Sunday, December 26, 2010

Report #12

I threatened myself a couple months ago that I would find a gym, but the threat level has gone from red to orange to yellow. Maybe it’s the cold or maybe it’s the routine I’m stuck in now. However in my defense, there aren’t a lot of gyms out there screaming at you to join. A fitness center with big glass windows and frantic members running like hamsters staring at you just doesn’t happen here like it does, say in New York. If I lived near one of those 24-hour New York fitness centers, I’m sure I would’ve caved under the pressure of walking past it everyday, and I would be locked into a contract that I’d later regret, and eventually my regret would be replaced by financial motivation to get my money’s worth, and I would become a hamster.

What I do see everyday are the Chinese version of gyms. They’re outside and have a communist flare to them…in that they’re free and open to the public. Chinese gyms are basically playgrounds for adults. To illustrate what a Chinese gym is, here is a set of instructions on how to make one:

1) Imagine all the popular fitness equipment you might find in a Bally’s Total Fitness…
2) Now remove any motors or easily damaged parts like rubber, electronics, cables, etc. and make sure there are no loose pieces like individual weights.
3) Beef up the equipment with thick, round tube-steel.
4) Next, paint the skeleton-like machines with bright yellow and blue paint
5) Mount your machines on a paved surface and bolt each one to the ground
6) Also, add a concrete ping-pong table or two with a concrete net.
7) And also add other fitness-machine-imaginations like large steering wheels mounted to poles. You’re not sure what those do, but you have a feeling they’ll be a huge hit.
8) Wait…

Before long, the gym will be crawling with people…. but not young, healthy Chinese people or even children, your gym will be a senior citizen hot spot. This is true.

On a sunny 30 degree day like today in Beijing, you’ll see dozens of elderly people going hard on what looks like a playground. It’s as if the old people showed up and kicked out the kids. It’s such a strange scene a photograph would do so much, but I haven’t mustered up the gumption to stand before 20-30 senior citizens, moving rhythmically on colorful equipment, staring aimlessly at me, and take a photo. I just watch, and slowly walk past trying to unpack why exactly does the sight seem so wrong. And here are some thoughts.

What we know to be ‘gym’, is a very standardized place with certain types of floor coverings, mirrors, machines, weights, towels, people dressed in gym clothes, etc. We take for granted how all the gym-ness signs amount to an overall image of a fitness center. But when you start removing these signs, taking away the building, the soft and futuristic edges of the fixtures and furnishings, removing the young people and their athletic clothing…you start to get close to what a Chinese gym looks like. I think the real deal-breaker is the outerwear. The senior citizens who are the most devoted patrons aren’t too worried about athletic pants or running shoes, they pretty much just show up in their street clothes, which right now consists of heavy overcoats and puffy looking slacks inflated by thick, long-underwear, and black or brown shoes. In their everyday garb they start making the rounds between different exercise contraptions. Some machines do the same as we’re used to seeing in a proper gym, and some make the body do really strange movements like we’re used to seeing in a proper gym, and others are entirely foreign, like the large steering wheel, which I see people grab onto with their back turned to it and sort of roll and sway with it as if their hands are stuck. Sometimes I see guys spin the wheel really fast, back and forth like they’re on a ship dodging an iceberg. Then there are also the self-administered beatings –these seem to be independent of the exercise equipment. There’s a lot of leg slapping and punching and it reads like “Come on you goddamn hip! Work! Work!” Then more punching…. really anywhere you can land a blow to the body, the back, the hip, the quad, the arm, the other arm, the calf, just not the face.

The American aesthetic of gyms and exercise is explicitly linked with youth, vitality, and sex, not geriatrics. The American gym is so much more about looking good than being healthy. And why shouldn’t it be, I mean just think about the popular exercise equipment we grew up with. We had Suzanne Somers lying on her side, pumping a thighmaster on late night TV, there was the ab-master awkwardly working your core, and Tony Little taking long strides in spandex on his Gazelle…and while not exactly a role model per se, he did seem to have an agressive agenda…

