Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Weekend: Part Two

Last time on Nathan’s blog, we left our hero snoozing peacefully in his hotel bedroom...

I think I could have slept well into Sunday afternoon, but the sunlight through my window woke me up at about 9:00. My first reaction was to roll over and get back to sleep, but then after a few more minutes it hit me... BRIGHT SUNLIGHT WAS COMING THROUGH MY WINDOW!

Now for you, dear reader, you may be fortunate to live in a place where the blessed sun comes up every morning, but for me, having seen in the four months I have been here only about as many sunny days as I have toes on my feet, sunlight filtering through the shades is big news. As tired as I was, I wasn’t about to waste good, wholesome daylight and fresh air sleeping inside my room, so I bounced out of bed, threw on some church clothes, packed a backpack for the day, and took off on my bike.

Church was great, but church is always great (Reference my previous post about the international church.) The message on Sunday was given by a Cantonese pastor in Mandarin and translated into English. His message was about the power of words, from the book of Proverbs. “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” (Prov. 18:21) This was a message aptly timed, I needed to be reminded to be careful of words which can discourage and destroy – death – but I should also use the tongue’s power for encouragement – life – more often.

The weather was perfect for a long bike ride. I had not yet been to the University district on the opposite side of Beijing, about a 1.5 hour bike ride, so I took off in that direction. Lunch consisted of food-cart-fare: a crape-type thing with egg, onions, bread, and a hot-dog all folded together (3 Quai) which I ate on the road.

The university district looks and feels completely different from the rest of the city. The streets are clean, the buildings are modern and very nice, and the students are young, bright-eyed, and idealistic.

I rode through two campuses, pausing often to take in the scenery, poke my head into buildings, and talk to people. These pictures are of the International Language and Culture University, and of the famous Peking University, China’s Harvard and Yale. These two campuses are beautiful, and the feel riding around the place made me think of Texas A&M.

I cruised the University scene until about 3:30. Only about 15 minutes north of the universities is the Old Summer Palace, or Yuan Ming Yuan Park. Somehow I got lost and managed to turn a 15 minute ride into over an hour, but at that time the whole park was illuminated by the most beautiful sunset I have seen these four months in China. The ruins are European style, built hundreds of years ago by Jesuit architects for the Chinese empress. It was destroyed and never rebuilt by a British invasion of China in the late 1800’s, if my memory serves correct.

Tall American

This view alone was worth the 1.5 hour ride.

The Weekend: Part One

Work on Saturday went very well. The day was very fast-paced, almost frantic because of a deadline we wanted to meet, but I like to work hard and I like to work fast. Weekends are not about work though; weekends are all about what happens after work, but a good day’s work is a good preface for a great weekend.

I had to ride my bike home in the rain, which was fun, but also cold and more challenging because I was dodging Chinese drivers and pedestrians while the roads were wet. I got to the hotel in good time, hopped in and out of the shower, ate some granola and read a book for an hour, then at 9:00, I caught a cab to Oktoberfest!

Oktoberfest is a German festival which has been around for a long time to commemorate I don’t know what, but like most German festivals it has evolved through the years to become a celebration of German culture and German beer. Lots of my co-workers were there, and we made the most of the evening.

Those of you who have tasted German house-brewed dark wheat beer should know that it is the best beer in the world. Dark beer is the only beer that I really like the taste of – others I just tolerate. In Germany, beer comes by the liter and is usually served room temperature with food. I had my liter with bratwurst, which was top grade. This is the best beer and sausage I’ve had since leaving Germany!

Anyways, the Germans at the Kipinski hotel delivered. The beer and sausage was at its finest, and there was also German folk dancing. I tore up the dance floor with one of the better looking beer maids. It’s pretty cool that speaking German comes in handy even in China!

When the Oktoberfest evening wound to a close, I and my buddies said Aufwiederzehn to Oktoberfest and the beer maids and went to Bar Blue to check out the late-night social scene (see pictures.) There, I struck up a random conversation with a Canadian pothead and his Chinese-Canadian girlfriend. You can meet all kinds in Beijing... and no, I did not partake of the narcautics My friends ditched me while I was talking with the Canadians, so I took a cab home relatively early (about 2:30 AM) and fell fast asleep. Not a bad end to a Saturday night out.

