Monday, September 29, 2008

Airplane Food

On my flight from Chengdu to Hong Kong last week, there were a lot of Chinese tourists visiting Hong Kong (just in time for the typhoon). I sat next to two ladies and it was pretty apparent that they don't fly often; it may have been their first flight ever. They talked loudly for the entire 2.5 hour in the air.

During the Dragonair flight, they served breakfast. When the tray arrived, there was a croissant and a small plastic container of butter. Neither of them knew what to do with the butter (there was no Chinese on any of the packaging). One of them opened up the package and put a chunk of the butter into her mouth directly. The other one couldn't open the package and gave up. Later, the flight attendant came around with English tea. I gave her my cup and also took some sugar and cream for my tea. Both ladies asked for tea as well and one of them took a creamer while asking the other what it was. She then opened the seal and drank the cream like a shot of alcohol. Mmm... maybe I should have offered to help.

I've also noticed that Chinese passengers are not very polite to the flight attendants. I always thank them for giving me the food tray, offering me a drink, or even taking the tray away after meals. Never have I seen a "Chinese" Chinese person (as opposed to a Chinese-American) thank the flight attendant for service.

Fantasy Football

Heh, I'm doing better than I thought I would in my fantasy football league. After 4 weeks, it looks like I'll be 4-0 in my money league. I was really worried about this week since 1/2 of my team has their bye week and I had to scramble to get replacement players. I'm up 77-64, though my opponent still has their defense left to play tonight (Pittsburg).

I also won in my other free league which brings me to 2-2. I was projected to lose by 20+ points so I'm happy, even though there's no money at risk.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Yet Another China Product Quality Control Problem

Reuters Article
BEIJING (Reuters) - The number of Chinese infants sick in hospital after drinking tainted milk formula doubled to nearly 13,000 and the country's top quality regulator resigned on Monday in the latest blight on the "made-in-China" brand.

Four deaths have been blamed on the toxic milk powder, which causes kidney stones and agonizing complications, and a string of Asian countries have banned or recalled Chinese milk products.


I read a newspaper article that White Rabbit milk candy was found to be contaminated with melamine in Singapore. I just bought a bag from the market to take home yesterday.

NZ finds high melamine levels in White Rabbit candies

WELLINGTON, New Zealand - New Zealand's Food Safety Authority has found the industrial chemical melamine in imported Chinese White Rabbit Creamy Candies and warned Wednesday that people should not eat them.

"This product contains sufficiently high levels of melamine which may, in some individuals, cause health problems such as kidney stones," deputy chief executive Sandra Daly said in a statement on the agency's Web site. "The levels we have found in these products are unacceptable."

Melamine is the chemical that has sickened thousands of Chinese children and touched off a new food scare after it began turning up in milk products.

People worried that they or their children may have eaten the sweets should seek medical advice, she added.

OK, I probably should not eat the candy then.

Here is the bag of candy I tossed away. I bought it Monday in Chengdu for ~RMB18.

Chengdu Trip #6 - Taxi Ride to CTU

Lots of lightning and thunder. The taxi driver had her hazard lights on but was still driving 80+km/h.

Chengdu Trip #6 - Hong Kong Airport

I got a call at around 11pm last night from Cathay Pacific telling me that my flight back to LAX from Hong Kong was canceled. Since there are only two flights out of Chengdu to Hong Kong, I had to get up real early this morning to catch the 8:20am flight. I was a bit pissed off since I had to rearrange my shuttle from LAX and coordinate with my parent's friend to pick up my car at their house. I thought that perhaps Cathay Pacific canceled the flight because there weren't enough passengers on it since it's a Tuesday. However, I just found out that there is a typhoon due to arrive in Hong Kong around midnight so I'm actually glad that they got a hold of me and put me on an earlier flight home.

Typhoon Hagupit, currently ~100 miles from Hong Kong with 130+ mph winds.

There was a huge thunderstorm this morning in Chengdu. It started at around 3am and continued on and off. At times, the lightning was pretty much continuous. I had to run out in the pouring rain to catch a cab at 6am; actually my friend went out with an umbrella and hailed a cab for me while I hid in the building lobby. The cab ride was pretty freaky since we could only see out the front windshield. Of course, people still drove crazy; someone honked at us from behind because we did not run a red light.

I was bored this morning so I tried to capture some lightning with my point-and-shoot camera... not very successful.

Starry Night function with 15 second exposure

I'm sitting in the Cathay Pacific lounge waiting for my flight to leave for LAX. Normally I have a 7 hour layover in Hong Kong and sometimes Leon and I go into Hong Kong Island for dinner and meetings. This time, it's only a 2 hour layover, just enough time to get some food from the lounge.

