Monday, April 27, 2009

Job at China Windey

It has been awhile since I wrote about my working situation here in China. For a long time, that was because there wasn't anything to write about, but recently it was because I wanted to make sure things were stabilized a little before I called any false alarms about finding a job. Since I have had several potential job offers that never quite worked out, this time I wanted to make sure it was actually going to happen. That way I would minimize the chances of making myself look quite the fool. Most people reading this blog will probably think that all I've been doing in China is traveling, but actually for the past two months I have been gainfully employed. Fortunately, after a long search, I finally found a job I liked in the renewable energy industry. The company's name is China Windey and they develop, manufacture, sale, and maintain wind turbines. I first found the company at the Sustainable Economy Expo in Hangzhou and interviewed with them clear back in December. It just so happens that the company is located right here in Hangzhou, so I didn't even have to move to a new city. For the most part, Windey is a pretty young company, mainly because the industry was small until recently and not many people have experience in the area. The building we are in is pretty modern and is in the middle of a science and technology park. One floor above us is the company Alibaba's headquarters, so there are some relatively well known companies in the area.
West Lake International Plaza of Science and Technology The Office
Although I was kind of trying to get out of the Information Technology type of work, my position here is IT related. However, it's a good chance for me to get some experience in the renewable energy industry and I can learn a lot besides IT work during my time here. My role is mostly working with the communication system between the turbines in the field and handling some of the data that is measured. Some of the work is pretty similar to what I did at Deloitte, but it's kind of like I've been promoted two levels and have more responsibility.
Windey R&D Center
I am the first foreigner (i.e. non-Chinese) person to work here, so that has made it interesting at times. The first day I started working, a lot of my coworkers seemed a little surprised and nervous to have me around, but now everyone is used to me being here. Everyone in my department has been really friendly to me and mostly things have been good working here. However, the bad part of being the first foreigner is that their HR department didn't have any experience in obtaining the work visa and progress has been slow on that front. Visa issues seem to have constantly given me trouble since I first arrived in China.
Science and Technology Plaza
It's been pretty interesting working at a Chinese company and there are definitely some differences, but for the most part everything is good. One of the funny things is that after lunch it's ok for people to take a 30 minute nap at their desk, so almost everyone is asleep during that time. During that time, I normally just waste some time on the internet or check the NBA game scores. I'm afraid that if I fall asleep I'll be out for two hours and wake up in a daze, wondering where I'm at. For the most part, the type of work I do on a day to day basis working for a Chinese company isn't that different than what I'd do working an American one. However, the overall goals of the company and the way they do business is definitely different. I'm still trying to figure some of the ins and outs, but hopefully after a year here, I will have a better understanding. There have been a few funny things that have happened to me at work. One day they were making some kind of a video for the company and had a film crew here. The film crew say that I was drinking some green tea and were saying, "look at him, he's drinking tea instead of coffee!" like it was some kind of abnormality. I think of lot of Chinese people just assume that all foreigners prefer the same thing. When they were doing the filming, they were definitely trying to showcase the foreigner and wanted to show me in a couple clips. For one, I had to sit down and pretend I was in a meeting discussing some kind of wind turbine blueprint that I had no idea about, but I was willing to sell out my credibility to appear in a few seconds of corporate film. Another time, I had to do the HR training that is required for new hires here. Of course it was all in Chinese and they were having everyone introduce themselves. When I stood up and said I could speak a little Chinese (in Chinese), I saw a sea of smiles appear on everyone's faces and they started applauding my crude introduction. A lot of Chinese people are surprised when foreigners can speak much Chinese. It's kind of funny because they will always apologize that their English is not very good, when in reality I am in China so I should be apologizing to them that my Chinese is not very good. The main bad part about working in a Chinese company, though, is that sometimes in meetings I'll be either lost in translation or just lost when they are discussing things in Chinese. Mostly it doesn't bother me, but if I ever have something really critical I need to know from a meeting, it could be a problem. Besides that, there are only small problems like the fact that there are only squatter toilets in the office, instead of the western-style sit down toilet. Normally I avoid the squatter toilet like the plague, but now sometimes I have no choice. Another thing is that they only have hot water in the office. In China you can't drink the tap water, so they often have these big machines that make hot water. In some offices they'll also have a water cooler like we have in the US, but our office doesn't have that. It's a little bit annoying now that it's getting warmer, since I all I have to drink is refreshing and delicious boiling hot water.
China Windey Office
Despite all the delay, I'm excited to be working in China and in the industry I wanted. With all the bad economic news and layoffs I hear about going on in the US, I feel lucky to be in the situation I am in. Now, if I could only get the coveted work visa I have been waiting on for so long.

