Friday, February 29, 2008

Chengdu Trip #4 - Over the Pacific Ocean

What’s worse than being stuck on a 11+ hour Trans-Pacific flight is having a broken TV screen in front of you. So instead of my usual routine of half-hour naps in between movies, it’s half-hour naps in between staring at the seat in front of me for two hours. Unlike the flight from LAX to HKG two weeks ago, this plane still has the older seats and the flight is completely full. Right now we’re about two hours from LAX; I’m typing this up in MS Word to copy/paste when I get home.

My second week in Chengdu has been a blur, partly because I’ve been hit with stomach problems during the last few days. We had spicy hot pot for dinner Monday night and even though I ate from the non-spicy pot, the combination of breathing spicy oil fumes and eating funky ingredients probably got me.

Spicy hot pot... I think we were the only table with the non-spicy middle pot.

Excuse me, who ordered the pig brains?

I've also been eating at local hole-in-the-wall places so that probably is not helping. At lunchtime, the places are packed and stools are placed on the sidewalk for people to sit and eat. This is outside a noodle place; I went back and got a bigger bowl of mustard green noodles for RMB6.

Lunchtime crowd

It’s also been more and more difficult for me to breathe as well; each breath burns my nose and throat. I guess I’ve reached my limit on smog and cigarette smoke. I think visiting for a week at a time is fine but I’m not sure if I can ever live here long-term. The worst is probably the cigarette smoke. Anywhere you go, there are people smoking, even in elevators, right under the “No Smoking” sign. Living in California, you just don’t see that many smokers in public anymore.

"Hey Mr. taxi driver, can you focus on driving instead of reading the newspaper?" Since I'm not staying at the university hotel, I have to take a taxi across town (~5km) to catch the ride into the office.

On Tuesday, we went to take a look at PMI’s new factory. It’s coming along quite well, even with the month-long delay due to Chinese New Year and power outages. The building structure is pretty much complete and the workers are just painting the outside and finishing the interior. Our first piece of heavy equipment, a 400 ton hot press, is scheduled to arrive in April.

PMI’s three-storey factory

Space for large furnaces

Building construction… a family business! Actually, all the workers live on-site in temporary shacks. I'm sure this violates all sorts of OSHA rules.

Chinese broom: a stick and some twigs tied together

We haven’t decided whether to put solar panels or a basketball court on the roof

Worker finishing up the concrete roof

Just to the north of our site is Motorola's software development center in Chengdu. Leon said that we won't need such a large parking lot.

On Wednesday, Leon gave me the day off which was good since my stomach started having problems. I did get to take a look at Wenshu Temple and went with a friend to sing KTV at night. We had the room from 8pm to 2am and after discounts, it was only RMB128. I still need a lot more practice since I couldn’t read a lot of the Chinese song lyrics. Interestingly, since the KTV place we went to was run by Taiwanese people, many videos were from Taiwan and had traditional Chinese lyrics. My friend’s friends were local so they only knew simplified Chinese and couldn’t read some of the characters. I blame the Commies.

Street vendors inside the Wenshu Temple complex

How much for that Rolex?

Thursday morning my stomach was feeling a bit better so I attended a PMI meeting and even showed them my financial models. However, after lunch, I got worse so they had to drive me home in the older car. It’s a small “meinbao” car since it’s shaped like a loaf of bread. Leon said it didn’t cost them that much (less than $10K US) and they put a lot of miles on it. Usually cars are more expensive compared to the US. The president of our main vendor just bought a Lexus LS460 for ~RMB1.2M which is more than twice what the car costs in the US. PMI’s driver, Mr. Lin, is really in to cars. He was impressed when I told him that I have a 350Z back home. The only one I ever saw in Chengdu was in the Nissan dealer showroom. Evidently, they cost ~RMB500k in Chengdu.

Lexus dealer. I also saw Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Porsche dealers. Leon said that there is also a Ferrari dealership in Chengdu.

My last day in Chengdu is a long travel day. This time I’m traveling back with Leon although I can get into Cathay’s business lounge in Hong Kong by myself now (oneworld Sapphire!). Our CTU-HKG Dragonair flight didn’t get a gate on arrival so we had to take a shuttle bus from near the air control tower to the terminal. It was kind of odd since there were many free gates (HKIA has 80 gates). I hope our luggage transferred okay; we’ll know in about 90 minutes. During our six hour layover, we took the Airport Express train into Hong Kong Island to meet with a couple PMI investors over dinner. We ended up at a French restaurant in the IFC mall so it wasn’t cheap. I told Leon he can eat at Broadcom’s cafeteria all next month to save money.

