So instead of using my precious non-work time studying Chinese, I wrote a program that would help me study Chinese. Uhh, I guess it was more an excuse to break out the compiler and write some working code. My job as a 'program manager' gives me a lot of interesting things to do all day, but sadly most of it doesn't involve coding. If you're any sort of geek worth their salt, you'll know how itchy your coding fingers get if you don't buckle down at a text editor (my weapon of choice -- vim, incidentally) and get some of your ideas into a binary before they escape your head.

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If I geek-out on it enough, I may convince myself to put this up somewhere so other people can learn exactly how buggy my code can be.


So now I'm entrenched in the corner of a cafe mulling over the last few days. I'll start from yesterday and go backward... er no wait, that'll be hard.

My "五一" Labor Holiday began with a trip to the Great Wall. I wasn't sure which section we went to because I kept forgetting the name everytime I was told (this happens a lot, especially with new Chinese words), but it seemed relatively unknown because not many people were there even though everyone I told said that it would be crowded to all hell. I went with an expat group that my coworker knew about. Stumbling around the undeveloped portions of the wall was pretty fun, and we ended up at some resort doing dragon boat racing and having a barbeque. I now know how crappy I am at throwing footballs (the English kept making fun of it saying it should be round, etc.).

Next up, Pingyao. Again, my coworker arranged the train trip for us, but since we booked our tickets on the same day the train was leaving, we ended up on the top bunks of a slow train which meant a 14 hour trip without air conditioning. Yeah; I balked at first as well... but it ended up not being too bad. The weather is pretty mild still, and the top bunks were stuffy at first, but ended up becoming comfortable after the weather outside got a bit chillier. Luckily we had no chain smokers below us.

Pingyao (I had never heard about it before my coworker suggested it to me) is an ancient city in Shanxi (山西) which was too poor to modernize 50 years ago. It did the next best thing, touristize -- meaning restore all historical things and make a theme park out of it. It has some pretty bad ass Ming/Qing-circa city walls, and some of the historical sites were pretty interesting; although they all started blending together by the 3rd one -- like temples in Beijing.

We stayed in a siheyuan (四合院) which is four buildings situated around a central courtyard. This is what you usually only see in special hutong areas in Beijing, only in the Pingyao city limits it's the norm. The courtyard of the one we stayed in doubled as a restaurant, so we woke up to the din of early morning breakfast eaters. Luckily, the 12 hour, overnight train ride had pooped me out so much that I slept right through the whole thing. My unfortunate roommate also got to hear my night-time sleep-screaming which is what happens when I get no sleep (hmm, am I giving away too much here?)

The next day, we did a round-trip on top of the city wall. It was actually more interesting than walking around in the city looking at the old sites up close because you got to peek into Pingyao life from the vantage point the wall gave you. Real life always seems a bit more interesting than the fake life presented to you at each of the sites.

After the round-trip we sped over to the train station to inquire about getting train tickets back to Beijing. It turned out we could only get sleeper tickets originating from Pingyao two days later. All else were standing only tickets -- for fourteen hours. The train ticket lady seemed pretty indignant at our request, i.e. she reduced all her replies to one word answers and refused to look at us. But I guess it's the Zhongguo way of saying "there's no way that's going to happen, please go somewhere else." I've seen it before. Anyway, we ended up hiring a mini-van to take us to the nearest industrialized city (Taiyuan) to see what we could do there. The driver kicked out a couple people to make room for us (not at our behest); we were sufficiently worried about not getting back to Beijing that we let it happen. Along the way we picked up some woman on the side of the road who the driver's buddy squeezed in next to us. The buddy pulled out a stool and sat on the ground. All in all there were 9 of us in a van that sat 6. We also snaked around a toll road booth and paid some lady half the price to use her farmland to connect back up to the main road. And they say corruption is on its way out ;)

At the Taiyuan station we found out something simliar: no sleeper tickets, but they had hard seats. If you've seen the hard seats here, you'll know that it is not sustainable for 14 hours. We found out about the bus station across the street and discovered that they have buses that leave every half hour and arrive in Beijing 6 hours after it departs from Taiyuan AND they only cost 3-4 USD more. Pay dirt! Why the hell do people take trains?

So all was well with the bus? Well pretty much yes, but it was a bit weird that when we bought tickets we were carted off by some black car to another part of the city where the 3:45 bus was waiting for us (we bought our tickets at 4:10). We also had to kick out the people in our seats... The ride ended up being about 8 hours, but who's counting when you thought you were going to have to stand up for 14 hours among people who took their last shower for their cousin's wedding.

All in all, a great trip. I hope Shanghai will end up being just as fun.