For better or worse, as a young person growing up with tv in America, infomercials somehow became embedded in the collective consciousness. Late nights, boredom, and adolescence I guess. So now imagine this scene…all these old Chinese people 60+ years old, in their street clothes in the middle of winter…and they’re bobbing, swinging, lifting, rotating, pulling, humping, and beating themselves, with calm faces, some even have on big sunglasses and Russian fur hats, and they’re on what looks like children’s playground equipment… and that’s about when the strangeness sets in…

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Report #11

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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Report #10

This is what thirty thousand Yuan looks like. It’s the most money I’ve ever held in my hand before….the most, as in physically, because it’s nowhere near thirty thousand dollars. But it is three hundred of one thing--three hundred bills of money--and feels equally provocative. This is how I paid for my apartment; one lump sum for one year’s rent. That’s just how hot the rental market is in Beijing and goes to show how unscathed the Chinese economy is after the financial Crisis.

One of my co-workers, Qing Bo, couldn’t come into work one Saturday a few weeks back because he and his wife had to sell their house. I asked our project manager “So, does he have to go to a closing or something?”
“No…he’s just doing an open house.”
“Oh, I see…”
When Qing Bo came into work on Monday his house was sold. Just one day on the market, and he already bought another, an even bigger one.

I suppose when making large transactions most people get cashier checks or something equivalent, but I had to pull money out of ATM machines from several of my US bank accounts to pay a year’s rent. In the end I racked up hefty fees from the servicing bank, the kind that don’t show up right away. I had half a dozen $15 dollar fees from the Chinese bank. I guess they don’t like TCF back home, but I had no way of knowing at the time. It’s not like the $2.00 fee you agree to upfront. In hindsight I should have consolidated funds between my US accounts and made a single wire transfer to my Chinese bank account, but at the time speed was all that mattered.

Logistics aside, what I want to focus on is the rawness of this stack. The weight of it in the folded envelope I used to cart it around. The secret I was carrying as I passed any number of potential thieves that could smell giant stacks of money like wolves smell blood. At the lease signing I wasn’t sure when to pull out the fat envelope as it would somehow prove I was vulnerable in the deal, no room to negotiate any last hiccups, I had the money, I was all in.

A big stack of money is dirty. Counting and handling it makes your hands a little grimmey. My landlady is an amazing counter of money. She used a technique where she held the folded wad with both hands and meticulously pulled each bill off the stack with her pinky and ring finger while keeping everything perfectly aligned with her thumbs and fingers. It was like watching a fiddler crab eat a piece of meat.

My counting technique was awkward and sloppy, monopoly-style. I made little stacks in equal amounts so that when I screwed up I didn’t have to start all over. As careful as I tried to be I still messed up by giving her 100 Yuan too much, which she was nice enough to pull out. I left that day feeling a little nervous at what, if any influence I had with my landlord if something were to go wrong with the apartment. I mean…. I couldn’t exactly stop paying rent. I also wondered what she was going to do with that chunk of money. Would it go to pay off something? Or would she stuff it in a shoebox under a mattress?

Handing over the money seemed like something far more criminal was happening than a simple rental agreement; the Chinese contract that was illegible to me, the two apartment broker girls standing there in black suits looking bored, the landlady and her husband who wandered around the apartment as if it was the first time he had seen it. For a moment I wondered if I was living out the email scam that you’re not supposed to reply to. Having Ying, the office secretary, there made things seem safer. My tensions of future apartment problems eased when my landlady fixed a leak and some cracked plaster on my porch and bought me two space heaters within the first week. And every so often she text messages Ying to ask if I need anything. Now, two months into it I couldn’t be happier with this little home, the thing that thirty thousand other things was traded for.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Report #9

Dear Chinese Cleaning Lady,

Hey, it’s me the American. You know, the one that showed up too early on the first day and you had to unlock the door after hearing the doorbell ring repeatedly? You were pretty confused, especially when I tried to tell you that I just started working here. We didn’t understand one another, so I just sat at the table and read a book while I waited for other people to show up. Anyway, that was two months ago and I’ve had time to get to know you a bit better. I know we haven’t really talked much, except for the occasional “Ni hao” exchange, but I’ve done some reflecting on your services.