Close up of the HKIA control tower

747 with three missing engines parked at the airport. I got yelled at by Dragonair crew for taking pictures.

Kowloon skyline. The better view would have been the other way, looking at Hong Kong Island from Kowloon.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Chengdu Trip #4 - Chengdu

I'm back in Chengdu and it's freezing. I'm pretty much wearing my ski jacket everywhere, even in the office. Even though I'm cold, the weather is actually warmer than a few weeks ago so there's less demand on electricity which means the power is back on in the factory.

The weather during our last day in Sanya was rainy again. Regardless, I still went to the beach in the morning and waded a bit in the ocean. I haven't been in ocean water for awhile, even though I live in Southern California, so I don't know if it's normal that my skin was all sticky after I got out of the water. Even though the Crowne Plaza hotel is not right on the beach, they have a small private section next to the public beach so at least I was able to get towels and stuff. The beach was actually pretty crowded but there were very few people in the water.

More appropriate beach attire... although it was raining. She was the only non-Chinese person on the beach, and the only one in a bikini.

The only other person in the water during the rain

Anyway, I checked out of the hotel at 2pm and basically sat around until 7:30pm when they picked us up to go back to the airport. The airport in Sanya is pretty small, about the size of John Wayne Airport back home. There were a lot of people departing so it took forever to get through security. Usually if you set off the metal detector (belt buckle this time), they use a wand to check you. This time, the lady at the security gate also used her hand in addition to the wand... weird.

The flight back to Chengdu was delayed for an hour since they didn't have a plane available. When the plane did show up, an Airbus A320, it was a different type then originally scheduled so the seat numbers were all different. Some people's boarding passes were for row 33 when there were only 30 rows in the plane. There were still passengers standing in the aisle when the plane was leaving the gate so the flight attendants told everyone to just grab any available seat. I ended up next to an old lady carrying two huge bags; I helped stow one for her under the seat in front of me so she could put her legs down. She tried talking to me a couple of times but I couldn't understand her accent/dialect at all.

Lots of Chinese tourists on the beach

Crowne Plaza's beach bar

In addition to the regular hotel rooms, the Crowne Plaza also had villa and townhouses on-site.

Lotus flower

Some Engrish at the Sanya airport

Leon is arriving this afternoon so it's back to work... :)

Friday, February 22, 2008

Chengdu Trip #4 - Sanya, Part 2

Arg, speaking of flaky Internet connections, I just got dropped and lost some of my edits.

Anyhow, Sanya is on the southern portion of Hainan Island which is in the south of China. Sanya has been called the Hawaii of China because of it's tropical weather and it has prices to match the reputation. The flight from Chengdu to Sanya was RMB1820 or ~$250. I'm staying at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Yalong Bay which has a whole string of 5-star hotels, including a Mandarin Oriental opening in Q2. My room is about $200/night which is really expensive for China but it's pretty nice. There are actually a lot of foreigners staying at the hotel and they look mostly Eastern European; all the signage at the hotel has Chinese, English, and Russian. There are also a lot of business meetings here as well. I saw a lot of people in Nestle polo shirts and a group from Singapore sat next to me during dinner. I think the 2007 Miss World contest was held at the Crowne Plaza in Sanya.

View from the room's balcony

The hotel definitely has a Chinese architectural theme

Inappropriate beach attire

Coconut juice for RMB5. Basically they hack off a coconut with a machete and drill a hole in with a power drill (visible in the picture... the drill bit was pretty gross). Add one straw and you have a tropical drink!

Night view in Crowne Plaza's shopping/dining village. Since Yalong Bay is pretty far from Sanya City and only has large resort type hotels, Crowne Plaza built a shopping/dining complex next to the hotel. It looks like a bunch of different shops and restaurants, but everyone is a hotel employee.

