Monday, July 31, 2006


Just for Fun

This guy is cool.

In It...

Here are some pictures from the ex-pat nightlife scene:

Not of it...

A year in Beijing does strange and sometimes terrible things to the people here. We will all leave this city changed, some for better and some for worse. There is one guy here that was homeschooled nearly his entire life, postponed college for a year to come here, and he is really growing as a man: learning how to make friends with a wide range of people, sticking with his faith away from home, and becoming more assertive. I love to see a solid young man earn the respect of his peers, even though they may not share common faith and values. On the flip side of the coin, there are stories of men who began their contract totally devoted to wives, family, girlfriends; but slipped up so much over here that after a year that they despised themselves and their loved ones back home. I overheard one guy say, “My wife and kids are visiting... I can’t wait for them to leave.” These words wrench my emotions; even if the wife never finds out, the marriage is permanently damaged.

As for me, I strive to serve the Lord daily. Some days are harder than others, and there are people here whom I lose patience with – but those times have been few. I have not drunk myself under a table yet, and do not intend to. I am still having tons of fun, and still walking straight and narrow. Your prayers are always appreciated!



Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Chinese Facade: Shanties and Skyrises

Beijing has undergone tremendous modernization at a breathtaking pace. In only the past few decades, and especially within the last five years, a Beijing in puberty has broken out in glitz and color and highrises. The Beijing bigwigs a the top of the decision making totem pole are trying so incredibly hard to attract investment and gain world status by creating a modern Western-style city where one has not existed before. Modern Beijing is an elaborate facade built to impress foreign visitors and businessmen. Everywhere we (foreigners) travel, the streets are lined with tall modern buildings, bright colors, and flashy signs (and people who want your money.) The Chinese culture which I have described on this blog for the past few months – persistent prostitutes, beggars, hawkers of cheap fakes, and DVD salesmen – I believe only exists in areas where the Chinese are in daily contact with Westerners and our money (which pretty much describes everywhere I have been for six weeks, save one trip to the rural Great Wall, and a vacation in Tokyo.)

I think that this new warped opportunist mindset which leeches off of the decadence and gullibility of foreigners is a new phenomenum. “Foreigner” in Chinese is “lao wai,” which translated directly means, “respected outsider.” Before this weekend I would have thought that “give me money” might have been a truer translation.

I found a part of Beijing completely void of white folk like myself, and I experienced for the first time the Chinese society which has held this people together for a thousand years, but I had to get completely lost to find it. I meant to get lost, though.

We had two more days of blue skies last week – that doubles the number of non-smoggy days I have seen here so far. Friday and Saturday were beautiful; the sunlight and semi-fresh air stirred up my exercise instinct and I started my run due west (towards the sunset) at about 6:30. One and one-half hours later, I found a Houtong neighborhood: old houses, narrow dirt roads wide enough only for bikes and pedestrians, roadside shops with polite clerks, and friendly people who never once asked me for money.

The community seemed very close; people were everywhere just sitting around talking, playing badminton or pool, eating cuisine I had never seen before, drinking 2 Kuai (25 American cents) beer, and flying kites (I clothes-lined myself on an invisible kite string, much to the amusement of its owner.) I liked the relaxed social atmosphere; I did get some stares, but when I stared back, I usually got a friendly wave or a smile. There was not a single prostitute, beggar, or fake DVD salesman to be seen.

I have heard that so many Beijingers are being moved from Houtung shanty towns to crowded skyrises and apartments and which I think is a shame. Today, most Chinese still live in the traditional manner, but Houtongs in Beijing are dwindling in number, and those that still exist are walled off and well hidden from the ‘respected outsiders.’ I wonder if the common people are really happier with this new reality, or if the Houtung life might be more natural and fufilling for these Chinese which I saw.

I paid a fruit stand guy 4 quai for bananas (about 52 cents), and he gave me 11 of them to stuff in my backpack. Moral of the story? It is possible for a white man to find an honest Chinese merchant... you just have to get lost.

Peace All - Life is amazing, just taking it all in one day at a time!

Friday, July 21, 2006

Happiness is...

Written Thursday, July 20th

Today happiness is:

A bottle of red French wine.
A bar of German chocolate.
A high-quality DVD movie.

Life and I are on good terms right now. I am content.

