Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Forgetfulness is a form of freedom

**Note: I’m so far behind on my writing that this is actually from about two weeks ago. Hope you enjoy laughing at me as much as I enjoy being a jackass –L***

I was sick all last weekend. Not ‘diarrhea-cha-cha-cha’, but a nasty head cold. My nose is raw from the sandpaper style tissues so prevalent here, my cough has given me a mid-brain headache, my sinuses have given me a front-brain headache, and like the feeling you get from staring into the sunlight for a whole day. I want to drill into my head and drain the snot out like syrup from a maple tree. Friday, we had our weekly work meeting over Peking Roast Duck. The food was good; the meeting was kind of gay. The Project Manger here, Marlow, is a pretty cool guy, but he’s already starting to kill these projects with details and duplicate work. We already have to do timesheets for GE, but he wants us to fill out a spreadsheet so he can keep track of the finances. We already have to do expense reports, but he wants us to keep track of our receipts in the same spreadsheet. Now, I typically do my expense report for a trip all at one time and it’s a great pain in the ass. This is a bit of overkill. I’ll just copy and paste my other report and turn it over to him, he can fill out the necessary details himself. He’s only going to be here for a month or so, and is pretty sick of it here already, so maybe he’ll back off a bit after that trust level is established.

Saturday rained all day, I spent the whole day working, sneezing and thinking I should have just stayed in Langfang for the weekend. I would have gotten just as much done there as I did here. I’ll be here at least the next two weekends doing sightseeing stuff when Jayson comes to town, but alas, here I am, waiting to return to Langfang. I’m sick of hotels; this is probably my fifth one in two weeks.

I did manage to walk to a Starbucks on Saturday. Coffee is a sacred resource around here. There’s no such thing as the ‘bottomless cup’ unless you’re at the hotel breakfast buffet and even then, the waitress only comes by once the whole meal. I’ve resorted to watch where they put the coffee bucket and serve my damn self. I have been balancing myself out as much as possible by coffee. The grocery store only really has two types of coffee and I bought one of each. I drink it all day in my room and dream about it when I’m in the office. It’s all pretty nasty instant coffee, but as long as it’s got caffeine in it, I can adapt. Starbucks is the only place that has actual brewed coffee, so I hung out there for a couple hours today reading a book and chugging cup after precious cup of the lovely, black, bean. Unfortunately, it’s got those damn North American prices too.

We did trek through the rain a few blocks to a TGI Fridays the other night. All of us were kind of feeling the need for a burger after a week of eating every other type of meat. The only time I’ve ever eaten at TGI Fridays is in Chile and China, I wouldn't even think of eating there in the US. Marlow and Laura have been going through the tummy-trouble problems the last day or two, I’ve been going through this cold thing, Marla is just sick of the crazy foods, so it just tasted good. I gotta give it up for the wait staff at these American restaurants; they all speak pretty decent English, even though they probably learned it just for the job, and you know they get made fun of by every piece of shit American that eats in there.

I realized over the weekend that it’s probably a good thing I’m not working with Laura. She’s really nice and fun and very smart, but she’s so pumped to be in China that it’s a bit overwhelming. It’s like in college, when we had a keg party, there was always the guy who was so excited for the party that he gets totally wasted by lunchtime and spends the rest of the night passed out (of course, I’ve never been that guy, never….). I completely understand her excitement, she’s really into the Asian culture and the Chinese language & people, shit, it was her major in college. I’m just more of a subtle-excitement kind of guy not a keg-stand-after-breakfast guy. Once again, I’m a total prick & a pain in the ass to travel with, I am just making an observation, I know I’m grumpy all the time and can be real chore to be around.

Evelyn came in from Kansas City on Sunday afternoon. Evelyn is coming to Langfang for a couple days to install another program for PetroChina and do some risk consulting work. She’s really good at what she does, but often expects too much out of the people that work for her. Consequently, several very talented young people in our department have transferred to another part of the company or quit because of her. My relationship with Evelyn is pretty up and down, mainly because she’s very demanding and doesn't listen very well & I’m an asshole and like to have my way. When we’re not working together, we get a long very well, she’s smart and funny and generally fun to be around. But when we work together, it’s a complete different story; my jaw is clenched and my head becomes filled with murderous thoughts. I wasn't too sure how we’d get along this time, but she sounded pretty good on the phone & I have high hopes.