Friday, October 20, 2006


I learned a lot about myself today. I took a test today, a personality test. Fortunately the results came back positive. : )

Some of you may have heard about Gallup's Strength Quest; I took the online test once before beginning college and it was interesting to see the constant themes and changes in my strengths and tendencies since then. The Bible study I am involved in is encouraging all of its members to take this same test to discover which gifts are strongest and how they can best be used to serve the Lord. Here are my results:

The Strategic theme enables you to sort through the clutter and find the best route. It is not a skill that can be taught. It is a distinct way of thinking, a special perspective on the world at large. This perspective allows you to see patterns where others simply see complexity. Mindful of these patterns, you play out alternative scenarios, always asking, "What if this happened? Okay, well what if this happened?" This recurring question helps you see around the next corner. There you can evaluate accurately the potential obstacles. Guided by where you see each path leading, you start to make selections. You discard the paths that lead nowhere. You discard the paths that lead straight into resistance. You discard the paths that lead into a fog of confusion. You cull and make selections until you arrive at the chosen path-your strategy. Armed with your strategy, you strike forward. This is your Strategic theme at work: "What if?" Select. Strike.

Your Achiever theme helps explain your drive. Achiever describes a constant need for achievement. You feel as if every day starts at zero. By the end of the day you must achieve something tangible in order to feel good about yourself. And by "every day" you mean every single day-workdays, weekends, vacations. No matter how much you may feel you deserve a day of rest, if the day passes without some form of achievement, no matter how small, you will feel dissatisfied. You have an internal fire burning inside you. It pushes you to do more, to achieve more. After each accomplishment is reached, the fire dwindles for a moment, but very soon it rekindles itself, forcing you toward the next accomplishment. Your relentless need for achievement might not be logical. It might not even be focused. But it will always be with you. As an Achiever you must learn to live with this whisper of discontent. It does have its benefits. It brings you the energy you need to work long hours without burning out. It is the jolt you can always count on to get you started on new tasks, new challenges. It is the power supply that causes you to set the pace and define the levels of productivity for your work group. It is the theme that keeps you moving.

You love to learn. The subject matter that interests you most will be determined by your other themes and experiences, but whatever the subject, you will always be drawn to the process of learning. The process, more than the content or the result, is especially exciting for you. You are energized by the steady and deliberate journey from ignorance to competence. The thrill of the first few facts, the early efforts to recite or practice what you have learned, the growing confidence of a skill mastered-this is the process that entices you. Your excitement leads you to engage in adult learning experiences-yoga or piano lessons or graduate classes. It enables you to thrive in dynamic work environments where you are asked to take on short project assignments and are expected to learn a lot about the new subject matter in a short period of time and then move on to the next one. This Learner theme does not necessarily mean that you seek to become the subject matter expert, or that you are striving for the respect that accompanies a professional or academic credential. The outcome of the learning is less significant than the "getting there."

If you possess a strong Belief theme, you have certain core values that are enduring. These values vary from one person to another, but ordinarily your Belief theme causes you to be family-oriented, altruistic, even spiritual, and to value responsibility and high ethics-both in yourself and others. These core values affect your behavior in many ways. They give your life meaning and satisfaction; in your view, success is more than money and prestige. They provide you with direction, guiding you through the temptations and distractions of life toward a consistent set of priorities. This consistency is the foundation for all your relationships. Your friends call you dependable. "I know where you stand," they say. Your Belief makes you easy to trust. It also demands that you find work that meshes with your values. Your work must be meaningful; it must matter to you. And guided by your Belief theme it will matter only if it gives you a chance to live out your values.

Your Responsibility theme forces you to take psychological ownership for anything you commit to, and whether large or small, you feel emotionally bound to follow it through to completion. Your good name depends on it. If for some reason you cannot deliver, you automatically start to look for ways to make it up to the other person. Apologies are not enough. Excuses and rationalizations are totally unacceptable. You will not quite be able to live with yourself until you have made restitution. This conscientiousness, this near obsession for doing things right, and your impeccable ethics, combine to create your reputation: utterly dependable. When assigning new responsibilities, people will look to you first because they know it will get done. When people come to you for help-and they soon will-you must be selective. Your willingness to volunteer may sometimes lead you to take on more than you should.
One theme which did not show up on my top five again was Includer: one who wants to make others feel involved and valued, and Analytical: one who searches for patterns and connections. I hope that I still possess those characteristics, even if they are not quite as strong in this season of my life. The new themes are Learner and Responsibility. Strategic, Achiever, and Belief have remained constant, and have even kept the same order.

