culture

#aphotoaday China Traffic

I love this photo. It’s not that I did a great job taking the shot. I didn’t and it could be alot better. But what I like about it is that it shows so much of China. The bike, the 3 wheeled electric wagon, the bus, the stoplight, the restaurants in the background. Describing China can be difficult and much of it is not tangible. But I think this shot captures a bit of it.

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#aphotoaday Buses

We take buses just about every day. Most of the time we’re taking a charter bus to the school. But sometimes we take the public bus to go shopping. The buses here are really nice. They’re temperature controlled and many of them are electric. A public bus can get pretty full. It’s always a site to see the morning bus get so full that people are literally smashed between people as they stand on the bus. It’s even more of a challenge to get off the bus when we’ve reached the destination. One of my worries is that one of our kids will be left on the bus because he or she wasn’t able to get out. I always do a headcount when we get off and so far we’ve never left anybody behind.

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#aphotoaday Bird Throwing Hobby

Ever heard of “Bird Throwing”? Yeah, me neither. “What is it”, you ask? Well, it’s quite literally throwing a bird. Seriously. It’s like Angry Birds without the pigs…or the walls…or dazed birds. Ok, it’s not that similar to Angry Birds, but it is interesting.

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Everyday on my home from work, I see two groups of people out in an empty lot of grass. And each day I see a bird rack with several birds on it and what appears to be people throwing birds into the air. At first I thought they were shooting them down because I’d see a guy point a rifle-looking thing at the bird and it would come straight down, but that didn’t make any sense. First of all, “shooting stuff down” isn’t a thing here. And the Chinese have a general respect of birds. So I had to go and see what it was all about.

Walking up to the group, I quickly confirmed that they were indeed throwing birds up into the air. They gripped the bird in their hand and whipped it straight up in the air and then the bird would come straight back like a boomerang. As I got even closer I could see that the man throwing the bird was also throwing some food pellets up at the same time, giving something for the birds to go after. And the man who looked like he was shooting them down, well, he was using his rifle-looking stick thing to throw an additional food pellet up near the bird in the air so it would also go after it. After the bird got the second pellet, it would then return to the man who threw him.

I asked one of the guys what the purpose of this was and he said it was just a hobby. And the birds seemed to like it as well. They weren’t being hurt or anything. After some time one of the birds didn’t want to go after the food any more, and they guy said, “He doesn’t want to play any more”. He put the bird back on the stand and gave it some water and moved on to the next bird that “wanted to play”.

I tried doing a Google search on this, but wasn’t able to find anything. I really have no idea where this hobby came from. If you know more about this hobby, comment below!

It looks like a lot of fun.

Normally, I only post one photo a day, but this one was just a cool thing, I’ve decided to break my rule and post some more. I hope you don’t mind!

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#aphotoaday Hole in the Wall

When you think of the phrase, “hole in the wall restaurant” in China, this is what comes to mind. The man smoking a cigarette, with his subservient mongrel dog next to him. The mini-kitchen with a wok on the burner and a calendar with a buddhist image on the wall. The size of the entire room is 130ft². I haven’t eaten at this particular take-out place, but I guarantee it’s some of the best Chinese food around.

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Chaos at the Weighing Station

In China, as in most places, most fruit and vegetables have to be weighed before you can buy them. Normally, you grab a little plastic bag, pick your veggies and then immediately go the person at the weighing scale right there in the produce area. Then, when you get to the register, he or she just scans your item and you’re done. Now, this is different than what I’m used to in the States. In the States nobody is going to pre-weigh your item. You simply bag it up and take it to the cashier to weigh it for you as he or she scans it.

So, today, when I grabbed my produce, I looked around for the weigher person, but there was none to be found. There was a weighing scale, but no weigher. Another customer was also there wondering where the weigher was and was calling out, “who can weigh my stuff?” I kinda just hovered around waiting for her calls to beckon someone over. But when nobody came, I just continued shopping and figured I would come back when I was done with everything else.

A few minutes later I came back and found that 3 or 4 other people were wondering where the weigher person was. By this time there was an employee there pointing people towrad the front of the store and saying they don’t weigh it here anymore. It’s normal for me not to exactly understand stuff here and to follow where people point me to. I just headed in the direction that she pointed hoping to follow some of the other people to the news, secret weighing station. But everybody else was as confused as I was and wandering arund aimlessly looking for someone to help them.