You can see all the pictures for these trips here.
  • Current Music
    UA - 忘我

back in one peice

I was going to write a big long entry about all the places I've been for the last two weeks, but it's getting late and I wanted to have something up for now. I'll post more later and link to flickr when I get all my photos up, but for now you'll have to make due with a list (like anyone's counting...):

1. Redmond/Seattle, USA
2. Tokyo/Nagoya/Seto, Japan
3. Beijing/Great Wall/Pingyao, China

There. Now I can sleep :)

P.S. I head to Shanghai in a few days, so I may not be able to get anything up here before I leave.

back to the mothership

I'm back in the US for a short business trip (my first one evaar).

I nearly missed my plane, however. I blame Beijing traffic, but it's probably all the cabbie's fault. He told me taking the 5th ring road would be the fastest, but he neglected to factor in accident rates and the fact that everyone else thinks the same thing about the 5th ring road. We ended up getting blocked from getting onto one of the on-ramps by one of these accidents, so my cab driver spent about 20 minutes (read 50 kuai) trying to find another entrance. He was driving on the wrong side of the road for a bit as well. Once we got onto the 5th ring road, it was stop and go traffic. Why? Accidents :) In total, I saw about 2-3 on the way to the airport, and the total time in the cab was about 45 minutes. A friend travelling with me on the plane took a cab 10 minutes before I did and made the journey in 20 minutes. Eventful. I managed to ignore the piss in my pants long enough to snap this random photo of a sign you can see with regular frequency around Beijing. I love Beijing.

I'll be here for two weeks -- meetings. After that I'm taking a vacation in Japan (again). I'll check out the Expo and climb Mt. Fuji (*crosses fingers*).

Now, I just have to stay awake long enough to attempt to get on Seattle time. Only 4 hours to go. My stomach is grumbling...
  • Current Music
    Cocteau Twins - Sugar Hiccup

weeks gone by

So I guess maybe some of my friends still read this. I neglect my journal 'cause (1) I can't write well, and (2) I'm a lazy bastard.

I finally found a place to stay. It's about 5 minutes away from work, so I can put in 60 hour weeks without having to spend the cash on taxis back and forth from work, yay!! Nah, really, it's more convenient anyway, and it's cheap. I was going to move into this really swanky place a station up (五道口), but it was going to cost three times as much. I figure I should get a cheap place first, then gradually "move up" when I start paying back my loans. My roommate's from Taiwan (oooooh, yes they're allowed in China, it's the Taiwanese gov't that doesn't allow mainlanders into Taiwan). He's a pretty cool guy, but I can ditch him if he weirds out on me. No offense if you read this, dude, I've only known you for a few weeks. I know he won't weird out, though. I think.

I got work to provide me with a "test" cell phone, so that's kind of cool, except when it crashes (yes even our phones crash :). I get to file bug reports and fun things like that when I get the urge. However, my main job is officially "Program Manager" which in MS terms is vague for "read and write specs all day long." Actually, it's more than that (and a lot more fun than it sounds), but I find it necessary to be cynical on a livejournal. It goes along with the general feel of this community.

My Chinese is still crap. I spend most of my time working, so I can't improve it. Also, I have no money, and that's probably the biggest mitigating factor. What does money have to do with my Chinese level? I NEED LESSONS. Fitting in with #2 stipulated above, I can't sit down and study like I used to be able to. I'm going to enroll in a short-term course as soon as I get my paycheck.

Oh, about money. I'm still living on the fumes of my bank account. The effects of Japan are still lingering... I've got a meal card to feed me during the week and the generosity of people I've met have kept me floating along. I can't wait until the end of the month.

All in all though, things are shaping up pretty well. No recent pictures to speak of. I'll probably put something up when I go on a longish trip. I want to do a great wall hike when things thaw out.
  • Current Music
    Sigur Ros - Olsen Olsen

Hello Northern Capital, goodbye Famous Old Room

Uhh, so yes. I've finally arrived at my destination -- Beijing. I've been here for the past few days, and a lot of old memories from my summer trips studying at 人民大学 are coming back. I visited the campus yesterday curious to find what's changed. I think they were on break because there were no students around, but the campus looked pretty much the same with the addition of some huge new buildings. The old buildings I used to study at were still there, and in similar conditions to what I remember.

Most other things that I remember about Beijing seem to be intact, including the prices (cheap), people (selfish but friendly) and pollution. There are some new things of note including a new "subway" line that loops through the city's north, and the rise of what seems to be an emerging consumer culture signified by the prevalence brand advertising and native Chinese branding.

Anyway, I'll finally start my job next week. I'm excited to get back into doing something after not having much responsibility for the last 2 months. My goals for the next few weeks are to find an apartment, buy a cellphone, and improve my Chinese past one word sentences and hand movements to two word sentences and fewer hand movements. The words I've studied for three years at university are there in my head somewhere; they just like to play hide and seek when I engage in conversation.

one place to another

I really hope I don't have to take a shit within the next 10 hours. I ran out of toilet paper, and I don't see anything around here that looks soft enough to replace it. I'll just hold it until I arrive at my next place tomorrow morning. I'm moving out of my current weekly mansion (as they call it here, it's really just an apartment) and into another. This one is turning out to be really expensive, and the next one not so much. The only caveat is I lose in-room internet (woe is me, wtf am I going to do with my time now?)

