Tuesday, January 16, 2007

My First 24 Hours in China

I arrived in China at the Beijing airport. I made a "pit stop" at the mens restroom right after getting off the plane and when I got ready to wash my hands I could find no paper towel to dry my hands. There was a tall young man in a uniform whose job I surmise was to keep the mens restroom clean. He came to me with a paper towel and when done, it was not obvious even where to throw it away. He held out his hand that he would take it from me which he did. He then motioned to me that he wanted a tip. I just got off the plane and had not exchanged any currency yet so I told him "I only have American money." (I had emptied my pockets of American pocket change to get by the metal detectors.) He then told me in broken English "one dollar." This I had and I decided I could part with one dollar for the guy whose job it was to keep my restroom clean.

Clearing customs/immigration was uneventful. There was a question on one of the forms about whether I was bringing a radio transmitter or radio receiver into the country. I was carrying a cell phone. I was pretty sure a cell phone didn't count so I answered "no" and put a note at the bottom "cell phone." When I turned this form in the guy almost didn't look at it. When he did there was an immediate puzzled look on his face. I pointed at my cell phone and he smiled as if to say "Oh... is that what you meant" and he waved me on. I noticed a mural of the Great Wall of China on the wall.

American companies were advertizing all over the airport as I noted in my previous post

I exchanged some dollars for Chinese currency.

I needed a cab to my hotel and luckily, my client had given me a card with the address and driving instructions writen in Chinese. I showed this to the driver and the airport employee matching newly arrived passengers with cabs. The two of them together figured out where I wanted to go.

I was amazed at how many big, dirty trucks were on the road at 10 PM. I guess they all must deliver construction materials to construction sites. There was obviously construction going on all over the place. There was some traffic jam in which it appeared the police were pulling over trucks about the same time a stalled vehicle was blocking the right hand lane. My taxis driver was pretty aggressive with his horn and managed to dart around and get through the traffic jam without to much wasted time.

There was basically no scenary along the route from the airport to the hotel at 10 PM. Just a big, wide, interstate-like highway with exits and signs I couldn't read. There did seem to be a haze around all the bright streetlights and spotlights. I don't think it was fog. It must have been pollution, smoke, or dust (or all three).

My client can sure pick a great hotel, the Loong Palace Hotel & Resort.

The bellman, desk clerk, and everyone I talked to spoke pretty decent English. My impression was that they were all very handsome or pretty and perky as if the upscale hotel where I was staying could be pretty picky about who they hire. The broadband internet connection from my room was pretty slow, however. I noticed that rather than a flat rate like most hotels in the US, the hotel charged by the minute for broadband connectivity... up to a maximum of 80 minutes.

I am pleased to report that I checked with Verizon Wireless prior to my departure and they assured me that if they enabled my international roaming and I did a *228 and selected option 2 to update my roaming after they did their magic... that my CDMA phone would indeed work in Beijing. (Meaning I did not have to have a GSM phone like used commonly in Asia and Europe.) For anybody who cares, I have an LG-VX8300 phone. They also told me to do a *228 when I arrived in China but that did not seem to work. However, when I dialed 00-1-area code-number I connected with the number I dialed in the US with crystal clear clarity. It sounded just like I was around my home town. There was no voice delay either so it had to be traveling to the US via fiber optic cable and not satellite. All this wonderful communications for what they promised me was $1.29 / minute in international roaming charges. (I haven't gotten a bill yet though.)

I hooked up with three of my co-workers, all of whom spoke Chinese. I had a free buffet breakfast at the hotel. I had my first taste of dragon fruit. My co-worker told me it was not native to China but came from Thailand. The restaurant staff all spoke enough English.

The weather was bright and sunny but not nearly as cold as I expected. Nothing was green on this January day. My co-worker told me Beijing is very dry in the winter.

The four of us took a cab to the office. The cab was small and crowded with our group of four and the driver. I wasn't complaining though as I'd rather get around town with three friendly Chinese speaking co-workers than venture out on my own. We pulled up to a set of very modernistic buildings. There was a huge line of taxis cabs waiting for clients out front. The heat was running full blast in our conference room. The internet connection was locked down pretty tight. I did manage to get into my work email via my employer's VPN, but the connection was even slower than the hotel. My co-worker told me he thought a recent earthquake had ruined a key undersea fiber optic cable and affected much of Asia's available internet bandwidth and that might be the problem.

Later in the day we decided to go another building for a meeting we heard about. Since there was a big line of taxis out front, we had no problem just walking up to the first one we came to. We drove over to another modern looking technology building. The network connectivity was much better there.

The four of us then took a taxis to get something to eat for lunch because our meeting took us past the time the building's cafeteria closed. We wound up a small "hole in the wall" type place which probably did not get many Americans. My friends helped me order and I wound up with a huge bowl of tasty beef and noodles, a couple of spicy chicken wings, and some bread which reminded me of the bread I get in Indian restaurants back home but with spicy seasoning sprinkled over it. The bread was cooked on a grill outside the front door on the sidewalk. One of my co-workers pointed out that the family that ran the restaurants were Muslims. I noticed a tapistry of a Mosque on the wall. I remarked that I didn't know China had a Muslim population and he told me there were 60 million Muslims in China. A couple of the waiters who brought our food looked to be 12-year old boys. I wondered how many years kids were required to attend school.

We walked from lunch to the original building we went to this morning.

We had a key person we wanted to meet with who could not meet with us in the afternoon until 4 PM. We wound up talking until well after 6 PM. When we went outside, the long line of waiting taxis cabs was gone. It took a few minutes to get a cab as the driver was dropping someone else off at our location.

We got back to the hotel and by this time the jet lag was getting to me. I decided to eat in at the hotel rather than go out with my co-workers. I shot a couple of emails and then walked down to the Italian restaurant of my fancy hotel. I had penne fettichini. I almost knodded off waiting for my food.

After dinner, I felt more awake and decided to return to my room. For some reason I decided to bang out this post and try to go to bed a little later so I don't wake up too early tomorrow. I wonder if anybody will read it and will enjoy it enough to leave me an encouraging comment? :-)


Deepak said...

Hi Phil, you seem to have got an interesting start to your trip to China. I am sure you will enjoy your time there, keep posting about your adventures :)

Have fun!

Anonymous said...

Fairly good diary and I'd like read more.

Welcome to Beijing:-)

Your new colleague in Lenovo, mef.