I finally got to take a solo walk around Langfang Sunday night. I know I’ve said it before, but I get stared at quite a bit. The only way to make it bearable is to smile as big as possible. It lets them know that you know they’re staring, but that it’s ok. Most of them come back with a big “HELLOOOO”. I think I found a whorehouse, but I’m not positive. There is this weird shaped shopping center about two blocks from the hotel; it’s a big rectangle, like two blocks long, with a courtyard in the middle. Around the whole thing are two floors of miscellaneous shops; each shop has a street-entrance and a courtyard-entrance. These are not shops like the Gap & Foot Locker; these shops are just made up businesses that you wouldn't think would pay the rent. A comb shop (I have no idea why, but they’re all over the place around here), internet cafe with two computers, a pool hall, a couple bars, a wig shop, street-food all over the place. Well, this being Sunday evening, nearly everything was closed, so there were very few people out. It was mostly people just sitting around watching for a change in scenery that didn't change. Of course, I was the change in that scenery. This place is a trip; I can’t wait to walk around when there are more people.

Anyway, one of the shops had all of the windows painted, so you couldn't see inside. Outside was one guy and three girls who were dressed up nice & slutty like my ex-girlfriend on a Friday night when she was cheating on me. From across the courtyard, they looked pretty decent, but upon ‘casually’ strolling by to gain a better look, I felt gypped. Have you ever seen a Picasso? Picasso’s paintings are interesting because he will paint a face that has all of the necessary components, but he may kind of scramble them up a bit, the a nose & the eyes may be on the chin, with the mouth on the shoulder, that kind of style. These girls were technically all there, but that’s all I’m going to say.

Most people selling stuff around here will follow you trying to tempt you, but they have a pursuit radius that is proportional to the size of their shop (or towel of bracelets on the subway). So, for example, if it’s a newspaper stand, they may follow you five feet. If they’re selling something off the street, they may take one or two steps. But if they have a building, these guys may follow you 25 feet or more (which means you have to say no about 6 times).

The only guy outside followed me about half a block trying to get me inside. Meanwhile, the Picasso’s were laughing behind me. I bet those eyes & noses fall into their correct location after a few shots of that nasty ‘wine’, tonight is not the night to find out. I’m not saying I won’t find out, but not tonight. I’ll probably get wasted one night and wake up next to a goat in a bed full of golf balls. It’s all part of the experience.

Xinlei is out of town for the week doing Green Belt training in Shanghai. Green Belt is part of this scam that someone has sold GE called 6 Sigma. The value of Six Sigma falls somewhere between the value of an extra nipple and used toilet paper. Someone sold this crap to GE & ran off into the sunset laughing and counting their money, kind of like the Springfield Monorail (Simpsons reference). So on Monday morning, we were introduced to another new person who will be available to help us out with translation and such. His name is Chris. He came in with Marlow from Beijing in the morning. The job market in Beijing is pretty competitive, 1.3 million people and about 25 jobs. Chris is an electrical engineer with several years of experience speaking and translating English. Chris is very nice & fired up to help, but it can be a bit overbearing I think.

By mid-week, Marlow was driving me absolutely crazy. Evelyn is talking and running the show for her stuff today, so I’ve been taking advantage of this to get some other work done. It was going great until Marlow got in and started reading over my shoulder and pulling documents out and making me ‘understand’ them. It would be different if he could sum up his thoughts in an orderly, time effective manner, but the guy goes on and on and on. Ask a yes or no question and I get a college dissertation. I start to drift off in my own little world with random thoughts I didn't know existed: “Do I like ranch or BBQ?” “If you say thesis really slowly, it sounds like ‘this is’, now that’s comedy.” “BBQ” “Duck tongue tastes like rubber.” “I need a shoe phone like Get Smart, that’d be awesome”. Then suddenly, he’s looking at me like I’m supposed to answer. Quick, say something to make him think you’re paying attention: “BBQ Duck tongue in my shoe phone!!” I’ve been caught.

Evelyn has already made several comments about her gaining 10 lbs in 7 months to me and the first thing that Mr. Feng says to her when we got there was ‘Evelyn, you’re more beautiful because you’re more fat’. That’s a tart pickle to swallow. (Evelyn, I can gain 10 lbs in two days.)

We went out to dinner with the PetroChina guys, Chris & Evelyn on Monday night. Those guys had the nasty booty-wine flowin’. I think the pervs like to get Evelyn drunk, but in the end it was Chris who was throwing up in the bathroom, on his first day of work. We were picking our stuff up in the office after dinner & Chris went to the bathroom & started making crazy-loud noises, like he was trying to cough up a porcupine. It went on for like 10 minutes, people were looking around kind of nervous, I was trying to pretend I was nervous, but really all I wanted to do was go down to the bathroom and point and laugh, some college habits are hard to break.