Eventually, I realized what might be happening. They are now weighing everything right at the counter. So, I went to the register and saw that they indeed have scales to weigh items. So, I got in line, hoping this was truly the case and that I wouldn’t be wasting my time once I got to the front of the line.

But as I get in line I can see that there is utter chaos at the register. Not only are customers annoyed at the new produce system, they’re also trying to figure out the new mobile app VIP card. The lady directly in front of me spent about 5 minutes with the cashier getting her account set up. She was also annoyed that the seaweed she wanted wasn’t in the system and therefore couldn’t buy it. There was a man, perhaps a manager, that was running between the 4 cash registers dealing with problem after problem. He was sweaty and looked tired. It was going to be a long day for him.

Here are some of the reflections of this event:

1. It’s best to let the locals deal with the problems. Life as a foreigner can be frustrating. There are so many things that are different than what we’re used to. But I try to take cues from the locals as to how to deal with it. Is this different and frustrating just for me? Or is everyone thinking something is strange? Traffic on the roads flows differently in China. But you quickly learn that the only person doing something wrong is yourself when you try and force your own experiences on the traffic.

2. Good communication goes a long way. The most frustrating thing about the experience wasn’t that they changed the system. Changing it is not a problem. In fact, weighing my produce at the cash register is what I’m used to. But the communication was poor. There were no signs or people pointing people in the right direction. The one person that was there wasn’t very helpful. She kinda just waved us “over there”.

3. Changes take time. I kept thinking back to the day when the States made changes to the way things were done with produce. I don’t remember that day. It must’ve been before my time. But it had to happen at some point. Fast forward to how ever many years later, and it’s simply the way things are done. It’s more efficient for the grocery store and the customer doesn’t have to wait in line multiple times.

4. I’m happy the store is trying new things. Despite the obvious struggles that it was to change the system, this particular chain of grocery stores is working hard to change the status quo. They’re making the system better. They even have their own version of a self checkout! You use your phone to scan your own items and then pay with your mobile phone, too! That’s great stuff! That’s still a system in progress as the time it takes to get that done is significant. But it’s a step in the right direction.

Lots of good ideas get trashed by poor execution. Produce weighing at the cash register is a great idea, but it might get thrown out with the bathwater if it doesn’t get executed better.

Dragon’s Head. Where the Wall Meets the Sea.

Recently, on a trip out of town for a training, we got the opportunity to go to the furthest point East of the Great Wall. It’s where the “dragon’s head meets the sea”. 

It’s not our favorite part of the wall that we’ve seen because there wasn’t much wall to walk on, but it was still pretty cool. 

Don’t tell jokes while driving

Here in China, just like everywhere else, they place important messages on street signs to remind you of driving safely. These messages are about driving after drinking, talking on your cell phone, or driving while drowsy. But the message Jacquelyn and I recently came across made me double back to make sure I read it right. 


It says this, “Cracking jokes while driving endangers safety.”
While my kids might agree that listening to my jokes is dangerous, it’s not usually limited to the car. 

So, keep the roads safe, people! Don’t drive while joking. 

Ghost Festival

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It’s quite common practice in China to burn fake money to appease or give money to ghosts or ancestors in the afterlife. Lately, I’ve noticed alot of people burning piles of stuff in the streets. It turns out we’re in the middle of holiday called the Ghost Festival.

Going to a market near our house, many people were selling decorations for the holiday.

Fixing a Bike

The nice thing about biking in China is that it’s very common. On the one hand there are a ton of obstacles to go around as hundreds of bikers maneuver around traffic, but on the other, it also means you’re never that far from a bike repair cart set up on the side of the road. When I blew up Jacquelyn’s bike tire today, I just walked it over to the old man at the cart and he hooked me up with a new inner tube and tire for only about $8, or ¥50.

Things We See in Tianjin

These past weeks we have experienced many firsts as a family here in our new city.

Since everything we’re seeing is rather new to us, I thought it would be fun to share a few of the things that we see around us.

Our landlord is fond of floral print.

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Our housing complex has some play areas between the buildings.

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The bus ride to a grocery store – the girls.

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The bus ride to a grocery store – the boys.

