Life in Hangzhou
Below are the 10 most recent journal entries recorded in the "ddewey" journal:
[<< Previous 10 entries]
Two Car Accidents in Three Days|
Well, it's been a long time since I've posted in this journal. China is blocking Live Journal now, so if I want to post I have to go through Tor. Tor hasn't been working very well either, and takes forever to find connections, so maybe they are trying to block that too now. Or maybe the Tor network just isn't as good as it used to be. If anyone has a better option for getting around the Great Firewall of China, let me know.
Xiujuan and I have had a busy year. In September we did a bunch of traveling, visiting customers in Honolulu, Los Angeles, Orlando, and Miami, and visiting our office in Fort Collins, CO. Xiujuan really enjoyed this second trip to the US. She got to see lots of new things, and experience some warm weather and beaches this time. It was really tiring for me though, because I had to do a ton of driving. I was glad to have an opportunity to visit a lot of our customers though, some of them for the first time.
We also made a trip back to Port Townsend to visit my family for Christmas at the end of 2007. I think the best part of the trip for Xiujuan was snowshoeing in the the Olympic Mountains, where there was well over a meter of snow on the ground, and huge plumes of fresh snow on the trees. She thought the landscape looked like something out of a fairy tale, and excitedly took lots of photos.
Xiujuan liked the food too, but she would get full much too quickly because American food is so high-protein and high-fat. Thus she wasn't able to eat very much, and lost about 5 pounds during the trip. I on the other hand gained a ton of weight, and am now losing it again now that I'm back in China where delicious food is much harder to come by.
Business is going well, and we are in the final stages of setting up our own small factory. We've purchased three injection molding machines that are highly customized so we can shoot much higher quality parts than typical Chinese factories can produce. We've also remodeled the building to be super clean and shiny, as one of the biggest problems with molding products in China is the lack of cleanliness of the factories here.
Having our own factory will give us the opportunity to reduce the number of other suppliers we use, which is great. Driving from factory to factory is always a huge annoyance for me, as the traffic is so terrible. I've been in several accidents in the one year that I've had a car here. Fortunately insurance always covers the damage to my vehicle, but dealing with the insurance companies each time is always a nightmare. You have to make dozens of phone calls and run around all over the city before finally getting a payment from them. They intentionally don't provide complete documents the first few times you go, just to make it hard to complete the claim.
Recently I got in two accidents in the space of only three days. First I got in a very small scrape with a car that pulled out in front of me. The police, based on the positions of the vehicles, said it was my fault, which I protested a little, but finally accepted, since either way the insurance pays for all the damages. In China insurance costs do not go up, even if you get in a lot of accidents that are your fault (this probably explains why Chinese people drive so recklessly).
A few days later we met with the other party to exchange documentation from our insurance companies. We met at a small body shop where the other party was getting his vehicle repaired. Our insurance company requires photos of the damage, but he didn't have the photos ready yet; they were still in the digital camera. The shop owner demanded payment for the repairs right away, even before starting on them, but I wanted to get the photos before giving him any money. After all, if he went ahead with repairs but there was some problem with getting the photos, then it would be too late to take new photos of the damage.
We argued with the body shop owner for about two hours, but couldn't come to an agreement, so we decided to just leave. I got in my car and tried to drive away, but the employees of the body shop all stood in front of my car to prevent me from driving out.
Finally I was able to inch out into the driveway and was about to pull into the street and drive off, but the owner of the body shop got in his big Great Wall SUV and backed up into my car, bashing in my headlight and bending the grill way out. So I had to get major repairs done on my vehicle after that. This time the police said I was not at fault though. A month later I'm still trying to get payment from the guy's insurance company, but it will probably take another hundred phone calls and several more trips before it happens.
Current Mood: drained
Tags: accident, car, great firewall of china, insurance, olympic mountains, port townsend, snowshoeing, tor
Exploring Limestone Caves in Hangzhou|
Today Zhang Fengping and I visited some caves in one of the many limestone mountains near Zhoupu. These were much bigger than any other caves I've visited in my life, with hundred-foot high ceilings and stalagmites bigger than Greyhound buses. Zhang Fengping and I were the only cave visitors, since everyone is at home today celebrating the holiday.
I was disappointed at the amount of destruction to the cave environment caused by opening it to visitors. The floors were paved over, the water artificially channeled and muddied, noisy polluting generators installed inside, and many cave formations badly damaged. The natural splendor of the cave was ruined by fake concrete stalactites and other artificial structures, electric fountains, and carnival-style games. Most caves here in Hangzhou are always full of bats, and you'd expect a cave so big to have millions of them, but I only saw a couple bats the whole time I was inside.