That night, I took another walk around the poor-folk district, or as I like to call it, everything outside of the hotel gates. This provides a great opportunity to the community to stare at me & say ‘hello’. I think I’m doing a community service. I think every business in what I thought was the whorehouse district is actually a bar, and I think I was standing at the back door. Every building has about five to ten people inside of it & when I walk by, they all stop what they’re doing to watch. It’s the perfect scene from a movie, like when a bum walks into the Ritz or the black guy walks into a bar in Mexico. Soup spoons mid-drink dripping slowly, music scratching stop, pool sticks stop, the only thing that moves are eyes, and they all move in unison watching me. (It’s worth noting that my high-school football coach was always barking at me to keep my eyes on the ‘numbers’, he should go down here & recruit these people, they’d take Halstead Ks by storm.)

Chris is like a robo-interpreter. When anything is going on, he’s just appears over your back like some kind of Chinese shoulder-angel. ‘He says: It’s hot today & we may have to drown our child if it’s a girl”. What?! Man, I don't think they want everything translated, besides, that guy is a street merchant, and I really don't care. Evelyn understands a bit of Mandarin, so she can kind of get the jest of what they’re talking about & he’s driving her crazy. So every time she goes to talk to one of the guys, I make sure to whisper to Chris that he really needs to be over there helping, so he sprints over there & perches on her shoulder, meanwhile Evelyn is getting all flustered at him. Good times.

There are three people in the office that are kind of managing the technical part of the conversion; they’re basically just production workers fresh out of college. We’ve got a ton of this level of people in KC. I’m horrible with names, so, I’ve been forced to make them up (again). The guy, who’s name is Mr. Chen (pronounced like the place balls should rest on someone’s face), so of course his name is Deez. There are two girls, Hansel & Gretel. One is pretty tall & speaks her English by drawing out the O’s and Ahh’s with her low voice. The other is about 15 lbs and likes to wear 1980’s prom dresses to work. When she stretches, it looks like she’s got a couple Chihuahuas’ in a headlock, plus her legs are about as hairy as an Italian butcher’s (not that I know, but when I think of leg hair descriptions, you really need two words). All three of them speak a little English, but it’s mostly just really frustrating because I can’t understand a bit of it & Xinlei has to translate their English to his English and I translate to my own version of English. Ohh, and they’re all smarter than about 90% of our staff & have their Masters in things like engineering, software programming & database technology. Other than that, they’re just like our entry-level staff.

If the steak I had for dinner was a rib eye, then I’m wearing purple panties and a Spice Girls t-shirt. I’ve always wondered what hamburger meat looked like before getting sent through the grinder. Is it really supposed to be grey? Note to self: When ordering meat here, get it well done, unless you like that cool icy center of meat in the middle.

Installing and getting PVI to work today is a totally frustrating experience. A combination of my sparse knowledge of administering a SQL database server, my even sparser knowledge of the software & my yet sparser knowledge of reading the Chinese language on a computer were the beginnings of my frustrations. The frustration increased even further having up to seven people standing anywhere from two feet to ½ inch from me the entire time, all barking directions in several languages.

There is this ‘drink’ that the PetroChina people put in the rooms here, that looks pretty good from the packaging. The packages make it look like a cup of pudding, I sure do like pudding. They tell me it is milk. These cups are kept at room temperature (which is about 88 degrees around here) on the table for several weeks. So, of course, I was a bit leery of room-temperature milk that has been out for a couple weeks, and also, of course, I had to try it. The stuff is thick, like heavy whipping cream and tastes like warm unflavored yogurt. Not a totally offensive taste, if you don't mind unflavored yogurt, but it is hardly something that I would drink down after a jog in the park or a handful of Oreos. The room is hot and Chris gets right in my ear & slurps this stuff down like it’s a cold beer. Then he smacks his lips for about 3 minutes afterwards, getting every bit of that warm yogurt flavor into his gullet. It makes me want to stab him in the eye with a chopstick.

When I got home, I called Troughton who is at a user conference in San Diego, which means he’s either wasted or hung-over. He’s coming to town in a week & wanted to talk to me, so he gave me the ‘call-anytime’ green light. So I called him at 9:00 pm, which is around 6:00 am California time. Part of me was looking forward to waking him up, mostly because I’m jealous that I’m not out there with all those guys. He answered the phone and sounded like a man on his last breath in the middle of the desert. He said he just got home a couple hours earlier & was too wasted to talk. I told him I’d call him back, but the next time I remembered, I was drunk.

I’m leaving for Hong Kong on Wednesday to get more visa stuff taken care of. One thing I’ve really been leaving out of this gay journal is all of the phone calls & emails that I’ve been barraged with concerning my relocation. Every day, I get at least two phone calls and three emails. My visa was issued, now I have to go to Hong Kong and get my work permit. I have no idea what it will be like; everyone says that I’ll love the city. What do any of these people know about me and what I’m going to love or hate? I’m leaving Wednesday night & returning to Beijing on Thursday, quick trip, probably not much time to get a lot of sight seeing done, but we’ll see.

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