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Yogurt sampling at a grocery store. They love their yogurt here!

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Playing video games.

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Movie night.

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Getting on the school bus!

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Eloise getting some attention at the school.

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Micah getting ready for class!

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“China Day” at the kids’ school.

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Eloise getting some attention at “China Day”.

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More silliness at “China Day”.

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Eating “Longyan”

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Eating at a local Korean Restaurant.

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Eloise in a box.

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Cute girls with their pollution masks.

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It’s a bit staticky in Tianjin.

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Our first team meeting.

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Our first fellowship meeting.

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Kids connecting on FaceTime with family.

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Our first trip to China McDonalds!

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Getting Adjusted…

…to the time

It’s been a full week since we’ve arrived in China and we’re getting adjusted nicely. Plus, we’ve got a great team of people here that welcomed us. When people arrive on the team they are each assigned a family to help them get acquainted to the apartment and local area. They also help us in getting adjusted to the local time by making sure we have dinner plans with them, another family, or by providing a meal. This has given us goals to stay up a bit later each night and get out of the house a little. Nonetheless, we have had a few nights where we have just crashed. And since everyone’s been waking up at about 4am, I’m sure our new neighbours below us are not happy about the fact that we have moved in.

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…to the food

One of the first things we did with our host family was to get some food at a nearby restaurant. Jacquelyn and I just about died and went to heaven when we got to eat some “real” Chinese food. Spicy green beans, lamb on a stick, and some other things that I don’t really know how to translate brought us right back to when we used to live in China. The kids, on the other hand, don’t have such positive memories of the food here…or any, for that matter, so we have been introducing them (sometimes through tears) to the local fare.

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…to the apartment

Our apartment is really great. It’s 4 bedrooms and has a large living area. On arrival, Anna quickly located her room and was pleasantly surprised by it. She even said, “I think I can used to living here.” The boys are sharing a room and a bed for the time being. We hope to locate some bunk beds soon. The master bedroom is a good size with a king size bed. Our kitchen, though not big, is really nice. The table isn’t really designed for a family of 6, but we’ve enjoyed figuring out how to best make use of the space. We’re still hoping to get a few items for the house.

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…to school

Anna and Micah started school this week. Lucas will start on Thursday when his teacher gets back from a conference out of town. Anna has done really great with everything. She was so anxious to get started and join the class that she could hardly contain herself. On the first day her teacher said she could eat lunch with me if she wanted or she could join the class. She chose the class. Micah has never been in school, so this is completely brand new to him. He’s baffled by the Chinese language. At one point He said, “What are those sounds people are making?” But he’s going to do great with time. Right now we have him enrolled in the half day program.

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…to work

Today I had my first meeting with the team I’ll be working with. It was great to hear about what’s going on in the immediate future and how I will get to be involved. Other than that, I’ve just been focused on learning peoples names getting my office set up.

This is Rural

Never have we stayed in such a rural place in China before. It’s so cool to be able to stay in a place that has not been very influenced by the big city life. Yes, of course we are dearly missing having access to cheese, coffee, and let’s face it, McDonald’s, in our backyard. However, to be able to look up and actually see the stars filling the night sky is such a difficult and precious thing to find in most places in China.

The people are different herel. First, there are the obvious things like language. The people in this area speak a dialect that is somewhat intelligible to those who speak Cantonese, but I’m assured that it is not the same. However, each town has a slightly different dialect than the next. For example, we visited a friend in a town literally 40 minutes away, and their dialect is very different than the city we’re staying in. Mandarin is also affected by this. Though most people are able to speak Mandarin, it is not their preferred language. I’ve been told by several local people that my “Guoyu” (“China’s Language” – meaning Mandarin) is better than their own – and I have to say that I mostly agree with them. 🙂 When people hear me speak Chinese, they laugh. But it’s not a mocking laugh. Many have never seen a foreigner before – let alone one that can speak Chinese.

Aside from that though, these people are country folk. Their lives are simpler. They are extremely nice and sincere.

The scenery here is different as well. Everywhere you go you see Water Buffalo. Today in the car I couldn’t stop singing the Water Buffalo song by the Veggie Tales. It was funny because everybody DOES have a Water Buffalo! They are used for working the land. These animals are huge. You often encounter them on the road and the cars definitely yield to them. If you hit one of these, the damage will be worse on your car than on the animal. It’s really funny to see these Water Buffalo in the middle medians of the main road eating the grass. I’m told these guys go for about RMB 5000 (USD 775).