Monday, April 20, 2009


Xitang rough phonetic pronunciation (shee-tong) 
Chinese西塘pinyin: Xītáng
I had the first Monday of April off from work for "Tomb Sweeping" day, which is a day for Chinese people to remember their ancestors. I was looking for places nearby Hangzhou to travel and I had decided to go to one of the water towns. A water town is normally an ancient town that is built around a series of canals with a lot of bridges and scenic views. There are a lot of famous places nearby, but some of the most famous are pretty touristy and would surely be packed to the brim during the holiday. After doing a little research, I decided that Xitang would be a good choice for authenticity and fewer crowds. Since most of the water towns are pretty small, we just did an overnight trip. Upon arriving at the bus station and seeing the mass of humanity there, I remembered my previous promise to myself to avoid traveling during the holidays, but it seems that is one of the lessons I have a hard time learning. Even when arriving in Xitang we could see that the prices were a bit inflated and there were a lot of people there. Since Xitang is quite small and not that developed, it's difficult to find a place to stay online and book before going there and a lot of places were full when we arrived. Luckily, we ran into a few young Chinese people who were looking for a place to stay as well and found a cheaper room just outside of the ancient river part of the city. Like all tourist places throughout China, you have to pay to enter the main site and then also pay again for some attractions within the main site. However, the Chinese people told us that it is possible to enter the river town for free after 4 pm and before 8 am, so we decided to wait until after 4 pm to go inside. The river town itself is all centered around the canals. There are ancient buildings and wooden walkways all around the city. Mostly there are little shops selling touristy stuff and small vendors with street food in the buildings, but many of the buildings also have beds where it's possible to spend the night.
Nice Bridge
Canal with Ancient Buildings
Wooden Walkway
Locals Making Some Snacks
It was fun to explore the side streets and try all the food. Most of the food was pretty tasty and we mostly ate street food for the dinner there. There weren't many foreigners in Xitang, but not many people staring or asking to take pictures, so there must be foreigners there somewhat often.
Side Street
Side Street with Shops
Wes Wildin' Out on Some Crawdad
Once it was dark, we wanted to do one of the boat rides along the canal. At night they have all the red lanterns lit up and the city is very picturesque. They have small boats that hold around 10 people and there will be a guy that will row you up and down the canals for about a half hour. It's pretty great and with a little bit of rain falling, I felt like I was in an old Chinese kung fu movie. That is until I saw the throngs of tourists hovering around the shops on the walkways. Since it was night time, a lot of the pictures didn't turn out that well, but a few look pretty good.
River at Night
River at Night
People on Walkways
Open Windows
Late Night Restaurant, or "Nighthawks" Painting, Chinese Style
The next morning we woke up early to enter the town before the 8 am deadline. It was not raining this day and the sun started peaking out early, which made for a new view of the river town.
Breakfast and Tea on Walkways
Wes and the Rising Sun
Canal and Sun Reflection
Something crazy to see while traveling in China is how even Chinese city dwellers will be surprised or interested about how some of the local Chinese people live. The disparity of lifestyles is just as great between the two groups of Chinese people sometimes as between some of us who grew up in the US or western countries and the local Chinese. It's impossible to guess what the locals think when another Chinese person will get up close to take a picture of them, like in the picture below. As a foreigner, I think we can only observe these things and can never really understand fully the dynamic between two people who are really so different, even though they are from the same country.
Old Local Man
We walked around the whole town again in the morning. Since the town is not very large, we had seen almost everything the night before, but it was nice to see it under the light of day with a little sunshine.
Boats Cruising Down Canal
Canal with Cherry Blossom Tree
Black and White
After spending the morning and lunchtime in the city, we decided to head back home. When we got to the bus station, we found out that there weren't any buses for several hours because all the earlier ones were sold out. To kill some time, we decided to go get a massage. Since it's a pretty small town, we figured the prices would be pretty cheap. When we found a place, it looked a little suspicious, since a lot of massage parlors double as brothels in China. However, the prices were indeed quite cheap, so we decided to try it out. They took us to a normal room and it was just a normal massage with no funny business. However, when we finished and went to go pay, they charged us double the prices they said beforehand and that were displayed out front. At first, we were refusing to pay and asking why they were charging more. They said that they had given us the special "massage" and that we should just pay it. Since we had gone in at the late afternoon, not many people were there, but now we saw some girls in fishnet stockings and some shady characters hanging around, so we could definitely tell this place was suspect. They started being more aggressive and yelling at us a little, so I finally said that let's just pay and get out of this dump. Right as I got the money out and slammed it on the counter, I instinctively put up my middle finger and flipped them all the bird right in their faces. I'm not normally one to get angry and haven't really done something like that before, but being frustrated in not being able to speak Chinese well enough to defend myself and them treating us that way really made me mad. I hadn't planned to do that at all, but just did it at the last second. I have to say it got my point across quite clearly. After we walked out, the boss came out of the shop and started yelling at us some more, but we just walked away. I have to say that I felt much better after flipping them the bird and I felt we came away on the winning team, haha. My friend said that I've been in China too long if I'm arguing so much about less than $10, but it was more the principle. For the most part, things like that don't happen too often in China, at least from my experience, but every once in awhile someone will try to take advantage of you like that. Later, when we went to the bus station, we had a really nice, humble Chinese guy come and try to speak English with us, which is always nice. It goes to show that for every bad experience you have, you have a few more good experiences with Chinese people being very friendly to you, so you have to keep that in perspective. I have to admit that now it's all over, it's more a funny story and it's funny how you might surprise yourself in certain situations. After all the side story, I'd say that Xitang is very pretty and there are a lot of beautiful things to see there. It's not so big, so you only need a day or two there, but if you want to see some ancient buildings, bridges, and local life, it's a good choice.
Xitang River Scene
As always, more pictures on picasa:

