Monthly Archives: August 2011

Importance of technology

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I am not what one would consider a techno-savvy, gotta have the latest electronic gadget person by any means. I’m a social computer user meaning I use FB, blog, email, have more photos than I count on my laptop, and I can order anything for anyone on-line. But being halfway around the world would be traumatic without my:

iPhone, iPad, laptop, and my favorite – the Kindle.

 Anders flew through Hong Kong on his way here in July and bought (2) iPhones for us because they are unblocked. This means that we can do anything we want on them without running into  government firewalls. I’m an iPhone  newbie and I haven’t even begun to tap the potential that little thing has to offer. I need my kids to teach me. I remember sitting on a ferry in Greece when Andrew taught me how to text! Kids of this generation have an innate sense when it comes to this stuff. How did they get that? It can’t be genetic, YET. I remember taking a typing class, on a real live typewriter!,  in high school because my dad said I would always need the skill.  I’m sure he never saw the skill being used on a keyboard but thanks Dad for making me take that class. You were right 😉  I do use it every day of my life and still I can’t type without making mistakes.

This “stuff” has all been very useful in light of the 2 natural disasters that hit the east coast last week. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. There are telephones but that would have been unreliable and EXPENSIVE.

For my more technologically challenged readers: What’s App enables other iPhone owners to text for free anywhere in the world and Face Dial or Face Time is free video chatting for Apple equipment. I was never an Apple person but I will admit that  they have it going on.

With the iPhone I was able to Face Dial Kiersten to make sure they and their house were still standing after the earthquake. The epi-center was only 30 miles from their house.  The morning after Irene blew through NYC Andrew sent me a What’s App message and told me that while he was prepared for rolling blackouts the only thing he had was a few leaves pressed up against his window. Instant assurance, that’s what it provides and for free.

The Face Dial feature has allowed Kiersten and Andrew to see our skyline view at night. They were impressed and it served it’s purpose: it wetted their appetite to get here as soon as possible.

The time difference adds a layer of difficulty but so far it hasn’t been so bad. Side note: the 12 hour time difference means that you don’t have to adjust your watch when flying. BONUS.

Then there’s Skype. I think most people know about Skype. My kids used it in Switzerland but I never did until we moved here. This is how we communicate with Anders’ parents. Would someone please go to my dad’s house and get him set up with Skype? Again, it’s free and we can see live faces. It means so much more when you can actually see the other person.  The distance doesn’t seem nearly as bad. I don’t even pretend to understand how it’s done nor do I need to, I’m just thankful it’s possible.

Loved ones in the States would never receive a gift from us over the next 3 years if I didn’t have a laptop. I highly doubt that I will send anything other than an occasional letter through China Post. I have been told it’s highly unreliable and if you can’t afford to lose it, don’t send it. We did receive a package and Ben told Anders to open it at the Post before he left to make sure it was not damaged. He said to always do that but I know that Ben will always be accompanying me inside so I don’t have to remember that tidbit. On-line ordering is so helpful when living abroad. I just have to remember to order gifts in advance, not the day of. My dad is happy because it means he’ll still be able to get his Graeter’s ice cream for Christmas, BD, and Father’s Day!

Then there is my all-time favorite piece of technology, the Kindle. If I could I would have the word light up, a spotlight on it, and it would be flashing. I would be lost without  it.  There is a large book store here that has English books but I have yet to go. My understanding is that the selection is limited (no Bible buying here) and expensive. Ah, but I don’t need to. I can read on my Kindle, laptop, iPad, or iPhone. Who knew? That also means that I can read any trashy book I want because nobody know what’s on my Kindle. Being in a book club is easier as well. In the States I usually got my club selections at the library but while there are libraries here, they’re not filled to the rafters with English books. I can be on vacation anywhere in the world, download what I want, and off I am to the beach with my umbrella drink in one hand and Kindle in the other.

Technology does have its place in my life. This is coming from a person that was anti electronic gadgetry but I have seen the light.

4PM – 104 degrees (ugh)

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How do I communicate with Ben?