There wasn't a single bit of information available on the natural history or biology of the caves, or on cave conservation. There were no guides, and the only employees there just harassed us constantly trying to sell us photos or souvenirs. If they want to attract more visitors to the caves they should educate people about them and present the natural features of the caves, not man-made gimmicks. Otherwise Chinese people just see a bunch of weird-shaped rocks and don't realize that they took millions of years to form.
Also, they really should have guides to go with people to prevent them from damaging the delicate cave environment and disturbing cave animals. The graffiti carved all over the stalagmites and other formations will probably take thousands of years to heal, and the trash people throw can easily float to far reaches of the cave where it may remain for thousands of years or more.
The city of Hangzhou claims to care about environmental protection, but I say they fail miserably. They really only care about getting the most tourist revenue possible. They are definitely successful in attracting tens of millions of Chinese tourists every year, but maybe if they did a better job of protecting the environment here they could also attract more higher-paying foreign tourists in the future.
Really I should be glad these caves still exist at all. Other large limestone mountains all around the Zhoupu area and all over Zhejiang province have been blasted away completely and fed to cement plants. I guess it's better to have a half-destroyed cave than to lose the entire mountain and have no cave at all.
China has enormous quantities of limestone, and new caves are being discovered here all the time. Let's hope effort is made to protect some of these newly discovered caves before irreversible damage is done. That way cave formations and cave critters will be protected and future generations can enjoy the caves in the natural state.
Current Mood: disappointed
Tags: caves, china, environment, hangzhou, limestone
Xiujuan's First Visit to the USA, Dec. 19 to Jan. 2|
Xiujuan and I spent two weeks in the US for Christmas and New Years, visiting my family in Port Townsend, WA. We also had a small reception there to celebrate our recent marriage, and I got to see lots of old friends. The best part of the trip was spending Christmas day with my whole family and my new wife and feeling that she's an essential part of the family now.
I made sure to have Xiujuan enjoy plenty of new experiences while we were there and eat all kinds of new foods, such as turkey and stuffing, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, ice cream, steak, pizza, lasagna, paninis, crab, salmon, various cheeses, pancakes, waffles, raspberries, and blackberries. It's true that some of these foods exist in China, but in very different forms. A lot of foods, such pizza and crab for example, she never really liked much in China, but really loved the versions we have in the US.
She especially enjoyed taking the ferries to Seattle, Edmonds, and Keystone, snowshoeing on two-meter deep snow in the Olympic mountains, and doing a 13-mile hike in the Elwah River valley, where we saw elk and other animals. All the clean air and water and abundant wildlife was quite a new experience for her.
Xiujuan got along great with my family, especially my mom. She liked how friendly and polite people are in the US, and how much easier life is for most people compared to China. Now she even says she wants to move there eventually. Her parents have been annoying her lately, and she thinks the pressure will be less if she lives as far away from them as possible.
I'm still set on living in China for at least several more years though, because I think it's important for the business. However, I probably will make more and more frequent trips to the US and other countries in order to meet with customers and attend trade fairs, and will bring her along when possible. I think it would be great to visit the US with her during the summer when the weather is warm and we can do more things.
Current Mood: happy
Tags: christmas, food, trip, usa, xiujuan
Buying a New Car in China|
The ChinaForge Hangzhou office finally purchased a car. We got a brand new Ford Focus hatchback. I'm really happy with the car because it drives really nice, can fit plenty of cargo in the back, and looks larger and more expensive than it is, which is really helpful for doing business in China, because of the "face" it gives you. We ended up spending about USD $18,500 once you add in all the taxes, insurance, registration, license plates, and road maintenance fees. There sure are a lot of extra fees involved when you buy a car in China.
I drove from Hangzhou to Yuyao and Cixi and back today, a round-trip distance of 320 kilometers. It worked out great and I only got lost a few times despite Chinese road systems being so confusing and illogically designed.
Current Mood: pleased
Xiujuan Got Her US Visa!|
Great news, my wife Xiujuan and I will be visiting the US soon. She got her visa in the mail today, which was really quick considering she only just had her interview at the Shanghai US consulate yesterday. One day is astoundingly fast visa service, especially for a US visa!
I'm amazed how easy the visa process was, since I've heard so many stories about it being really difficult. It probably helped that we prepared a mountain of documentation, probably about 200 pages altogether, including personal information and records for both of us, financial information, ChinaForge company documents, my dad's invitation, and detailed trip plans. Also, she was lucky to get a really friendly consular officer to interview her. Actually he only looked at my information, my dad's letter, and our company information, and didn't even bother to look at the mountain of documents Xiujuan had included about herself before approving her application. I guess being married to an American really helped her.