For those of you who know me, maybe you can see how these fit. For those of you who don't, I wonder what kind of person you think I am now? These statistics help to describe why I act and think in certain ways, but they still fall far short of painting a complete picture of the person.

Hope you enjoyed this one!


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Randomized News

So let me think, what’s new...

Only just this month, I abandoned the hotel’s meal plan and have begun collecting my per-deim. Because I need to find new, more creative modes of eating than walking to the downstairs resteraunt, I stepped out on a limb went shopping for groceries last week. I’ve had cerial or granola for breakfast and, if I feel like staying in during the evening, a peanut butter sandwhich or eating-out-leftovers for dinner. Yesterday, I ran out of milk and bread, so I had to get creative. Before going to bed I fixed myself a bowl of dry shredded wheat cerial topped with peanut butter and jelly. Bachelors have to eat something, you know. Gross, you say? The taste wasn’t half bad - don’t hate until you try it yourself!

I went for a long bike ride this Sunday. Left at three, got back at eight. I struck out east, rode clear out of Beijing and into Tongzuo – the next town over. Tongzuo was a really nice place, it reminded me of the suburbs back home. Everything was a little bit cleaner, and the people were dressed a little bit nicer than the average Joe in the big city. There was very very little English there. I saw no other white people the whole day, which meant I did get to practice my Chinese. I got quite a few stares too, which I am used to by now. The pace of life seemed less frantic than in Beijing, I will probably visit again soon. There is also a villiage of “starving artists” in that area who left Beijing’s reckless atmosphere to be in the countryside and do artsey things together. They sound like cool people, and I do have a penchant for paintings.

So I have decided that Chinese people are really cool. The stories that I heard about Chinese people treating foriegners with respect and genorosity are true when you get away from the areas where foriegners live. Maybe there are just too many ugly Amerians and pushy Europeans in this city with too much money, and the locals have gotten too used to exploiting us. In Tonzuo, I enjoyed being stared at and being treated otherwise as a novelty. One older woman just went crazy when I said “Nie Hao” (Hello.) “Your Chinese is SOOO good!” she gushed (in Chinese, of course.) “Yea right,” I thought to myself, but just smiled and “xie xie nie”d her, at which I got another bubbly outpour of excited exclaimations at my “perfect” Chinese, which was encouraging. There are still those Chinese on the street, though, who stare blankly when I try communicating with them. For some reason they just don’t recognize their native tongue. They must think that I am just speaking to them in very bad English or Russian or something.

What else is new... I’ve been doing a little office work recently. It’s kinda wierd having work both in the field and in the office. It’s like you never really know what is going on in either, but you do know more about both than the other guys. I like it though, I get to meet new people and do new things. Wish I didn’t have to be so vague, because I really like my work, though I would like to spend more time doing other things besides work while I am in China.

The days are getting colder and the days shorter. I am wearing long sleeves every day now, but no freezing temperatures yet. It gets dark about 5:15 now. I am still riding my bike to and from work in the cold. Some of my friends are beginning to think I am crazy - maybe I'm just stubborn!


Sunday, October 08, 2006

Special Best Friend Price

According to some report I saw somewhere, Beijing is one of the most expensive cities in the world. How can the majority of 10.9 million Chinese people afford to live here making only a hundred dollars a month? There is a huge price gap between what I have been calling “Western Prices” and “Chinese Prices.” Some people can spend $1000 US here in one week, but I’ve gone the whole day and only spent 20 RMB ($2.25 US) on food. Here is a random list of things I have bought since I have been here. Some have been rip-offs, and some have been great buys! Some good quality and some bad. I have not made any frivolous purchases though – see for yourself!

(8 RMB = 1 US$ || 1 RMB = .125 US)

Pack of Beijing post cards: 30 RMB
Chinese Children’s book (Chinese and English): 6 RMB
Legitimate Massage: 120 RMB

Fajita Dinner at Hard Rock Cafe: 140 RMB
Pizza at Frank’s: 80 RMB
Sushi Plate for Two: 40 RMB
½ Roast Duck: 38 RMB
Noodle Soup: 6 RMB
Sweet and Sour Pork at “The Crawfish Hole”: 8 RMB
Dinner from Road Carts: 2 - 4 RMB

Grape Nuts Cerial at Jenny Lou’s: 45 RMB
Milk: 15 MB
Cerial Bowl: 8 RMB
Fork, Knife, Spoon set: 10 RMB
Fancy Chopsticks Set: 80 RMB