But I wish you were here,

Rod Buster

I got a new job on Monday.

I was transferred (involuntarily, but not unwillingly) from the Warehouse crew (thought to be the easiest job on site) to a rebar crew (percieved by many to be the most difficult job on site.) The warehouse did not really have much work to do and rebar has too much - that is why they are shuffling people around.

I'm not complaining. I've really enjoyed learning about a new trade and aquiring new skills. For those of you who don't have any what I am talking about and thought until now that a rebar is something you might find on Northgate, rebar is the steel rods which concrete is poured around to make reenforced concrete. My job is to move and tie these ribbed steel bars into complex shapes using just a pair of pliers and a reel of metal wire. Sometimes I am on the ground; today I was suspended in the air for 8 hours straight. I only dropped my pliers once! I've had hand cramps since Monday, but they are getting better.

The new crew is really neat, and I enjoy staying busy. Tying rebar passes the time very quickly. These past four days have flown by!

I took this picture after work on Thursday. Look Mom, I’ve got a real hard-hat, boots, and everything! My skin’s dark tint is a healthy combination of sun exposure and rust; mostly rust.

Still having a great time in Beijing! I'm writing this from a sports bar near the hotel.

God Bless Y'all!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


I started Chinese lessons this week - with a real teacher and a book and everything! It is costing me $3.00 US an hour, four hours a week for the next five months. Our teacher is great, but Chinese itself is a bit overwhelming. But, I figure that there is no better place to study than here in Beijing! Wish me luck...

From an internet Cafe near my hotel,


Great View from Great Wall

Beautiful, isn’t it? I went hiking on Sunday near a lesser-traveled, and unrenovated section of the Great Wall. This part of the wall has remained unchanged except for weathering and warfare damage for thousands of years. The lake, mountains, and the Wall are all in the same park. Can you see the wall on the other side of the lake? The air is also clean here – it is the first day out of a month in China which I have seen a blue sky! Expect to see more hiking pictures in the coming months, I absolutely loved it!

Anyways, hope you enjoyed the scenery!

From an internet Cafe near my hotel,


Thursday, July 13, 2006

Big Man on Site

We had BBQ on Wednesday!!! David Zachry (see photo), the grandson of our company’s founder, is visiting the site this week to see how things are going. We had a grill-out and extended lunch-break in his honor. He’s a nice guy, real down to earth; he acts as though he thinks he doesn’t deserve all of this attention. I’ve also included a picture from the north end of the job site. Sorry, you can’t really see the embassy from there – but the cranes are cool, and the sky is blue, which is a rarity. That building in front is the security shack where we get ID checked before work every morning.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Mmm, Crunchy!

Written Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Look what I ate on Sunday! I still haven’t gotten sick here. Most people get respiratory diseases or food poisoning within the first couple of weeks, but here I am three weeks in without even a sniffle or a stomach ache! God is good, and I’ve been taking my vitamins and washing my nose (thanks for the suggestion, Mom!) In case you were wondering, scorpion has similar taste and consistency to potato chips.

I’ll try anything once!

War - Hua! What is It Good For? (absolutely nothing)

Written Wednesday, July 11, 2006

I’ve got a confession to make – I skipped church on Sunday to hike a stretch of the Great Wall; except it rained and we went to the Chinese War Museum instead. So really, I skipped church to visit a Communist War Shrine. The trip was very interesting, and I got a revealing look at history through the eyes of the Chinese government. Upon entry, I was immediately confronted with a thirty foot statue of chairman Mao, to whom this museum is dedicated (see picture, my friend Seth is waving in the background.)

There is a very large section dedicated to the founding of the communist party and its consolidation of power during the War of Japanese Aggression (WW II) and through the 1950’s. There is a reference to “Chinese gaining an advantage because of changing circumstances of war” (which I think was Hiroshima and Nagasaki, minor details) but otherwise there is no mention of the USA’s role in the war. All WW II struggles are painted as Chinese vs. Japanese. To be fair, Japanese Leadership also saw the Chinese as enemy #1 and just viewed the USA as a pesky third party until the American navy sunk all of Japan’s carrier groups and began to level Tokyo with firebombs.