We were both relieved that the visa interview was allowed to be completely in Chinese, because Xiujuan's English is quite rusty. Xiujuan said her interviewer spoke fluent Mandarin, even though he was an American and a white guy. She said his Mandarin wasn't as good as mine though :)
We plan to visit the US in mid February, and hopefully will have a chance to see everyone while we're there. That includes Mom and Dad in Port Townsend, my brother at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi, Alex Quinn at University of Maryland, Linn in Fort Collins, Colorado, and Ryan, wherever he 's going to be at the time. We will have to work really hard to save up enough money for the trip, however, since we'll be doing so much traveling all over the country.
Current Mood: excited
Got Married Yesterday|
Xiujuan and I finally got married yesterday. It was a pretty simple process. Before hand we went to the US Consulate in Shanghai to obtain a certificate of marriageability. To get this document we had to fill out a form and present my passport and Xiujuan's passport, proof of residence (hukou), and identity card. Then they interviewed us separately, Xiujuan first, to make sure we had a real relationship.
Xiujuan was pretty nervous about the interview because she thought it would be in English. However, she told them that we always speak Chinese together, so they interviewed us both in Chinese. This worked out well because my Chinese is fluent, but her English isn't quite there yet. They asked us questions such as how we first met, if we've met the other's parents, what work we do, what schools we graduated from, etc. All were easy questions, and we had all the same answers. After the interview they prepared the certificate within a few minutes and charged me a 400 RMB fee.
The next step was to get photos taken together for our marriage registration in Hangzhou. This was a simple process that cost 28 RMB.
Finally we got married on Nov 02, 2006. We had to go to a special office in Hangzhou that processes marriages and divorces between Chinese citizens and foreigners. Marriages are handled in the morning, and divorces in the afternoon. We each signed a statement and read it out loud, and they sealed our photos in our marriage certificate booklets. This simple process cost 9 RMB and took half an hour. It would have been quicker, but we had to cut our photos down to fit the space provided, and the official registering our marriage also had trouble fitting all characters in my full name in the space provided in the database. Most Chinese people only have two or three characters in their full name, but if you count spaces my full name has twenty characters.
Now that we are married we would like to make a short trip to the US to celebrate our marriage with my family. I'm worried that getting a visa for Xiujuan will be a very complicated and time consuming process however. Anyway, I will be patient and just enjoy living here in China with the most kind, loving, intelligent, and pretty wife in the whole world.
Current Mood: happy
Driving in China|
Well, I finally decided to get my Chinese driver's license. I still think traffic is really scary and dangerous here, but it was getting to inconvenient not to have one. We often make long trips to visit factories that require a whole day of driving, so I want to be able to take turns with our driver so he doesn't get too tired.
The process turned out to be easy beyond all expectation. I just had to show them my Washington State driver's license, take vision and hearing tests, and pass a simple computerized exam. The exam can be taken in English, French, Russian, German, Spanish, Arabic, Japanese, or Korean. The questions are about half multiple choice (A, B, and C) and half True-False. It is easy because all 200 possible test questions and answers are available to study ahead of time from an exam prep booklet you can
purchase. Besides, most answers are extremely obvious to anyone with half a brain. Others, like #30 below, don't make any sense and just have to be memorized. Here are some example test questions, copied from the exam booklet:
5. Applying for registry of the motor vehicle, the applicant should make application to A :
A. traffic control department of public security organ
B. transportation administration of Ministry of Communication
C. municipal construction department
16. While driving a motor vehicle, a motorist shall be abide by the A :
A. right-hand driving principle
B. left-hand driving principle
C. middle driving principle
30. If a passenger vehicle has reached its utmost capacity limit, it is a rule that the number of children free of charge must not exceed C of that limit.
61. Before driving the motor vehicle, the driver B :
A. can drink only a little wine
B. mustn't drink any
C. can only drink beer
73. If there are children playing on the road, you should B .
A. speed up and pass quickly
B. slow down in advance, if necessary, stop to give way.
C. warn by pressing the horn and pass as usual
87. If there are too many injured needed to be sent to hospital in critical accidents, you should send C to hospital first.
A. those whose wounds are bigger
B. those who has been fractured
C. those who are under the state of coma, hemorrhage, hard in breathing, and those whose internal organs, such as intestines, etc. have been deviated.