Won-ton noodles and some steamed baos from the Cathay Pacific lounge. The Noodle Bar is not French/Italian food at the IFC but since Lehman filed for bankruptcy, I'm not sure if we'll get any more dinners from Leon's cousin. :(

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Chengdu Trip #6 - Chengdu Day 3

Today is a "work" day at PMI. I took a taxi from my friend's apartment to the university to catch a ride to work. I finally got on one of the newer Volkswagon Jetta taxis. The fare rate is the same but the meter starts off at RMB7 instead of RMB5. The ride is a bit nicer but not sure if it's worth the extra RMB2. Last time I was here was a week after the huge Wenchuan earthquake. Since then, they've moved into the offices and planning on moving the equipment from the old factory in this week.

Leon's office. As soon as I got here, I closed the doors and turned on the A/C. It's pretty hot and muggy today in Chengdu.


Since the new factory has a kitchen and dining area, they have been cooking lunch on-site. Right now, there are only 8 or 9 people in the office and only the cook and the security guard (married couple) are living here. After we move the equipment from the old factory over here this week, some of the workers will start living here as well.

Kitchen on the 3rd floor. That's the largest wok I've ever seen.

There were four dishes plus soup plus rice for lunch. The squash was grown at the factory site as well as the vegetables in the soup. Not sure if we want to advertise that to our customers.

My lunch. The metal tray was a bit weird... felt like I was in prison or something.

2nd floor bathrooms. It's pretty nice. I hope that's not where all my investment went.

Out of the 5 stalls in the men's bathroom, there was only one sit-down toilet; the rest were squatties. I told Leon that they need to put our names on the door.

Chengdu Trip #6 - Chengdu Day 2

I've only been here for 24 hours and my nose/sinus is killing me. I don't feel sick so it's probably the air pollution. It's especially bad this trip. I'm looking out the window and I can barely see the TV tower; usually it's pretty visible. Today was another kick-back day so I can get some rest. We went downstairs to get some breakfast and fruit this morning. I had 2 meat baos, 2 red bean baos, and a soy bean milk for RMB3. Even though baos were pretty small, they were really good. We also bought some grapes and walnuts from the fruit vendor. The grapes were big and juicy but contained seeds. My friend said that they don't have seedless grapes here. I also ate the entire grape (minus the seeds) which she thought was pretty weird; evidently no one here eats the skin.

The fruit vendor cracking walnuts for us (RMB12 per kg). They're raw so they taste funny; the walnuts we buy in markets back home are roasted. I spent the rest of the afternoon peeling the cracked shells off the nuts.

For lunch, my friend went downstairs and got some bentos for RMB6 or about $0.90. You get some rice and an assortment of dishes. It was okay... since we're in Chengdu, everything was a bit too spicy. If you eat it downstairs at the restaurant, you also get a bowl of soup. Earlier this afternoon, we went to the local supermarket and bought some stuff. There is a local peanut candy that I get each time I'm here and bring back to the US. I also bought some White Rabbit milk candy to bring home. Tonight, another friend is coming over and we're going out for dinner and maybe to Haggen Das again to use the other gift certificate.


We ended up having dinner at a BBQ buffet next door to the sizzling steak place. The buffet is similar to a Brazilian churrascaria where servers come to your table with meat on skewers and slice pieces onto your plate. You can also get fruit, salad, and Chinese dishes (since we're in China) at a buffet counter in the middle of the restaurant. It was RMB42 per person and it wasn't really that good. There were not enough "good" meat (beef, pork, chicken) and too much weird stuff (apple, spicy lotus root, chicken kidney) for my liking.

Even though it was all-you-can-eat, they still kept track of what you were served. The Engrish name for the restaurant was "spring self help B.B.Q. Restaurant." Technically, the translation is correct but it makes it sound like you're getting therapy instead of food. Also, I found that Chinese people don't understand the rules of capitalization. Words and phrases are capitalized seemingly at random.

Chengdu Trip #6 - Chengdu Day 1

I guess the Olympics pollution control worked since the air in Beijing was pretty good. Arriving in Chengdu yesterday afternoon, I noticed the air quality is really bad. In fact, my nose and sinus starting burning as soon as I stepped off the plane; I'm somewhat happy that I'm only here for 3 days this time.

I didn't do too much the first day in Chengdu. I took a nap and went to dinner with my friend at a sizzling steak place. My steak was pretty good but her T-bone steak was a bit tough. At the next table were two mom and their sons... the kids were totally out of control. It was pretty much like that at each table with kids. I think the "Little Emperor" syndrome is going to be a problem in China's future as an entire generation of spoiled kids become adults.

Pedestrian shopping area near Zhongfu Road. It felt like there was more neon this time.

Statue of Dr. Sun Yat-sen in the middle of the pedestrian shopping area. Both Taiwan and PRC recognize him as the father of modern China as he led the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty in 1911. I wonder what he would think of communist China today.