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I have to say that I feel that Ben and I seem to communicate quite well. His English is decent enough that we have very few failures, conversations where one or both of us just don’t get what the other is trying to say.  It sometimes takes longer to get to the point but we usually get there. I was worried about it to begin with. Having a driver is of course a new experience and I wasn’t sure how to act or what  I should and shouldn’t say. I knew the second that I met him at the airport though that all would be fine and we’d figure it out together. And we have. I know instantly when he doesn’t understand because his brow furrows. I only see this face when I’ve lost him. I appreciate it because when I don’t understand I just usually give a blank look, totally blank. I’ve seen this look on others as well and I would far rather have a furrowing of the brows.  He probably knows he’s lost me when I give him my stupid, blank look.

When he picks me up it usually takes 20-30 minutes to get where we’re going and then 20-30 minutes back. That’s a lot of air time for me to sit and not say anything. I cannot do it. I mean almost an hour of not talking when I’m sharing the same space with another human being? Not gonna happen. I ask questions and God bless him, he always answers.  I didn’t move to China from kids, family, friends, and all that was familiar so I could pine for my life  in America. I came here to learn and discover and experience. What better way than to talk to someone who is like an open book, and Ben is.

So the first thing I do is speak slower. That is not easy for me but I can tell when my pace is picking up and I have to slow down.

I also leave out a lot of little words that just get in the way. Mandarin is a very simple, logical language. To translate literally would be very difficult because we have a lot of superfluous words. I wish that English was as easy as Mandarin. (OK, the tones are what make the language hard to learn but that comes with practice.)  Anders is the master at dumbing down his English when talking to a non-native speaker. I hate to use dumbing down but essentially that’s the best way to describe it. I know Kiersten and Andrew are laughing right now because he would come home in Geneva and forget that we spoke fluently.

I talk the way he talks. By now I know some of Ben’s favorite words and phrases and when I talk to him I use the same terms.  An example is “total”.  It took me about two days to figure it out but now I know he uses it in place of  everything, everywhere, everyone, adding, and anything where he’s describing a majority of, most of, or all of. When I need to convey all or most of something I just say “total” even if it wouldn’t necessarily make sense to me.

Being able to think outside the box helps. I think I might know an easy way to explain something but I get that look and know I’ve got to come up with something better. Sometimes it’s more than just coming up with a different word and I have to explain a whole concept. It’s like the game where you’re given a list of words, have to get other people to say them but you can’t use that one word. Ben is actually quite good at this. If he doesn’t know a word in English he’s very good at explaining the whole idea behind the word, he just doesn’t know the one he’s looking for. “It’s a feeling” is another of his favorite phrases and when he comes off with that I’m know about to learn a little about the Chinese psyche. I love it!

Body language is very useful, that’s why speaking on the phone is more difficult. I’ve read that up to 55% of communication is visual and other studies put non-verbal communication as high as 90%. I’m no sure I’d go that high but I do know that seeing someone you’re trying to speak to that doesn’t have a firm command of the language helps a lot! I’ve done it and been on the receiving end of it. Body language, motioning, and pointing go a long way in helping another person understand what you can’t say.

I use Mandarin whenever I can with Ben.  I’ve only had four lessons and to say my vocabulary is limited would be putting it mildly. But I’m getting there. My confidence is far better than when I was learning French. The Chinese appreciate any effort you make at speaking the language and they don’t pretend to not understand you because you don’t have the perfect accent. Ahem, French? The locals  know it’s difficult and therefore have low expectations (my kind of people). Ben’s face lights up when I say something correctly or he says very good in Mandarin, he’s like a proud papa.

I know that at least one of you (my dear friend SP) is wondering why I need to speak Mandarin if Ben speaks English. It’s simple: common courtesy. I’m the foreigner living in China. I’m the one that needs to learn the language. It makes for a more pleasant experience for everyone if you show some effort at learning.

Last week Ben picked me up at the apartment and we drove to pick up Anders at work and then head out for dinner. We were right on time but Anders was nowhere to be seen. Parking at the office building is impossible and the police don’t like when the drivers just keep driving around the circular driveway.  So Ben found a place to park about a block away and we talked for about 20 minutes. Finally Anders called Ben’s phone and asked where we were. He had called me twice, sent a text and I heard none of the them because we were blabbing away. Ben and I had quite the laugh over that.