Friday, April 10, 2009

New Map Feature

After many, many months operating a pretty spartanly designed blog, I have finally added a new feature that might add some value, to use the consulting phrase. Basically, it's just a map where I can add places that I have traveled to in China. If you hold the mouse over one of the points, you can see the name of the city. Some of the cities are pretty clustered together, like the Shenzhen, Hong Kong, and Macau area, so it's tough to see them. The good news is that if you click on the map, it will take you to the website where you can see a more detailed view. The detailed view lists all the places or "waypoints" that I have been to and you can also see routes of longer trips. It's pretty cool because it calculates the distance of the routes, so now I know I traveled about 2100 miles during my Chinese New Year trip. The map is just like any other google map and you can zoom in/out or drag the map around to see some of the cities more clearly. If you click on one of the waypoints you can also see a link to the pictures I have of the city on picasa. How about that for convenience?
Hopefully this will let people see the places I have been and get an idea of where they are in China. Either way, I think this map will be a motivator for me to travel to some of the western parts of China so that it will look more impressive to my faithful readers.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Macau (Again)

After 60 days since my last exit and re-entry to mainland China, it was time once again to leave the country. Even though I should be getting a new visa soon, I wasn't able to get it in time to avoid the trip. I was pretty unhappy I had to leave because I have already been to Macau and Hong Kong and didn't really want to spend the money to go down there, but I had no choice. Since my trip to Macau during the Chinese New Year felt too short, I decided to go there again since I've already been to Hong Kong 3 or 4 times.

To save money, I flew into Shenzhen and then took a bus from the Shenzhen airport to Zhuhai, which is on the border with Macau. From Zhuhai you can do the exit/re-entry process and then take a bus into Macau's city center. When I first planned to go to Macau that way, it didn't seem like it would take that long, but the total time from leaving my apartment in the morning to arriving at my hotel in Macau took around 8 hours, so it ended up being pretty inconvenient. However, the difference between flying to Macau and flying to Shenzhen is $200 vs. $500, so it's worth it.

When I arrived in Macau it was really rainy, so I didn't do much the first afternoon. Since it was still a bit rainy at night, I figured I'd just get some dinner and then hit one of the casinos. I find that gambling in Macau is pretty lame compared to Vegas. Most of the minimum bets at the good casinos are a bit high and the other casinos are really quiet. You can't even get drinks at the tables at a lot of the casinos, only tea or coffee, which is pretty lame, too. As I mentioned before, everyone seems to play baccarat in Macau as far as table games go. It's hard to find blackjack and nearly impossible to find craps. I did end up playing some blackjack at the Rio and although it was quiet there, I was able to win about 650 Macau Patacas or a little less than $100, so not too bad.