After dinner we went to Haggen Das for ice cream. They actually have a very nice sit down place right behind Dr. Sun's statue. The prices are pretty expensive though. This is the first time I've been to Haggen Das in Chengdu even though this is my sixth trip. The ice cream specialty above was RMB79 or about $12. Actually, the only reason we're here is because my friend has two RMB100 gift certificates. Otherwise we'd probably just get a popsicle at the market.

We also ordered a Tiramisu (RMB28) in order to use up one of the gift certificates. It was surprisingly good. You probably would pay $4 in the US for a good dessert after dinner.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Beijing Trip - Beijing Airport

I’m currently on my Air China flight from Beijing to Chengdu. I arrived at the airport at around 9:30am and tried to check-in electronically but the machine couldn’t recognize my passport. Checking in at the counter wasn’t too bad though and there weren’t any problems. I bought my ticket through so I was a bit worried since I didn’t have a paper ticket. The terminal is really big but I’m not sure it’s that much bigger than the HKIA building.

With my boarding pass in hand, I tried to go down to the arrival area to look for John Chen. I didn’t know which flight he was on but there were not that many international arrivals. The only flight from London was BA39 but it was 30 minutes late. Seeing how the people walking out were from a flight that landed 45 minutes ago, chances were slim that I would see John before I had to board my flight so I gave up. Maybe I’ll see him back in the US during Thanksgiving. One thing I did notice about the arrival area was that there were almost no seats for people waiting.

The flight I’m on is not that full. I think it’s a Boeing 757Airbus A321-200 and it’s really new. Even for a 2.5 hour flight, they served us lunch. I’m sitting in one of the emergency exit rows; I seem to get the emergency exit row seats quite often in Asia but never in the US. The plane and service is much better than the last time I flew on Sichuan Airlines from Chengdu to Sanya. On the in-flight video, they show a short clip on the Olympics. At the end, there’s a shot of an athlete waving. You would think since it’s Air China, they would have a Chinese athlete since there were so many gold medal winners. Interestingly, it was the PeruvianParaguayan model that participated in the javelin event.

I’m also sitting right next the mid-plane lavatory. It’s surprising how many people can’t figure out how to open the door. At least they all figured out how to lock the door from the inside.


I still can't get the Internet to work on my computer at my friend's apartment in Chengdu. The gateway probably has a list of MAC addresses of users so I need them to add my computer. I'll probably keep using my friends computer to update this blog. The connection is pretty slow anyway so I'll add pictures when I'm in Hong Kong or when I get back home. At least I can post text for now.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Beijing Trip - Beijing Day 7 (part 2) & 8

This is my final morning in Beijing. I am heading off to the airport in about 40 minutes for my 11:30am flight to Chengdu. It's been a hectic week in Beijing, living with 9 strangers in a two bedroom apartment. Other than the crazy "showlet" (shower + toilet) bathroom (I never got the chance to buy a shower curtain) and my sore ankle, it's been great.

Last night was our farewell dinner with the DreamArts team. We went to a hot pot place where you share one pot in the middle of the table instead of having your own mini-pot. I usually get sick afterward so I didn't eat too much, especially from the spicy half of the pot. The highlight of the evening was the hand-tossed noodle demonstration where they toss and stretch some dough into noodles to be cooked in your hot pot. After the restaurant guy did it, Brian wanted to try and it was pretty hilarious. I'll upload the video later.

Plaza where the hot pot restaurant was located. It's not as Irvine-like as the other place we visited but it still had some western stores. The hot pot restaurant was huge; it took up the entire 4th floor on the right side.

We were originally going to eat here, at the Love Feast. Not sure what type of food they serve.

Noodle tossing

More noodle tossing. It turned out the guy wasn't even the regular noodle tosser. The restaurant was really busy and one of the managers had to substitute.

Brian and the temporary noodle tosser

Brian rolled his noodles into a ball and we tossed it in the pot. It never cooked all the way through. After reviewing the video, we also saw that it touched the ground. I hope we got rid of that piece before cooking... :(

Team picture with DreamArts staff after dinner

As we were walking home, two of the DreamArt staff (Sarah and Elim), came with us on Sarah's bike; Elim had her bike stolen this morning. Most of us haven't ridden a bike in China so a few people were taking turns playing with it. It had a "seat" above the rear wheel so people were riding double as well.

Steve and Brian on the bike

As with a lot of things in China, the bike wasn't very well constructed. As Brian was riding the bike, another team member tried jumping on the back seat and totally crushed the rear wheel. I've ridden a lot of bikes and the rear wheel should not have bent like that. As I type, Sarah's bike is here in the guesthouse apartment; we're going to take it to get fixed this morning, hopefully replacing the rear wheel with a stronger rim.