I'm headed back to the cold and gloom of Chengdu tomorrow. The weather in Sanya has been either overcast or rain showers, hopefully it will be sunny tomorrow for one last beach day. Leon is arriving in Chengdu on Monday so it's mostly PMI related work next week.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Chengdu Trip #4 - Sanya

I've been having Internet problems since I arrived in Chengdu. The Treo worked fine in Hong Kong but I can't get a data connection so I can't check email. Next, my work PC won't connect to the Internet using my friend's ADSL connection so I have to use a computer with Chinese Windows... no fun. I am finally connected from my hotel in Sanya but even here, in a 5-star hotel, the connection is flaky. As before, the Great Firewall of China is still blocking so I have to connect through work VPN to access my own blog.

I've been in Sanya since Wednesday night and the weather is much nicer than Chengdu. Even though it's mostly overcast, the temperature in Sanya has been around 20 degrees Celsius; in Chengdu, it's just above freezing earlier this week. I was staying with a friend in their studio apartment and there appears to be no heat so it's been a miserable three days in Chengdu before coming to Sanya.

The flight from Hong Kong to Chengdu was pretty uneventful. Dragonair provided the same lunch selection as my previous three trips, with unexpired orange juice this time. Since I'm on the same flight each time (KA820), I think I'm beginning to recognize some of the flight attendants. To my surprise, Kevin from one of PMI's vendors came to the airport to pick me up. I've been chatting with him on MSN Messenger since he wants to practice his English, and I mentioned that I was arriving in Chengdu on Sunday. I feel bad that he dragged his company's driver along since Kevin doesn't drive, but he saved me about RMB50 on a taxi ride.

The next couple of days was spent hanging out in Chengdu, checking out department stores and eating at local restaurants. My friend's apartment is across the street from a large Buddhist temple (Wenshu Temple). Since it's still Spring Festival (continued from Chinese Ney Year), there are extra lanterns and food stalls near the temple.

Rabbit heads... there were other gross things being sold as food

Pineapple stick rice... it wasn't very good :(

My friend's apartment building

Needless to say, I didn't eat very much at the food stalls. Most of the time we ate at a restaurant on the first floor of the apartment building. You can order cold dishes displayed behind a counter or order hot dishes, and have all-you-can-eat congee/rice. I also had the best mustard green and pork noodles at a place around the corner for RMB5.

I tried a Korean restaurant in Chengdu. It wasn't as good as our normal Korean BBQ place in Garden Grove.

There were a lot of non-Korean looking stuff on the menu. We order a bunch of stuff and it came out to ~RMB300 for 3 people.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Chengdu Trip #4 - Hong Kong

This is the worst part of the trip, the flight from LAX to HKG. Cathay flies older 747's and in the past, the economy seats are really cramped. On their website, Cathay said that they were renovating all their seats, starting with JFK-HKG this year, so I was pleasantly surprised my flight already had the new economy class seats. The major changes are that the seats recline without leaning back into the seat behind you (so my knee is not jammed) and they have real entertainment on demand in each headrest. Additionally, this flight wasn't completely full like every other Cathay flight I've been on, so the seat next to me was empty. I even managed to get a few hours of sleep which is rare for me. I hope the 747 on the way back has been renovated too.

Right now I'm in the Cathay business class lounge near gate 65 waiting for my flight to Chengdu, and I think I just saw the same coworker again. He told me he's transiting to Singapore from Hong Kong. Leon usually goes to the other Cathay lounge near gate 4; I think this one has more food. :)

New larger LCD screen and detachable controller

Dinner: pork with mustard sauce... not very good. I'm sure my coworker is eating better in business class.

Bejeweled 2! If my parents were on this flight, they would be playing this for the entire 14+ hours.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Chengdu Trip #4 - LAX

I've said it before and I'll say it again, LAX is a disgrace. It took me forever to get my bag screened and go through security. They need to tear down Bradley Terminal and start over.

I'm sitting in the oneworld lounge waiting for my flight, courtesy of all the miles I got last year for flying to Chengdu. The elevator to the lounge is busted so I had to walk up two flights of stairs just to get here. The food is so so but since I didn't have dinner, I'm pigging out on whatever is here... the lobster bisque is not bad.

Surprisingly, I met a coworker in the lounge. I'm surprised because I thought everyone from work flies Singapore Airlines. For some reason, he likes Cathay better.

The lounge is not as crappy as the rest of Bradley Terminal because it's new.

Super Engrish

"Found on a bootleg Superman action figure from China."

Wow, that's awesome! I think I need to hit the local market when I get to China next week to see if I can find stuff like this.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Monty Python and The Holy Grail - Scene 3

One more scene from my favorite movie of all time.