We’re getting there. It’s only been 4 weeks since I arrived but I’m feeling confident that when I leave I’ll be able to speak to Ben in Mandarin. Truthfully, he’s such a good person that I want to learn just to make it easier for him. In the meantime, we’re doing just fine.  

4PM – 103 degrees

I need binoculars

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Gee I don’t know if I will ever be able to find a pair here in the city of “markets” that sell just about anything you can imagine and some things you didn’t.

I don’t want them to snoop on my neighbors, they’re not doing anything that I can’t see in my own home 😉 But I do want them for people-watching. My loved ones know that it’s one of my favorite things to do and I believe that I’m good at it. Following is a list of things I could see so much better with an aid for my 50-year-old eyes.

Tai chi people in front of the hotel.

There is a group of what I believe to be school girls and Anders thinks are older women doing exercises with big, beautiful, pink fans every morning along the river walk across the way. It’s beautiful and I want to see better. Plus I need to confirm that they are school girls and would therefore be right!

The TV tower. As I explained the other day there is a ride going in at the top of the TV tower. Before it even becomes operational I want to see them work on it. I’m fairly certain that I saw someone up there yesterday walking around. I would have been riveted watching that. Once it starts I want to see the people. Yes, I’m that close that with binoculars I could too. I can see the cars clearly but no details. I need details before I make the decision to do that!

The building down the way. I explained last week about what I believed to be the Presidential motorcade. If I had binoculars I think I could have confirmed that sighting. Yesterday about 25 various army vehicles went down there. Again, I don’t know what they were doing but it was a first to see that many army vehicles.

Hot cars. Every now and then I see some pretty nice cars driving on the road across the river. I mean like an Audi R8. I definitely want to see that up close.

One day last week in front of the hotel there was a very tall person with a crowd of kids (could have been adults, he was that tall) around him. He was wearing shorts and a jersey. It could have been Yao Ming and I wouldn’t have known it.

If  you read yesterday’s post you know that I could have used them to see better what was happening on those rickety boats. I would have a much better understanding and would therefore be able to explain better what they were doing.

I don’t want binoculars to snoop and spy, I just want to understand.

By the way I’m in Hong Kong for the weekend with Anders. We took the train, are staying overnight for some shopping and sight-seeing. It’s an enforced immigration trip. Until things get straightened out, look for a blog next week about that, I have to leave the country, get my visa stamped and come back in. I know, you’re asking how can HK be considered leaving the county. We all watched the  news and read the reports about the transfer of sovereignty from the UK to the People’s Republic of China 14 years ago. Whatever. I just need to leave and return. There are worse places I could have to do this.

I wrote this yesterday and had it wait to be published until today. I’m figuring this out.

River Walk

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As I was taking in the view of the river this morning I noticed some fishing boats. I hadn’t seen any up to this point and was fascinated. There were 3 of them and the last one to arrive was listing and I was worried that if I left to refill my coffee cup I would come back to see only bubbles where it had sunk. They looked like the slightest breeze would knock them over into a pile of floating matchsticks. The motors sounded like they were powering lawn mowers rather than boats on the Pearl River.   I have no idea what they were catching but their nets were coming up with something in them. I got out my camera to take photos and they turned out OK but in the end I decided to get closer to the action.

I donned my Penn State football T-shirt, sweats, and flip-flops and bounded out the complex looking like a good old American gal out for a stroll along the Pearl River in Guangzhou, China. I was the only one… American girl that is. I came across a few people. Some people were resting from bike rides, a family of 3 generations was doing Tai Chi, and a little old woman gave me a warm smile and laugh when I told her ni hao. It was actually quite pleasant outside. There was a very nice breeze blowing. It wasn’t the kind we usually experience where it feels like you’ve just opened your oven door. There was a slight aroma of flowers. I was in a happy place.