Anyway, according to the placards, Mao inspired the peasants to rise up and overthrow the Japanese oppressors by single-handedly winning a succession of brilliant campaigns against superior numbers and technology, etc. After driving the Japanese out of China, then Mao must suppress the leftist Nationalist rebels lead by Chiang Kai Shek and backed by the US (about time they gave us some credit!) Chiang was initially successful, but because of Mao’s brilliant leadership and victorious campaigns, etc. etc. the will of the people prevailed and the rebels were eventually driven from the mainland and, for the first time in hundreds of years, China (except Taiwan and Tibet) was united under Mao and Communism around 1950. To the victors go the writing of history.

The rest of its history spanned thousands of years of Chinese civilization back to the beginning of humanity. I'd tell you about it if I could keep my dynasties straight, but there are just so many of them and they all sound the same. Here are some terracotta warriors (below.)

There was lots of cool sculptures and paintings, too. This one was particularly terrifying (below.)
Oh, one last thing - war is kid-friendly! I saw lots and lots of students at the museum, presumably on field-trips. I would have liked to have one of those when I was younger.

Howdy Ho-hi!

Written Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Some more Aggies came into town last week! These guys are studying abroad and interning for the summer, but not on the one year construction plan like I am. I have to shout out to Logan, Emily, and Matt – it was great to see you guys again here in China, on the far side of the world! I enjoyed meeting everybody else, too! I was busy during the daytime while they were touring, but we were able to meet up two nights near Ho-hi and Bar Street. One of our number with a Corps haircut (who will remain nameless) decided to be daring and bought a round of absent the second night. He only kept it down for about two minutes though. These guys are lots of fun, but going to work on only three hours of sleep is pretty brutal.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Random: People and Pollution


My only real complaint about this city is the weather/pollution. This picture was taken at 2:00 in the afternoon. (Where's the sun?)

Smoggy with a 10% chance of sunlight
People are crazy. Working in Beijing seems to bring out the extremes in people. Because we work so closely, gossip runs rampant. You would not believe some of the stories I have heard of immorality and just plain stupidity. My sources are not the most sound - I have to carefully weigh the veracity of everything I hear. "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas," the slogan for a travel commercial, could easily be used to describe the philosophy of many. EVERYTHING is easy and cheap here. There are even male prostitutes who try to solicit at our hotel.

There are also some really amazing guys here – some my age and many older. I don't know if I told you that there is a prayer meeting every morning before work, but we fill up that conference room every morning! These men are very encouraging. I was praying for one of these older gentlemen who has been a great influence on me and many others as he negotiated renewing his contract. After a long struggle today, he was offered what he hoped for and he's staying!

I haven't gotten to read as much as I would like these past two weeks, but at least I won't run out of books so quickly. Haven't worked out as much either, but work is keeping me in decent shape. Chinese is coming slowly as well, but I know there is a light at the end of the dark tunnel of grammar, vocabulary, and tones. But I did get to watch two episodes of Lost and down half a bottle of Merlot with a friend last night! I am investing a lot of time in building relationships right now – going out to hang out with the Texas A&M study abroad crew later while they are still in Beijing!

From an internet café somewhere in China,


P.S. If you don't already know, you can enlarge photos by clicking on them.

(Written on 7.7.2006 - The computer mysteriously ate the Blogger toolbar, which led to technical difficulties and posting delays.)

Monday, July 10, 2006

Café East


I got rid of the Chinese wireless, and am back in the internet café! That wireless moved so frustratingly slow; many times I felt like flinging my computer across the hotel room. Now that I am back in the broadband café, my computer and I are at peace again! The coffee is pretty good, too.

Three weeks into the job, and I am finally finding my niche in the daily routine. I can find my way around the jobsite. I understand the sophisticated process of receiving our building materials - and where these materials can be found in the warehouse. When my supervisor says go do this or get that, 9/10ths of the time I know what he is talking about, and I can do it as well as the next guy. I don't drive the forklift as fast as Sonny, or cut into a container like Andy, or stack crates as swiftly as Rick, and I don't know inventory quite as well as Roxy, but I am able to do all of these things – and I can tear apart a skid and clean boards faster than anyone. I'm beginning to understand the warehouse, and it's not that complicated. (Driving the forklift is fun too!) Work is easy once I got used to it – I just have to do what other people tell me to for ten hours a day; much easier than studying for midterms!

