wood.  The piece could not hold up to the test of time and is now missing from the screen altogether.
Another interesting tidbit is that on the rooftops, there’s usually a series of creatures at the corners of the rooftop.  The number of creatures signifies the importance of the building.  I’d always seen these before but never understood the meaning of the different number of creatures.  Now I know.  Very cool.
The inner garden was also pretty cool.  There were several gazebos, small gardens and small hills the Emperor could climb to catch some serenity and a cool breeze.
Really, above all else, it was just cool being in the Forbidden City.  I think I saw only half of the buildings there and I was there for FOUR hours!!  I got lost a couple times… yes, I got lost in the Foribidden City.  It’s big and there are lots of these little corridors — it’s easy to get turned around.  Thank god for my audio tour map thingy.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, yes, I did go to the Starbucks in the Forbidden City.  =)  It’s nodescriptly labelled "Coffee shop".  I knew they’d taken away all signage of Sbux, so I headed towards all "Coffee" establishments.  It was close to the entrance and I luckily saw a guy leaving w/ the Sbux bag so I get myself a nice caramel frappuccino.  Mmm mmm good.
Forbidden City.  Check.

Day 3: Summer Palace

About an hour’s drive away from the Great Wall (I napped the entire way) is the Summer Palace.  My understanding of the Summer Palace might be a bit muddled since I couldn’t remember all the names of the people involved, so Peggy, my guide, just started using descrptions like "the powerful woman".  =)
The summer palace was originally constructed as an escape from the heat for the Emperor and his court.  During the Anglo invasion, it was completely destroyed.  In 1840 (?) it was rebuilt by a very powerful woman (I think she was Empress Dowager Ci Xi).  This woman had gained the favor of the Emperor with her beauty and wit.  I think I heard something in the Forbidden City that said she knew something lik 400 poems and upon hearing her recite one of these poems, the Emperor promoted her among the ranks of the concubine.  She was further promoted when she was the only one to give the Emperor a son.  When the Emperor died (I think Peggy said she poisoned him, not sure), her son took over the throne at the age of four (?).  I saw later in the Forbidden City the Emperor’s throne, behind which was a curtain.  Behind the curtain was where this powerful woman ruled through her son.  Hence, the phrase, "Ruling behind the curtain". 
This powerful woman (I think she was Empress Dowager) had the Summer Palace rebuilt using all of the funds from the Chinese Navy, which essentially left China w/ no Navy.  Parts of the Summer Palace were used as a prison and other parts were reconstructed to her whim.  For example, in the Emperor’s (her son’s) quarters, she had the door through which concubines enter bricked up so her son could not occupy any concubines.  She had appointed a woman whom she loved as a daughter as Empress, or wife to her son.  However, he loved another woman, and thus remain heirless.  After her son died, there was an unprecedented circunstance where there was no direct heir.  As a result, her nephew then became Emperor.  Just as in her son’s reign, the Powerful Woman, ruled in lieu of her nephew as well.  For 40 years, she ruled China and not all that effectively either.  Following her nephew’s death, I think someone on her side of the family became Emperor.  He was the last Emperor since he was no longer part of the royal lineage.
Some cool things about the Summer Palace:
    • There’s a man made lake, the dirt from which was used to make the hill right beside it.  On top of the hill is a Buddhist temple where the Powerful woman went to pray
    • There’s a long corridor, which is truly long… it’s in the Guinness book of world records for having the most beams with unique artistic paintings on them — I think 4000+.  Walking through the corridor, there’s a really nice breeze, which felt amazing in the heat!
    • For each meal, the servants made over 100 dishes for the Powerul Woman. 
    • There’s a boat made of all marble (again from the funds of the Navy).  The marble captured the fact that the boat could not be overturned and thus signified the strength, permanence and power of the Qing Dynasty.  In my mind it also meant the boat could not sail and move forward.  =)