Housing styles are different as well. Because it’s so hot here in the summer the houses are built to be cool. But another interesting thing is how the houses are built “up”. The below picture was taken at our friend’s house from his 5th floor…that’s right, 5th floor! Each floor doesn’t have a ton of space, but it sure makes good use of a little bit of property. For our friends, each level belonged to a particular member of the family. Even though they have 3 siblings, 2 of which are married, all of them live in the same house…and it’s actually quite spacious.

Each town’s street market is lively with business. There’s no need here for shopping malls. Everything is done at the market…and probably daily for most families.

One of the most interesting things about this to me is just how close the country side is to the city. This is pretty much true of most cities in China. The word “Suburb” means something else entirely here. Suburb as thought of as an American city practically doesn’t exist. Outside of the city there are no shopping malls, or fast food restaurant chains, or comfortable doctors’ offices…or for that matter, comfortable anything. There’s a strong push for urbanization in China. Part of that push, I believe, is because if you’re not in the city, you’re in the country…and that’s just not hip.

Appendix Gone

So last weekend I had my appendix taken out. Friday night I started to feel nauseous, but didn’t think anything of it since I had just returned from a large Chinese dinner with important people. (Large Chinese dinners with important people means lots of strange food.) The pain endured until the next day. I still wasn’t too concerned at this point as I figured my body was just indecisive on how it was  going to get rid of the food.

By Saturday morning my body did make its decision and I threw up 5 times over a 10 hour period. Each time I was expecting some relief of the pain in my stomach, but none came. After about 10 hours of this and becoming paler and weaker each moment,  I started getting concerned that there was something more serious going on. That’s when it hit me. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve seen alot of ER and House episodes or what, but I suddenly thought “appendicitis”.

I looked up the symptoms online and confirmed that I had most: Lowish fever, abdominal pain (that was quite obvious), loss of appetite. So I headed to an international clinic (Bellaire) where I was given antibiotics. (Chinese try to control it before removing it.) After several hours on the IV, they sent me home to wait for an ultrasound in the morning. At that point they would make the final diagnosis. It was about 8pm when I got home.

I didn’t make it to the morning. As soon as I got home I threw up again – this time a scary green. Also, the pain had quite localized itself to the lower right quadrant. We called a friend of ours who is a nurse. After discussing our various options, we called back Bellaire to say that I needed emergency help.

The overnight nurse came and picked us up in a taxi and accompanied us to the emergency room. While she was running around paying our various bills (which if you know Chinese hospitals, can be quite a challenge),  an endless amount of people poked at my abdominal area each confirming that I was indeed in pain when they did that. They sent me up to the ultrasound room where they confirmed that I did have an infection. Blood results also confirmed it.

At one point the the doctor asked, Are you ready for an operation? I was thinking, yeah!, Get this thing out of me before it explodes! So, the Bellaire nurse paid some more bills and then we all headed to the operation room.

In the elevator, the doctor asked me if I wanted general or local anesthesia (Chinese usually do local, but he knew foreigners preferred general).

Jacquelyn wasn’t allowed to accompany me beyond the operation room doors. At the doors, the operating room nurses asked, “Where’s your patient clothes”? I said, “You haven’t given them to me yet”. This is when I learned that when you go to the hospital for an emergency operation in China, you should first stop at the hospital store and buy patient clothes…which at that hour was closed anyway. So, I stripped down to my skivvies.

In the operation room all the people made their preparations. At one point the doctor said, “Don’t worry, I’ve worked on alot of foreigners. Just recently worked on a German.” Truth be told, I wasn’t worried. With 7 million people in our small city, I’m sure the doctors have taken an appendix or two out before. Eventually they started the anesthetic via an IV. I panicked for a few seconds because I lost my ability to swallow and I thought that was important. Then I relaxed thinking, surely, swallowing isn’t a necessity.

I woke up being wheeled to the recovery room. My friend Nathan Greene flanking one side and my wife the other. Jacquelyn’s friend was also there, but my vision was so blurry and she was standing in my periphery that I couldn’t see her. I said quite a few funny things coming out from anesthesia. I decided that the word appendix was too difficult to remember and renamed it to my “adidas”. I kept calling myself sexy and sang, I’m too sexy for my ladies when JK and her friend walked out of the room.