We saw this on the way back from dinner. Not even sure what happened since it looked like the Audi in the photo hit another car parked along the median. Maybe a bit of drinking was involved.

Instead of going to KTV as originally planned, we went back to the guesthouse after dinner to debrief and talk about our experience this week in Beijing. For everyone, it was a very positive experience. Since most of the team is young, i.e., under 30 years old, many were still not set on a career path and considering what this trip meant to their future plans.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Beijing Trip - Beijing Day 7

This morning, we went to the DreamArts Center again for morning worship and devotion, followed by a quick group art therapy session. Today is more of a free day so people were planning on shopping or playing basketball this afternoon. I finally managed to reach my friend at Google here in Beijing so I left early to have lunch with him. Google is pretty far from Wangjing; I had to take a taxi to a subway station (RMB13) then ride the subway to Tsinghua University. The trip took about 45 minutes, mainly because I went the wrong way on the yellow line from Wangjing West station (north).

The north loop of the yellow line is actually much longer than it appears on the stylized map. It took me about 40 minutes to go 8 stations.

The first building you see walking up to the Tsinghua Science Park is Microsoft. There are a lot of hi-tech companies with offices here.

Google lawn sign in front of their building

Visitor pass

Free lunch at the Google cafeteria. There were a lot of people and the food was so so.

Broadcom has a small office in the Tsinghua Science Park. I walked around until I found Innovation Plaza. On the 2nd floor was a sales office with several offices and cubicles. I got there around 1pm and no one was there except a few engineers in the lab.

Broadcom lab on the 2nd floor. There were also more cubicles and labs on the 1st and 4th floor.

Wow, someone actually enforcing parking rules in China. This was at the main entrance to the Tsinghua Science Park.

View from Wudaokao subway station towards Tsinghua University. On the way home, I took the subway the other direction which took much less time.

Tonight's agenda is a farewell dinner with the DreamArts staff since we're leaving this weekend and KTV after dinner. Maybe those two Chinese songs I learned will come in handy again.

Beijing Trip - Beijing Day 5 & 6

Day 5 was mostly spent at the DreamArts Center. We went there in the morning to hear James share about his vision for China and the DreamArt Center, went to lunch at a Szechuan restaurant, and spent the afternoon discussing possibilities of a new ministry.

Lunch aftermath

Hanging out at the DreamArts Center

DreamArts building (19th floor)

Since there was a prayer meeting at night, we went to dinner early at a Korean restaurant. It was a bit different from Korean BBQ in the US and it was pretty expensive. The food was okay but the service could have been better.

Today we went to the Great Wall. Out of the three tourist sites, we went to the furthest one, Simatai (司馬臺). It's also the least renovated so the condition is more authentic. It took about two hours to drive there from Beijing; the DreamArts people arranged a 19-passenger minibus for us and Elim came with us. Actually, none of the staff at the DreamArts Center has been to the Great Wall.

Our minibus. It cost us RMB850 to rent the minibus plus the driver for the day. It was pretty crappy. We were passed by all sorts of cars, trucks, and buses, and the seat covers were really dirty.

View from the bottom of the hill. There is a cable car that takes people up to the actual wall. However, it was under repairs today so we had to walk a long way uphill.

Looking back down the hill

Looking up towards to the first tower

Window view from the first tower


Some more...

I stopped climbing at the 2nd tower. I think I could have climbed some more but my ankle was sore and going downhill would have been worse. A couple of people stayed with me while the rest of the team climbed up a few more towers.

2nd tower view. There were some local people that accompanied us up the wall. They were hanging around to try and sell us souvenirs. I ended up buying a color photo book of all the Great Wall sites for RMB100.

On the way down, there was a zip line that we can pay to go across the lake and down to the parking lot. It was only RMB40 and save me a lot of walking downhill.

During the trip to and back from the Great Wall, we witnessed a lot of crazy driving. The road was mostly single lane each way and people would try to pass all the time. Everyone was so impatient and no one followed the rules for the center divider. One time, there were four cars side-by-side coming at us directly. I don't know why the Chinese people are so impatient.

After the Great Wall, we drove back to the apartment to change and get our passports so we can go the the BICF young adult fellowship. We ended up there almost an hour late and the fellowship was not too exciting. After the fellowship, we went to dinner and dessert at Bellagio, a restaurant near the Beijing Worker's Stadium. It was a cafe like place with pan-Asian dishes and fairly expensive; the final bill was >RMB1000.

After dinner, we decided to check out a club next door for "cultural anthropology" purposes. For some reason, the guy at the door stopped me about my swollen ankle. I'm not sure what his problem was, maybe he had a bad day at work and decided to harass me at random. Oh well, didn't really feel like going into his club anyway. It just reinforces the feeling that rules and laws in China are enforced randomly.