The next day, I decided to head to the two islands that are connected to Macau. The last time I went there, I only stayed on Macau island, so I didn't get to see anything else. I first went to Taipa. In Taipa there are some historic buildings, museums, narrow streets with shops, and other sites like that. Most of the stuff is pretty nice to look at, but it's probably not as cool as the churches and streets that are on Macau island.




Narrow Back Street

Shopping Street

One of the interest things to look at from Taipa island is the new Cotai Strip casino development. It's basically a mimic of the strip in Vegas and in fact a lot of the casinos being built there are being done by some of the top casinos in Vegas. Right now only a few casinos are finished, but a ton of new casinos are currently being built and the whole area is one big construction project. In the air are nonstop sounds of machinery, workers shouting, and all the other familiar noises of big building sites. Right now it is kind of an eye sore with all the buildings unfinished, but in another 2 or 3 years, I bet the area will look pretty great. This is a prime example of massive, if often unoriginal in thinking, building going on throughout China.

Massive Unfinished Casino

Casino on Side of Mountain
Cotai Strip Construction

Cotai Strip Close-Up

After spending some time in Taipa, I headed to the other island, Coloane. Coloane feels a lot less developed than the other parts of Macau and Taipa and a lot of the locals seem to live lives less affected by the massive gambling industry. There were a lot of small houses, churches, squares, and other things. I stopped at a nice restaurant for lunch and got an excellent Portuguese and Cantonese mixed dish. All the food I ate was really great in Macau. I liked Coloane a lot, even though there isn't as much to see there and it doesn't have any of the flash that is present in other parts of Macau. It just seems like a nice, quiet place to relax, enjoy some food and nice weather.

Fruit Vendor

Tin Houses
Dilapidated and Abandoned Warehouse (Bottom is Water)
Port of Coloane
Church and Square

Buddhist Temple

After spending a quiet afternoon in Coloane, I decided that relax and respite is not fitting for a true American. I need to have my senses over-stimulated at all times and at the maximum amount allowed by law, so I went to the Cotai strip area to check out the construction and casinos there. I also spent some time wondering around the Venetian, which is already completed and almost an exact replica of the Venetian in Vegas.

Cotai Strip Construction

Cotai Strip Construction
The Venetian

The Venetian Entrance

The Venetian

The Venetian is very impressive, but like most things with gambling and Vegas style, there is more style than substance. Pretty much everything is fake, although at first glance it is hard to tell. Inside there are ceiling paintings that are supposed to be similar to ceilings in some of the famous churches in Italy. There is even a canal with gondola boats like in Venice, although with an Asian man singing opera style, the illusion is slightly tarnished. All the buildings around the canal are not real, but they all have shops on the main floor to induce the consumer in us all to buy overpriced goods. They even have a blue sky painted with white fluffy clouds, which admittedly is the most beautiful looking sky I've seen in China for some time, a nice switch from the permanent gray. It's impossible to deny how impressive the building is in size, scale, and overall attention to detail.

Venetian Lobby

Ceiling Paintings

Gaming Floor

The Canal
The Great Hall

Before when I went to Macau, I thought it couldn't compare to Vegas at all. But after seeing all the new development, you can see that in a few years it will be a big competitor, even if a lot of the companies in Macau are, after all, some of the big American casinos. I don't think it will take too much business from Vegas, but maybe a few rich Hong Kong or Japanese businessmen will go to Macau for the convenience instead of spending a lot more to go to Vegas.

The rest of my time in Macau I just relaxed and saw a few more sites. I like Macau a lot, but this might be my last time to go there in awhile, since I've been twice in the last 2 months. It's definitely worthwhile for the food, the Portuguese style churches and streets, and of course if you have interest in losing some money, there are always the casinos. With limited time, maybe it isn't worth going to the other islands outside of Macau, but once the Cotai strip is more complete, it will be a lot more of a prime destination.

Here are a few random pictures of Macau sites. As always, I have all my pictures on picasa:

Senado Square at Night

Senado Square during the Day