The next day we signed out of the hospital and went back to Bellaire to recover in a better environment.

I’m hoping to get the stitches out on Sunday.

Rebekah’s Wedding

This past weekend my family and I had the privilege of going to my assistant’s wedding.

The wedding was in a small town. We were treated like royalty and ate like royalty as well.

Anna Mae had a great time making a new friend on the 5 hour bus ride down.

She also got to be a flower girl. She took the job very seriously.

It was really exciting getting to see small-town life.

Congratulations Rebekah and David!

I was again shown the honesty of the people of Qingdao

Yesterday all of us went out to eat at Subway (the newest Western food joint in town) then to Computer City. Computer City is a 6-floor building with new & used computer stuff (Daddy’s playground). JK needed her phone, but couldn’t find it in her clothes and bags that we were carrying. So, as a good husband always does, I called it to help her find it. Instead of hearing it ringing somewhere nearby, a lady answered it. She said that she found it in a taxi just outside of Computer City and that we should come and get it. She gave us the address of her location and we went and got it.

This is just crazy! We had heard of such kindness in Qingdao, and have now experienced it two times. When we lived in the South, if you left something in a taxi or lost it on the street, you could pretty much write it off as a loss. Taxi drivers – or the next passengers of the taxi – rarely if ever return lost items. More than one of our friends in the South lost very nice guitars to the “terrible taxi trunks”, forgotten for only a few seconds, but never to be seen again. They called the taxi companies. They offered rewards. But never was anything returned.

In Qingdao, however, we’ve even heard of iPods getting returned. In our own experience, JK lost a wallet on the side of the street. Someone looked inside, found an address the he recognized and took it there. The address was on a receipt from Anna’s kindergarten. The kindergarten called us and told us to come and get it.

Here’s the best part, in all of our experiences here in Qingdao, no one has ever tried to get a reward out of it. We’ve tried to give one but they have only refused*. What is it about Qingdao that people are honest and trouble themselves to return lost items?

*It should be noted that when we recovered JK’s wallet, it was missing a couple hundred RMB (about 30 USD), but that doesn’t take away from that effort of the person that brought it back. If he took the money, then I guess that counts as his reward. Either way, we were happy to have her ID and bank card back.

出入卡 Chu Ru Ka (Exit/Entry Card)

The night before the Olympics started my husband, daughter & I had gone out to visit from friends and were returning home after dark. Since returning from the States the street that leads to our house has been closed with police waiting to stop any cars from going in. But up until now we have never had any problems just walking in. Well, we were walking past the guard and he asked for our ChuRuKa (exit/entry card). We said that we didn’t have one but that we lived right there down the road. The guard answered back saying that we couldn’t get in without an entry card. My husband & I looked at each other not knowing what to do. The police asked us a bunch of questions like how long we have lived here and what not. He then asked for identification. That night I had left the house without my purse. My husband had his wallet which only had his USA drivers license. He gave it to the police who laughed and said “Kan bu dong” (I can’t read this). Finally he let us go through with a promise that we would get a churuka the next day.
I was a little nervous because I was going to have to do this all myself since my husband had to work. I gathered what I thought was the necessary paper work and asked my helper to come along to help me. She took me to the police station and brought me to the correct desk. I showed her my paperwork and she said “where is your HongDanZi” (literally trans. red card). Not really sure what that was I said that we didn’t have one. She then told me that I had to have one of those first and pointed me to the back office where I could get one. I figured that “HongDanZi” meant registration card and called Jeremy to see where ours ways. Thinking it was as school I asked him to have someone bring it to me that afternoon. The police said that they would put me in the system to get a card but I had to bring my registration card (hong dan zi) back to show them.
As I was waiting for the woman who was supposedly bringing me our registration card I found out that we didn’t have one at all but that she was going right then to get them for us! When she returned with our registration cards I headed straight to the police department (bringing a couple of others with me to help them through the process). After arriving I discovered that they didn’t need to see my registration at all, but I was able to help the people I brought with me. The police told me to come back between 5 & 6 that night to pick up my card.
Even though it was a crazy day of running around I had fun. I ended up going back & forth from the police station 4 times (and once I had to run the whole way) by the end of the day. I enjoyed helping others out with the process and felt like I accomplished a lot by the end of the day.