I got a package today from a friend back home which reminds me how much people back home care – and how I'll be so glad to see everyone again next year! For you whom are reading this blog, odds are very high that I miss you and look forward to seeing you again! Thanks…

From an internet café in northeast Beijing,


Tokyo Closure

Guess what I did on July 4th – I visited an art museum!!! This was actually the coolest art museum I have seen since, well, Italy. Me Ryan and Jerry, one of his 5 roommates, made a short train ride out to the museum and bummed around in a nearby park afterward until it was time for me to head back to the airport. Thanks for a great time, Ryan (and everyone else I met in Tokyo!) Jerry takes awesome pictures, I hope you like these!

Interactive Art in Nearby Park


Monday, July 03, 2006

Traveling to Tokyo

Ryan lives with three other guys in a little house on the outskirts of Tokyo. There is no furniture in this house save three fold up chairs and I am writing on a laptop sitting in the only 4 sq ft of floor space in their living/kitchen/sleeping room which isn't covered by bedsheets, bags, or cloths. They are men with few material needs.

Wow, Tokyo is completely different from Beijing. I hope I don't get jumped when I get back to China for saying this, but Tokyo is a lot cleaner, more orderly, more tourist friendly, and many more people know english than in Beijing.

Tokyo and Beijing are in many ways polar opposites:
- Japanese use crosswalks - Chinese just walk/bike in front of traffic.
- Japanese utilize stoplights and turning signals - Chinese don't. (unless there is a policeman in - the intersection)
- To enter a train, Japanese line up in two straight lines - Chinese push to get through the crowd.
- A meal that I can get in Beijing for $1 US costs $10 US in Tokyo.
- In Japan the store clerks and prostitutes don't assault you in the streets.
- All of the merchandise I saw in Tokyo was legit.
- In Japan the air is clean.
- The streets are clean.

There are a lot of politeness issues in Japan which don't exist in China. It is a social taboo to:
- Stare
- Enter a home or temple with shoes on
- Walk and eat at the same time
- Cross the street without using a crosswalk
- Put your towl in bathwater (I'll explain later)
- Do anything even borderline illiegal or rude
- etc.

I've had lots of fun these past two days. I played soccer with several American and Japanese students yesterday. After soccer, we went to the Onsen, a public bath house, which was quite a cultural experience. A bath house is a place with hot and cold tubs, green tea and aloe vera baths, and wet and dry saunas. The only catch for the unsuspecting American is that swimsuits are not allowed. Sorry, I didn't get any pictures! Guys and girls were seperate, so no worries there. The bath really was relaxing and fun (in a totally platonic way.) I had some amazing food afterward, too. I had no trouble sleeping that night!

Today Ryan took me to Sindoku (sp?) to visit the government building and a few parks and temples. Walking around the streets all day was really neat. Here are some pictures I got today:
Buddhist monks chanting at Takahatafuto
Takahatafuto Temple
Street Scene

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Sweet Home...Alabama???

You have not lived until you've heard a Chinese girl on guitar singing "Sweet Home Alabama." : ) This was a textbook case of culture clash; one of my favorite Southern songs was badly butchered! I was the only American who stopped to listen, and the Chinese nearby must have wondered what I thought was so funny. I wonder how "irony" translates in Chinese.

I digress. This week I was able to spend time with an old high school friend, Vina. She is here visiting two aunts who live near Beijing. The aunts showed us Chinese hospitality at its best: they took us out to eat. (Aside: I have not yet been sick from the food here; considering my adventurous eating habits, this is a miracle.) We ate "hot pot," a traditional Chinese meal in which of a variety of raw dishes and a large boiling pot of water are placed on the table. With "hot pot," you throw whatever you like into the pot to cook, then take it out and eat it. It was very good, but they ordered far too much for us. The aunts must have known that we could not have eaten everything in front of us, but still they urged me to "eat more!" and "don't leave any food on the table!" (All of this in Chinese, the aunts didn't speak a word of English.) Poor Vina was kept busy translating both ways for us as we conversed; we talked so much that Vina occasionally confused her Chinese and English.

I have three free days for the Fourth of July and am visiting another old friend in Tokyo on Sunday. I'll tell you how it goes when I come back to Beijing!

Life is still amazing, but there's no place like home.

Signing off from my hotel room,