"Ah, now we see the violence inherent in the system."

Monty Python and The Holy Grail - Scene 5

"Very small rocks!" Cracks me up every time.

Saudis to Execute a Woman for Witchcraft

ABC News
A leading human rights group appealed to Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah on Thursday to stop the execution of a woman accused of witchcraft and performing supernatural acts.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement that the kingdom's religious police who arrested and interrogated Fawza Falih, and the judges who tried her in the northern town of Quraiyat never gave her the opportunity to prove her innocence in the face of "absurd charges that have no basis in law."

They can't be serious...
The Saudi court cited an instance in which a man allegedly became impotent after being bewitched by Falih, the rights group said.

Rules of evidence is kind of weak in Saudi Arabia, eh?

This reminds me of the scene in Monty Python and The Holy Grail where they accuse a woman of being a witch. I love the "Very small rocks!" line; I think it was John Cleese who played VILLAGER #3 in the movie.

BEDEMIR: Quiet, quiet. Quiet! There are ways of telling whether she is a witch.
CROWD: Are there? What are they?
BEDEMIR: Tell me, what do you do with witches?
VILLAGER #2: Burn!
CROWD: Burn, burn them up!
BEDEMIR: And what do you burn apart from witches?
VILLAGER #1: More witches!
VILLAGER #2: Wood!
BEDEMIR: So, why do witches burn?
VILLAGER #3: B -- ... 'cause they're made of wood...?
CROWD: Oh yeah, yeah...
BEDEMIR: So, how do we tell whether she is made of wood?
VILLAGER #1: Build a bridge out of her.
BEDEMIR: Aah, but can you not also build bridges out of stone?
VILLAGER #2: Oh, yeah.
BEDEMIR: Does wood sink in water?
VILLAGER #1: No, no.
VILLAGER #2: It floats! It floats!
VILLAGER #1: Throw her into the pond!
CROWD: The pond!
BEDEMIR: What also floats in water?
VILLAGER #1: Bread!
VILLAGER #2: Apples!
VILLAGER #3: Very small rocks!
VILLAGER #1: Cider!
VILLAGER #2: Great gravy!
VILLAGER #1: Cherries!
VILLAGER #3: Churches -- churches!
VILLAGER #2: Lead -- lead!
ARTHUR: A duck.
CROWD: Oooh.
BEDEMIR: Exactly! So, logically...,
VILLAGER #1: If... she... weighs the same as a duck, she's made of wood.
BEDEMIR: And therefore -- ?
VILLAGER #1: A witch!
CROWD: A witch!

I have the DVD at home so I'll rip the scene and post it later.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Rose Hills Memorial Park

My sister, Rebecca, Addy, and I went to Rose Hills on Saturday to visit grandma for Chinese New Year. We also wanted to see if they put in the grave marker as well. It took us a few minutes to find the right spot.

View towards downtown LA

Luxury Ride - Foxxi misQ

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Royalty in Irvine

Rumor has it that Prince Andrew was at our campus today, checking out a chip that was designed in our Cambridge, UK office. I didn't see him but I did see a lot of limos, CHP escort, and what looked like Secret Service people outside our building. I thought it was for our Board of Directors but I guess they don't usually get police protection.

Speaking of which, Henry Samueli ditched our Board of Directors' meeting yesterday. He was meeting President Bush in the White House along with the rest of the Anaheim Ducks.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Car Repair

I just picked up the Z this afternoon from the body shop. It cost me ~$220 to replace the right front fender shield in the wheel well. Now that the wiper fluid reservoir and tubing are protected, I can drive the Z again.

I've been talking about selling the Z for years. At this point, unless I get another car, I'll probably keep it.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Friday, February 1, 2008

Aerial Photos


Fashion Island

Avalon, Catalina Island

Moffett Airfield - Home of Google's 767 (they'll need a lot more solar cells to offset all that CO2 from each flight)

I brought my Garmin GPS with me since we were renting a car in San Jose. The satellite signal was pretty strong so I was tracking our flight most of the way. Somewhere over Santa Maria, our Boeing 737 was traveling at 542 MPH. Southwest allows you to use a GPS receiver after take-off but not American. I was hoping to see if the Embraer jet was slower since the scheduled flight time between SNA and SJC for Southwest was 1:15 (737) while American Eagle was 1:35 (ERJ-140).