I did get some good photos of the boats. I think I need a new camera though with a more powerful zoom. Think I’ll be able to find one here? These photos only look good because I edited them on the blog website. One of the boats was manned by a couple. She was working every bit as hard as he was and they were both working hard. I watched him for a while. He pulled his net up out of the water a bit and grabbed what looked like a straight broom, you know the kind you use to sweep your garage floor. He stuck it in the net and kept working it up and down the insides of the net. Truthfully? He appeared to be cleaning sludge and small debris from the side to enable the water to flow out around the catch. He did that for about 10 minutes before he moved the net onto the boat and the net looked pretty full to me. The river is brown and while there seems to be a bit of garbage along the banks it just looks to be muddy. It’s a tidal river. It flows east to west and vice versa. The depth also drops during the course of the day. I guess that would explain the amount of mud in the net. I don’t know. I only know what I saw.  I couldn’t exactly stop and ask any of my fellow river walkers what was going on.

As it turns out it was a very nice walk and one I’ll do more frequently once the weather cools off a bit, which should be in about a month or so. The lack of humidity and hazy sun was a nice change of pace from the usual. I hope you enjoy the photos.  As you can see it is very tropical here. I just want to give everyone a glimpse of what it’s like outside our apartment. Enjoy, I sure did.

River walk

Looking east along the river

Looking west along the Pearl River

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
4PM – 98 degrees

The Hens

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You might think I’m referring to a group of women at the apartment complex, British females at a bachelorette party,  or perhaps real hens whose feet are on the chopping block. Nope, I am referring to our drivers. I have learned in the 3 weeks that I’ve been here that they are like a bunch of women at the coffee klatch. I see them congregate in front of our building in the morning or at the gazebo here in the afternoon.  Yesterday when I looked out my front window there were 3 of them just chatting up a storm. Ben was one, A’s driver was another and I couldn’t identify the third but they were just talking away.

Why hens? They all know our business and share it amongst themselves!

When I went to the wet market last Wednesday A’s driver told me that my driver was so happy to be a dad. I didn’t know that he knew  Ben was my driver. The next day when Ben  picked me up for my Mandarin lesson he asked me how the market was. I almost felt like I had been caught cheating.

 The kicker was yesterday when I was sitting in A’s car waiting for her to come out and chatting with her driver (his English is limited but we manage). He asked me how mahjong went on Tuesday! If I had been drinking water I would have choked. So here’s the convoluted story of how he knew.

Tuesday Anders told Ben that I wouldn’t need him for my lesson because I was playing mahjong in the complex instead. Yes, I played hookey and I’d do it again. Ben laughed – laughed I tell you. He told Anders that his wife and mother have played games that last for 2-3 days. I guess that’s why it was funny. I can only assume that at the first opportunity Ben tattled and all the drivers were having a good laugh about the Westerners getting together to play an ancient Chinese game that takes years to learn. Nah, I don’t really believe that. But I do know Ben told A’s driver because A’s driver asked how mahjong went. As soon as A got in the car I did my own tattling, 2 can play the hen game.

 I also learned through A’s driver that Ben is an excellent driver! Evidently there are no rules as they even dish on each other 😉

Last Friday night there were about 16 of us that went out for drinks and a light dinner at a pub before heading out to a hotel for a comedy night. While taking us from the pub to the hotel I asked Ben if he had eaten yet. He said that after they dropped us off  at the hotel they were all going out to eat ( I’m guessing that there were about 5 or 6 drivers). Now that I know what I know I would love to have been a fly on that wall.

Ben took me to the wet market today after my lesson. He knew which one and directed me to the ba ding/scallion pancake place. He did his homework. I’m also going to the same hair stylist that A uses and he’ll get directions. I probably won’t even need to tell him what day and time I have my appointment 🙂

I hope that no one misconstrues this post. I adore Ben with all my heart.  I just think it’s funny that no matter where you go in the world people are the same. If you’re hanging out with friends with time on your hands, you talk. What do you talk about? What you know. What do these men know? Us.  And that is comforting.

2:30PM – 97 degrees  (I can tell time in Mandarin!)