Heiniken Beer at Frank’s sports bar: 40 RMB
Chinese Beer at Frank’s sports bar: 20 RMB
Chinese Beer at “The Crawfish Hole”: 3 RMB
Chinese Beer from the Chinese Quickie Mart: 1.5 RMB
Liquor Shots at Nanjie: 10 RMB
Great Wall Oil Painting: 500 RMB (Starting Price: 1200 RMB)
Mongolain Horse Landscape Painting: 130 RMB
Painted Glass Jar: 40 RMB

Tailor Made Suit: 1000 RMB (Starting Price: 1500)
Tailor Made Shirt: 150 RMB
Army Surplus Coat: 600 RMB (Starting Price: 1200 RMB)
Thick Winter Jacket: 200 RMB
Fake Designer Dress Shirt: 45 RMB (Starting Price: 500 RMB)
Ten Pair Dress Socks: 15 RMB (Starting Price: 1000 RMB)
COSS Watch: 80 RMB
Fake Rolex Watch: 250 RMB (Usual Starting Price: 1000 RMB)
Fake Jade Necklace: 50 RMB
DVD 9 Movie (From Different Vendors): 10 RMB, 20 RMB, 30 RMB

Through Ticket for Summer Palace: 80 RMB
Through Ticket for Temple of Heaven: 40 RMB
Cab Rides: 10 – 50 RMB
Gamma Bicycle: 350 RMB
Giant Bicycle: 780 RMB
Tire Repair / Tune Up: 10 RMB

Waking Up in Beijing Every Morning: priceless

There are a few things money can’t buy.

Monday, October 02, 2006

What's New?

This question was posed to me over the phone by a friend from home, and I didn’t know quite how to answer. Life in China brings new discoveries and experiences every day. Like yesterday, I picked up my new tailor made brown suit (which I like very much) from the Cotton Market. I have a cool, spunky tailor who pursuaded me to “maybe make-a two-a suit-a,” because the quality of her work is so good. I found a new Mongolian resteraunt in Beijing that I like, but I’ve enjoyed Mongolian food before, so that’s not really new – and there is much more to life than a new suit and Mongolian food.

I am well into my third month in this country and life has finally found a routine. The vast majority of my time is still spent working, which is becoming more interesting as I learn more about my trade and my foreman trusts me with more and more responsibility. Outside of work I am still going out and making the most of my time by shopping, biking, learning Chinese, running, and going out to resteraunts and clubs. I am still slacking in trying to pick up playing my guitar. I am always meeting new people and learning new things, but still hanging out with the same guys I see every day.

So what’s new... everything and nothing. How did I used to answer this question when I was back in the States? I took such-and-such test and did well, or met so-and-so and she’s pretty cool but totally uninterested, or maybe I did this-and-that with such-and-who organization or group of friends and it was really fun. So how do I answer this question now? I can’t talk about my work; I work and hang out with the same American guys every day and a bunch of dudes hanging out really isn’t that complicated or interesting to anyone else; the only organization I am part of right now is a Bible study, which is really cool, but I don’t think I will write all of our discussions on this blog or repeat them over the telephone. They did make me a cookie cake for my birthday on Thursday though, which was cool.

But there is more to life than cookie cake. For some of it you just have to be here, in fact, I wish you were here! There is so much here that is still exciting and new, though a bit of the novelty is wearing off after three months. I still love the food, still hate the pollution, still enjoy exploring the city.

So what’s new... just life! This is a new day and I am in China. Anything could happen and that’s what is so exciting. Right now I am sitting in this internet cafe, but in another hour I could be wandering down a houtong street, bartering for jewelry, reading a new book, trying to communicate with a taxi driver in Mandarin, touring the Forbidden City, or getting my hair cut by a Chinese barber (which is always an adventure!)

Hope you have a good day; mine rocks!

The Grill

Isn't that a sweet gold mouthpiece? His nickname is Primo because, well, he's Primo.

Happy Birthday to ___!

Jim C and I have back-to-back birthdays, so here we are celebrating at a Malaysian resteraunt with our mutual friends on the evening of his birthday, and on the eve of mine. Food was great, the cake was better, and friends, best. Thanks to everyone who has remembered my birthday! I have so much enjoyed the presents, e-mails, facebook messages and wall postings. All is well in Chinatown!