Day 3: Great Wall

So, my first day of sightseeing… ok, I wussed out and had my company arrange a tour guide for me.  For lack of time, preparation and planning, I just didn’t want to risk winging it and wasting half a day getting lost.  So, I got a private driver and tour guide for the day.  Originally, the tour was for Great Wall, Ming Tombs and Summer Palace.  But I didn’t want to go to Badaling, which is the most touristy part of the Great Wall… littered with people so I hear.  So I went to Mutianyu, which is beautiful… lots of rolling hills, lots of wall not a lot of people!  Mutianyu is in the opposite direction of the Ming Tombs, so we had to cut that from the itinerary… well worth it in my mind.  I’ll save Ming Tombs for next time (if there is one).
Great Wall.  Peggy, my guide, said I could either cable car it up or walk up.  I figured, I’d rather spend more time on the wall, so I took the cable car.  On the way up, Peggy points out a metal slolam/tobaggon.  She tells me this is how I’ll be getting down once I’m done… in my mind, I’m thinking… yeah right. 
So, up we go.  We walk a short ways and Peggy tells me to take my time and enjoy the wall and she’ll wait for me at the bottom.  Truthfully, I’m glad for it b/c I’d rather go at my own pace and not have to make conversation.  I know… I’m so anti-social.  But really, what can she tell me about the wall that I can’t look up on the Internet?  She did tell me one interesting story though…
Long ago when the wall was first being built, among the 1+ million people recruited as slave labor to build the wall was a young man.  This man tried to escape by jumping over the wall (it wasn’t very high at that  point yet) and he happened to land in this  young woman’s garden.  The  young woman’s family took this man in and hid him.  The two young people inevitably fell in love and were to wed.  On their wedding day however, the government officials found him, seized him and brought him back to the Great Wall to work.  Months and months passed by and the young woman heard no news of her new husband.  So she goes to the Great Wall to inquire about him only to learn that he had died.  She was so distraught, she cried and cried, causing a water way that divided the wall in two.  When the Emperor heard of this, he was very angry at this woman.  He demanded she be brought to him.  Upon seeing her, he is mesmerized by her beauty and asks to take her as his concubine (I think 5th).  She told him she would agree to it on 3 conditions:  1) that her husband receives a proper burial and tomb 2) that a monument be built in honor of all the people who worked on the Great Wall and 3) that the Emperor apologize.  The Emperor agreed and did all these things only to have the woman refuse him.  She took her own life by jumping off the wall into the sea.  A monument was erected in her honor.
Mutianyu is definitely a great spot to view the wall.  There were so many moments where I was the only person on the wall that I could see and in those moments it was absolutely amazing to just take it all in… to think about the people who’s lives went into this wall (figuratively and probably literally too).  Summer, though, is probably not the best time to go up… it was freakin’ hot.  But there was one thing going for it; it was an escape from the smog.  The air is actually breathable up there and you can actually see the sky!!  It’s  a pretty hard walk at some points.  You can hear the hard breathing of everyone around you, people dripping sweat, etc.  I couldn’t complain, I was probably as ripe as the next person.  There were a few things I noticed that I was either impressed or surprised by:
  • A group of caucasians speaking very fluid Mandarin to each other!  Amazing… I noticed a lot of Caucasians speaking some Mandarin to other Chinese folks but this was a group of all Caucasians speaking Chinese to each other, which has to mean they’ve reached a level of fluency and comfort with the language that it’s their preferred way to communicate.   I immediately felt the shame of not embracing my Chinese culture as much as I could have.  I’ve gotten this a lot… "You don’t speak Chinese?  Really?  But you look Chinese." 
  • Someone brought their dog onto the Great Wall — that is one well-traveled dog!
  • Vendors selling snacks and ice cold water (and beer!) on the wall.  I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised but I just never thought about it.  Thank god for those folks.  I don’t claim to have gotten a good deal, but at the entrance of the far end I went to, this old couple was charging 20RMB for 1 bottle of water (that’s close to 3 bucks!).  I passed and walked on because I knew I would see more options on the way back.  Part of me feared they’d charge something like 50RMB since in the middle of the wall you really have no choice.  But when I got to the middle, some guy asked for 10 and I told him 5 and he agreed.  I probably should have said 2 but hell, I was thirsty.  These vendors really know how to play mind games on you though.  I walk up a long flight of steps to one of the watch towers and like an alter/offering to the gods there’s a spread of fruit, snacks and water on a small towel.  I felt like I was on a desert looking at a mirage of water.  I held my own and walked right by it.  Test number two of will-power was this woman eating a big ol’ sausage that smelled SOOO good.  But salty sausage just means more water later… so onward I walked.
I made it from one cable car entrance all the way to the next one.  When I left, my guide was surprised I made it that far.  It did take me a good 3 hours though so it’s not like it was a breeze.  And sometimes the only thing that kept me going was a little old lady or man breezing on by me.  Already shameful of my inability to speak Chinese, I wasn’t gonna have these little old people out-walk me!
So, I finally reach my starting point… and I have to decide:  Cable car or taboggan.   Well, hell, I rode a donkey down the steepest switchbacks I’ve been on along the cliffs of Greece… I can ride a smooth taboggan down from the Great Wall.   I hop on, and the guy operating the shindig, gives me a big ol’ shove to get me on my way.  After my girly scream, everything else was in my own hands… you can go as fast or as slow as you want.  I know for sure i was probably pissing off the guy behind me who I could hear was coming close to me but oh well what can you do?  I did at one point catch up w/ the folks in front of me, so I couldn’t have been going that slowly.  I also braved whipping out my camera for a quick photo — something I was never able to do on the donkey.  =)
Great Wall.  Check!

In Beijing

After a VERY long journey, I made it to my hotel in Beijing at around 6pm local time, which amounted to about 16 hours of travel on 3 hours of sleep.   I got into the office at 7am after about 3-4 hours of sleep.
The Great Wall better well be worth it.  🙂
Happy 4th of July everyone!

Seattle loves me

I went back to virginia for my niece’s 1 year birthday.  On the way back to Seattle, I could not have asked for a more warm welcome from Seattle…
I check into nwa via their kiosk and make my way to the gate.  As we board the plane, the woman scanning in my ticket tells me she needs to print me a new ticket for whatever reason (i wasn’t paying attention… it was 5:30am and I’d been up watching my brothers play Zelda on the Wii til who knows how long before i passed out).  When I get my ticket back, I notice I’d been upgraded to first class!!  Nice!
At my connection in MSP, I’m slightly peeved that I have to take a train to the gate my flight flies out of… why they always have to put your connection flight about as far towards the other end of the airport I don’t know.  I’m sitting at the gate, nodding off when I hear my name called.  I step up the counter and the woman hands me another boarding pass… I’d been upgraded to first class again!  Yes!!
Free first class upgradd all the way home… what more could you want?
But there is more!  When I get into Seattle, it’s sunny and warm (not that unusual this time of year but certainly never to be underappreciated).  I wait for my shuttle back home.  Because I live outside the city, me and this other woman are upgraded to a towncar instead of the shuttle van for our trip home!  Sweet!
My only thought the entire way home riding in the towncar on that wonderful sunny day was that Seattle really rolled out the red carpet for my arrival home — if that’s not proof of its love for me, I don’t know what would be.  I love you too, Seattle!