Crap Market Wednesday

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One Link aka The "Crap" Market

I’m starting to see a trend develop with my friend A. Last Wednesday she introduced me to the wet market and today it was the Crap Market or as it’s more formally known in GZ, One Link. It’s a 9-story building with stall after stall after stall that is full of all the stuff your little ones want to buy when they have $5 burning a hole in their pockets. Andrew would have loved this place when he was a kid because instead of 10 things he could have walked out with 20 for the same amount of money. He was a quantity over quality kid. I have heard about this place from several people almost since I landed and it is mind-boggling.

I hate to keep saying it, nah I really don’t, but it was a lot of fun. I hardly bought anything as I wanted to get the lay of the land and figure out what it was all about. This was a reconnaissance mission because to put it lightly: it’s overwhelming.  We started in the basement as A had a place she wanted to go for purse sacs; little sacs that fold up to about a 2″x3″ rectangle. They are most helpful here because there are some places that you don’t get a bag. If you have one of these in your purse you’re golden when out and about.  The first thing the shopkeeper will counter with when you ask how much… is how many. These places deal mostly with wholesalers although they do sell to individuals. The price is higher but still it’s cheap. They all use calculators because of the language and obviously they know we’re not locals and don’t speak Mandarin well, if at all. If I had had Mrs. Lyons for math like Kiersten and Andrew I would be able to do “grocery store” math in my head but I didn’t. I have to divide everything by 6.5 to get the $ amount. Why couldn’t it have been something easy like 5? Everyone needs a calculator when I’m involved in the bargaining process.  A. negotiated a fair deal based on having bought from this man before. Final cost? 62 cents per sac. This should give you an idea of what we’re dealing with here.

We made our way up to the 5th and 7th floor. The merchandise is higher quality, home decor items and not trinkets. Translation = more expensive.  It is opposite of what it is in the US. There the more expensive stores occupy the prime 1st floor real estate and it gets less expensive as you go up. It’s the opposite here. I have been told by several Chinese that they are lazy people. It’s OK for me to repeat that as it’s not coming from me. 🙂 If the cheap stuff is on higher floors they won’t make the trek up to buy it. Keeping it low makes it accessible for the everyday man.  

After about 2 hours we were done. Your mind can only take so much stimulation before steam comes out yours ears and your eyes roll in your head. I know I’m not doing these markets justice in describing how massive they are and how much STUFF is in them. Now I know what all these Chinese people do that I see everywhere, they work in factories!!

For any of you that are planning on coming for a visit this is most definitely a stop on the Leidal tour. There are some things that can’t be missed and this is one of them.

 6PM – 91 degrees

Mani/pedi

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If you don’t know what a mani/pedi is don’t read this post. You’ll only embarrass yourself when you ask someone what it is. Men, this means you. I know it’s sexist but that’s just the way of the world sometimes.

I have gotten 2 mani/pedis at the salon at our apartment complex. I walk 2 minutes and I’m there. It’s not a plush, posh nail salon with brightly painted walls and chandeliers on the ceiling.  There are no vibrating massage chairs with built-in foot baths. I’m definitely not paying for luxury but it’s fine. I don’t need all that anyway, I just sit there reading my Kindle and there’s ample lighting for that.

What you do get is  2 very nice women who work  for 2 hours or more. One woman does my fingernails and the other does my toenails. (She’s the one that worked for 2 hours and 15 minutes yesterday). I can’t help it, I run and she spends more time scraping (scrapping if you read my Massage Options post) than doing anything else.

What I emerge with 2 hours and 15 minutes later is the best manicure and pedicure I’ve ever had. They are so meticulous; no ragged cuticles, bubbly polish, and not a speck of color is on the skin. My feet are smoother than they have ever been. I daresay that my feet look pretty after I leave the salon (that’s saying something because I have ugly feet).  I was tempted to take and upload a photo of my pedicure but some of you may be eating breakfast and I don’t want to be held accountable for what might transpire as you gaze upon my feet.  My cuticles were still in good shape 2 weeks after my first mani/pedi. Without my own top coat to reapply every few days, the fingernail polish lasted 7 days. Dare to dream how much wear time I’ll get when my sea shipment arrives and I have that again!

Now for the punch line.

It costs $24 and no tipping. Yes, 2 people, 2 hours (or more), $24 dollars. It’s not my intent to make anyone jealous but…

6PM – 97 degrees