Lately, I've been having trouble filling my time with interesting things to do. In between blasts of fun are stretches of undulating boredom. You might think that since I'm in Japan, I should be having loads of fun, and don't get me wrong, I am. It just costs an arm and a leg to do anything. Take for instance going out for drinks, expect to drop at least US$20, though there have been plenty of outings in which I had to fork over $40 and up. Bowling? US$15 (not so bad, I guess). Movies? US$10-$20. Even getting around the city costs around $5 round-trip. So, lately, I find these stretches of boredom getting longer and longer as I notice how much longer I am going to have to stay here. I also found out today that my broken camera is probably going to cost $200 to fix. Either I'm going to have to open up a new stream of revenue, or I'm going to have to find cheaper ways to spend my time :)

Whoa, I didn't mean to start ranting about prices in Japan, but it's been something that's been getting under my skin lately. Anyway, about the blasts of fun. I had my birthday party at my place last Thursday and invited all the friends I met in Arizona that were in Nagoya. We had kimchee nabe (Kimchee hot pot), and man was it good. I think everyone had a good time, but I don't remember much because I made the dire mistake of consuming every kind of alcohol -- wine, beer, nihonshuu (Japanese sake), and the killer, whiskey. My friend, Andrew, had the same spread, only he didn't hold his in too well.

One of my guests (er, I can't remember who) had brought various kinds of cake individually wrapped in their own neat little packages (this is pretty common actually , it seems, here). In my drunken stupor I decided to take it upon myself to attempt to eat one of these cakes without taking off the wrapper. Now, it's not that I mistook the cake for being unwrapped; the wrapping is thick and, though somewhat transparent, was adorned with a large green sticker. I chomped down on the wrapped confection and sprayed crumbs all over the place. I don't know how everyone else reacted, but I must have noticed the mess because I ended up vacuuming it up later.While others cheat death, pick up hot dates, and/or play pranks while under the influence, I make an idiot of myself by spraying cake crumbs all over my friends. I blame the whiskey.

Anyway, the very next night, I was invited (belatedly) to someone else's birthday party held at another nabe/yakiniku izakaya (hot pot/drinking establishment). I was the only non-Japanese there, so I got to practice whatever drunken Japanese I could muster. The third or fourth drink softened the hangover from the night before. Being drunk and attempting to speak a language you only half understand with other drunks who only speak half your language is way more entertaining than it sounds. Barriers of embarrasment fall down, and nothing but pure enjoyment remain. It was weird though, somehow I ended up with a bouquet of flowers. They knew it was my birthday the previous day, so I guess someone went out and bought it for me, though I'm kind of surprised they thought to buy me flowers.

I took a few pictures of these two nights, you can see them here.


My birthday was yesterday (two days ago, now?), so I've pretty much had no time to "blog." This might be counted as a good thing since if I was blogging I wouldn't be out and about. However, this isn't so important to me.

Anyway... today I spent most of my day cleaning up my aparment from last night's bash and trying to find a DHL store in Nagoya. This seemed like an easy prospect at first until I got to the neighboorhood where the website said the office was. I looked up the building (actually I had to call my friend since I forgot), but after walking around where it _should_ have been for what seemed like hours, I came up with nothing. It was called "GE Edison" building, but no matter how hard I tried, the katakana I was reading on the buildings around the area always came up different. I even had a native Japanese speaker call up the DHL office for directions, and they couldn't even help. In the end I gave up and headed towards the Hilton hotel nearby. They provided FedEx services, so all was well. They even spoke English. In the end, it was really DHL's fault. I mean if someone calls your business for directions, they should be able to give proper advice. Even if they are not at the location you're currently at (my friend called a toll free number that was at a branch other than the one I was trying to find). Anyway, DHL lost my $35 shipment, so their bad. *humph* :)
  • Current Mood
    annoyed annoyed


我最近买一本学中文的书. 我这些星期有很多空. 去中国以前希望练习一下中文, 可是在日本没有太多机会联系中文. 只有联系日语. 可能是日常日语比我日常中文好. 因为我是在大学学习汉语, 我们在课堂老学汉字或者文学. 我们没有练习日常用的中文. 现在我在日本跟很多日本朋友练习日语,所以我会讲很多日文的口语(可是大部分不太有意思的). 我希望中国也有这样的经验. 在日本,人人都不会英文,所以我每天一定说日文. 北京可能也是, 可是我在北京人民大学的时候, 很多人跟我说英文. 这是大学的, 可能工作的经验不一样.

update: 我改有些很笨的错误了。谢谢kuroneko
  • Current Music
    Arcade Fire