Olympic Torch in Qingdao


The excitement is growing here in Qingdao as the Olympics are getting closer. This past Monday there was an Olympic torch relay through Qingdao. It started at the sailing center and turned down the main road that passes in front of our apartment complex. It continued down and around Qingdao and ended up at beach #1 where it went on a sail boat across the way back to the sailing center.

As you can see in most of my pictures we couldn’t see very much because everyone was waving flags, but just to be there was so exciting. It is interesting to be here as the Olympics come. I think that the local government did not want the crowd to be too large, so they told most people to stay inside while the torch relay was going on. They bused almost all the spectators in from around town. That is why they are all dressed alike.
There were actually suppose to be two other torch relays in the nearby area but for some reason or another they were canceled. So what happened is all the relayers came to Qingdao and were going to “run” in this one. All together there were 259 people that carried the torch. So instead of running 2 km they each ran 50 m (about 130 feet). So each relayer did not actually do much running.

Where we were standing we got to see the fire pass from one relayer to the next. Unfortunately, all the flags & cameras were in our way so I can’t say I saw that actually happen. But after watching it, Jeremy & I were both very excited to see the Olympics, so I think the purpose of the relay did it’s job.
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Lame, lame, lame

Last week I kept getting a message all in Chinese as I would try to access web pages. Randomly this message would pop-up when I tried to get to google.com, yahoo, or whatever. It would automatically redirect to the Chinese message just for a few seconds before again redirecting to the desired website. The first few times I just ignored it and because it only flashed for a few seconds I really didn’t have time to do anything about it. I saw that it was from our web provider (Here in China there is only one company who can give web service, by the way.), so I wasn’t really worried about it being a virus. I finally got the bright idea to quickly copy and paste the message the next time I saw it. Now, remember, there was seemingly no method to the pop-up randomness…so I brushed up on my shortcuts (ctrl+a = “Select All” & ctrl+c = “Copy”) and did my normal web surfing. Finally, the message popped up again.

Well, I was able to copy the message. I did my best to understand the message…it had a lot of words I’m not too familiar with like “modem”, “router”, and the such. After my choppy translating work I came to the conclusion that I was way off because what I thought it said couldn’t be true. So the next day I went to work and had a Chinese person translate it for me. It turns out I was right! The message said something to the effect that I was breaking the service agreement by plugging into a router and using multiple computers on my internet connection. Again, let me emphasize the “my” in that last sentence. The message continued by saying that if I continued to “violate” the service agreement they would shut it off completely. What??? I can’t use multiple computers on my own internet connection? What’s up with that?

This creates a serious problem for us. For one, we really love having wireless connection in our house. Secondly, we do have multiple computers – desktop, laptop, work-issued laptop and most importantly, our new Skype phone that we paid way too much for. (Yes, the Skype phone does count as a computer according to the Internet company.) Thirdly, it’s just the plain principle that someone is telling me how I can and can’t use my own internet service that I pay for monthly.

Wait…it gets worse.

I had the previously mentioned Chinese person call the company to get details about the “service agreement”. It turns out that we can pay more to allow use of the router – RMB 30 PER COMPUTER!!! That’s just ridiculous. By the time we paid for all the computers we would have doubled our monthly fee. I’m willing to pay a bit more…but double??? Again, I reiterate…that’s just ridiculous.

I’m not sure how this one is going to turn out. I’ll have to let you know. No matter how it turns out, though…this is just lame, lame, lame.

Running into Stereotypes


Right now I am rubbing my head in pain and laughing at the same time. As I was coming out of the kitchen in the office today I was holding a cup of coffee which diverted my attention away from the short door frame. I forgot to bend down ever so slightly to avoid hitting my head. Coffee went flying – burning my hand and arm – and stars suddenly appeared in my vision. I didn’t fall over, but enough people saw my little accident that I certainly turned a few shades of red. I ran smack into the stereotype of things not being tall or big enough for Westerners in Asia.

You’d think that after 3 years of living here I’d learn to duck. I guess it could be worse, though. A tall friend of mine got his head stuck in the subway doors!

~Jeremy