88 T or F: The beginning of learning driving or going into driving is a critical period for the development of the driver's professional morality: T
The test was easy, thanks to being able to memorize all the answers from the exam booklet, and I passed with a perfect score. Actually driving in China is not so easy though, as I found out last week when I drove about 100 km from Cixi to Hangzhou. The freeway part was not bad but when I got into the city it was rush hour and the traffic was CRAZY. The cars on the road were all over the place, not drivng in any particular lane. Pedestrians and bicycles would dart out in front at random. It was really tiring. I guess I'll just have to get used to it though.
Proposing to Xiujuan|
Yesterday, June 21, I proposed to Xiujuan. It was the third anniversary of the day I first met her, so it seemed like a good time as any. It's always best to try and have multiple special events on the same day of the same month, to make important dates easier to remember. Girls always expect you to remember their birthday, the day you first met her, the day you first kissed her, the day you first had sex with her, the day she became your girlfriend, the day you proposed, the day you got married, etc. It's much easier if you try to arrange it so multiple such events happen exactly integer numbers of years apart.
I baked Xiujuan a huge chocolate cake with lots of frosting and Chinese bayberry syrup between layers (yeah, there are still a ton of bayberries left even though we've been eating practically nothing else three meals a day). On top of the cake I wrote "Xiujuan Mo, Marry Me" in Chinese characters made of frosting. I'd never decorated a cake before, and it is harder than it looks, especially without proper tools. I couldn't find the proper cake decorating tools in China, so I used a 10-ml medical syringe, which I had laying around because I used to carry them in case of emergency when backpacking in remote parts of China. It was really hard getting the frosting into the syringe tube and I had to fill it up three times before I finished the six Chinese characters and other decoration.
The cake turned out really yummy and Xiujuan was very impressed at my baking skills, which despite being poor are impressive to her since Chinese people never bake anything. We are not sure exactly when we are going to get married yet, but probably pretty soon so we can work on getting Xuijuan a visa and she can visit the US. Xiujuan is already 25 years old, but has never traveled outside of China, never seen the ocean or even a beach, and never flown on a plane. We will have to remedy that soon.
Current Mood: accomplished
Baking Yangmei Pie|
Yesterday Xiujuan and I went to the town of Cixi, Zhejiang to inspect a factory for ChinaForge. As it happened to be Yangmei Festival in Cixi, we went into the mountains to pick yangmei after the inspection.
"Yangmei" is the Chinese word for Myrica rubra, also known as red bayberry or Chinese bayberry, a juicy red fruit native to southern China. Every year in mid June people in Zhejiang province eat tons and tons of red bayberries.
Yesterday Xiujuan and I picked four bucketfuls of bayberries in about one hour, and stuffed our stomachs with many more. So now we need to find uses for all of them. Last night I baked a huge red bayberry pie, but that only used up about an eighth of them. Another eighth I chopped all the pits out and froze. I guess the rest we will have to devour quickly, or maybe use to make another pie. The first pie came out delicious, so I think I just might make a few more.
Before making my yangmei pie I Googled for a yangmei pie recipe, but absolutely no results came up for the search terms "yangmei pie", "red bayberry pie", or even just "bayberry pie". However, since I have made many kinds of berry pies in the past I was able to come up with my own recipe. Here it is:
- 5 cups red bayberries, pits chopped out
- 3/4 cup white sugar
- 6 tablespoons cornstarch
- Double pie crust made however you like it
- Mix sugar and cornstarch.
- Combine with berries.
- Put bottom crust in large pie pan and pour berry mixture on top.
- Place crisscrossed strips of pie crust on top.
- Cover with aluminum foil to prevent crust from getting too dry and bake for 25 minutes at 375 F (190 C).
- Remove aluminum foil and continue baking for 30 minutes or until crust turns golden.
- Remove from oven and let cool completely before eating.
Current Mood: full
Mom and Joey Visit Hangzhou|
Here in China we just finished the week-long labor vacation. During the vacation my Mom came to visit me from Port Townsend, WA, staying for two weeks. I also met Joey, an awesome guy from Fujian province who stayed in Hangzhou for three days and did a lot of hiking with me, my Mom, and Xiujuan in the mountains and parks around Hangzhou. Joey is not your typical Chinese guy. I guess you could call him a dissident. Anyway, he's a super nice guy and it was really fun hanging out with him for a few days. I hope I have a chance to meet him again sometime.
Joey is a prolific blogger, unlike me. Here's a link to Joey's blog.
Current Mood: tired
[<< Previous 10 entries]