First off, I must say that I’m a little uncomfortable having a cleaning lady, like when I tried to wash my own mug and you took it out of my hands. Hey, you wanted that mug and I backed off. Don’t worry, I wasn’t trying to make you irrelevant, I just thought I’d give it a pre-rinse to make things easier for you. I’ve since moved beyond my initial sheepishness of your services, and now I marvel at the fact that I can create dirty dishes and just leave them in the sink for you. This makes me feel wealthy. In fact, I’m so comfortable with your services that I inquired about hiring you to clean my own apartment. I mean, two-dollars an hour! That’s a deal! My place would be a cakewalk for you it’s so small. But apparently you’re too busy with other clients for the next two months. No need to worry, put me on the waiting list. I do however have a few tips and suggestions.

I’ve noticed that you continue to use the same kitchen towels for most tasks around the office. I realize that we don’t have a washing machine, but it’s a good practice to change these towels once and awhile. It’s been two months since I arrived, and I’m pretty sure that white dish-towel hasn’t been washed once…and it shows. I even feel a little queasy just thinking about the few times early on I used it to dry off the rim of my glass. And that brings up another issue, all the hand washing you do. The large serving plate that you use to dry the glasses upside down inevitably creates a small pond. This prevents the cup from drying on the inside and taints the rim of the glass…hence my propensity to seek a drying cloth. Maybe that’s just what you’re used to but our kitchen has a dishwasher, however you seem to use the dishwasher to store wet plates and bowls. I realize the dishwasher may look like the perfect place to store wet dishes, but this is quite backwards. When I open the dishwasher to fetch a plate or bowl it smells damp like a moldy cellar because you continue to populate it with wet things and proceed to close the airtight door. This is bad. Please run it once in awhile, and it will even dry everything inside so you can put bowls and plates in the cabinets where they belong.

While on the subject of misused storage spaces, I must inform you that the shower is not a closet. Yes, it does share the same shape as one, but unlike a typical closet, which is used to hide unsightly things, our shower has glass walls. I’m sure we can relocate your brooms and mops to a more appropriate storage area, like the closet. Don’t worry, I’m not angry with you, I just think there is some room for improvement. I still want to be put on the waiting list, if you even have one.

I do have some positive feedback to give you as well. Thank you for the fresh fruit you bring each morning. I certainly eat my fair share of clementines. One time I ate so many when I looked at my tongue in the mirror it was orange. Weird, I know. I also appreciate how each morning you try to straighten the things on my desk so everything is perpendicular to each other. But please stop returning the books I’ve taken out from the office library. These I have on my desk because I’m reading them, they’re not misplaced. Oops, here I go complaining again. Let’s just leave things on a positive note. Chinese Cleaning Lady, you’re worth every penny!


The American

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Report #8

Adjusting to Beijing is similar to going grocery shopping in a new store. You know it has all the stuff you need, you’re just not sure where to find everything, and aimlessly circle around the same loops. My existence here is limited to several key locations. I imagine myself a ground squirrel darting to and fro points of safety, those being: my apartment, the office, Carrefore (the grocery store), and occasionally IKEA. This would be my routine if a spy satellite studied me for several weeks, the operators of which completely bored out of their mind. And like the ground squirrel, I’m just looking for necessities on these journeys. In the spirit of the newly kicked off holiday season, below are three new products to consider:

BLACK Q-TIPS (cost: $2.00): After lamenting that Carrefore does not seem to carry Q-tips to the rest of the office, the office manager Ying, returned from an errand to 7-elleven with a small canister that appeared to be filled with charcoal. “Here, I got these for you” she said. “See if they’re okay, otherwise I’ll keep them for myself.”
“But they’re black…” I said. “Why are they black?” The label on the package had a cartoon character marveling at the glowing-yellow end of a completely black Q-tip, stick and all. I wasn’t sure if the black cotton was supposed to amplify the yellow glow or reduce it. “Come on, try one” Mengyi said. “No way, I’ve been out of Q-tips for two weeks.” The thought of having half the office watch me as I attended to my neglected ears with Q-tips that might be designed to enhance the glow of earwax was horrifying. I kept the Q-tips, and after several trials in the privacy of my own bathroom here is what I have to report:

BLACK Q-TIPS do function the same as their white counterpart, however they do not reveal earwax. This must be the intended result, but troubling nonetheless. There are some hygienic functions that everyone does, and we code these with polite numbers, one and two. Ladies, maybe you have three? Regardless, the importance of ‘white’ to these functions is critical. Feedback is key. BLACK Q-TIPSS are not the best invention, which is no surprise because if it were there would be black toilet paper, tissues, etc. on the market, and there aren’t.

GRANNY CART (cost $5.00): As a ground squirrel, speed and precision is critical between safety points. On my return trips from Carrefore, my awkward IKEA sack is filled to an almost unmanageable weight. It makes it nearly impossible to ride my bike, and dangerous too as the taxi drivers and buses are the closest thing to predators I can think of for someone on two wheels in Beijing. So, last week the granny cart that I ordered from (like Chinese ebay) arrived at the office. Ying was skeptical to order this for me at first, “But it’s for girls, I think…” she giggled. “It’s okay I’m comfortable with those sorts of things. Just try to get the red and white one, K-14”, which was the least feminine looking one of them all. Other options include colorful strips, flowers, etc. The GRANNY CART is a small pull behind cart with a metal frame and backpack-like sack to keep your groceries in. It’s has wheels that look like they were stolen from a set of rollerblades, three on each side which are held together by a bracket, which spins 360 degrees. The wheel system is strange, four wheels are on the ground at any given time, and when you hit a curb the whole bracket spins. I guess it’s like an all-terrain wheel system, ready to roll up anything. The cart has an umbrella holder, and a zipper pouch on the underside of the top flap to keep money or coupons in. Some of my co-workers compared the look of the granny cart to a bicycle messenger bag or a Freitag bag. “It looks hip.” Ben told me. And in fact it does. It’s tempting to import these because if I paid only $5 dollars they could easily sell for four or five times as much in the states. The GRANNY CART is very simple to put together, only becoming complex with the lack of instructions (my only complaint).

WATER DISPENSER (cost: free with the purchase of 30 bottles: $100) I don’t trust the dispenser because it is brand new and cost me nothing. The first glass of water I drank tasted like it came out of a new water dispenser. The heating spigot excited me with the thought of boiling hot water for tea any time I wanted, even though I don’t really drink tea. I kept it plugged in until I realized that I was wasting electricity on hot water I’ll never use. I’m hoping the new-dispenser taste will go away soon, so for now I just cook with the water. The delivery service for the large water bottles is very reliable. The guy lugs one up 5 stories to my apartment for nothing within a couple hours of calling. He shows up out of breath and wears these strange knee-pad shin guards things, making it clear that he rides an electric three-wheeler. These knee/shin pads are more closely related to cross-country skiing gators than a real knee-pad or shin-guard. They’re soft looking like the sleeve of a puffy winter jacket, lined on the inside with fake fur, and partially wrap the leg like a pair of chaps. That’s really what they are, Chinese chaps. And that’s really what this new product report is about; the water dispenser delivery guy’s Chinese motorcycle chaps. I’m going to get a pair….but where?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Report #5

Dear My body,

I’m sorry. I know this transition must be hard for you. Isn’t it funny how when we told people about our move to Beijing they thought I might let you get too thin as they pegged all Chinese people to be skinny or something? Ha! Looks like we’ve proved them wrong, which is the concern of this letter. You’ve probably noticed by now how I keep you sitting in a chair for about 12 hours a day. What? Yes, I know the 5 minute bike ride to work could have been longer, but I questioned your ability to withstand the coldest part of Beijing’s winter on a longer commute. So, now we live a few blocks away from work. You’ll thank me later.

As for the all the weird food I’ve fed you, this is just customary in china –all the grease, all the oil, and all the sauce that can only be categorized as ‘sauce’ because I have no idea what products it owes its existence too. Yeah, I know the sweet and sour tofu sauce is strangely neon red in color, which is why I go for the chunks with the least amount. Don’t worry, pretty soon I’ll start cooking for you again, just like in Michigan.

As for exercise, you may have noticed that our jogging routine has ceased. The reason for this lull in activity is multiple. Do you remember when I kept you up most of the night for about four days straight? Well you caught a cold after that sleep-deprived spell and I figured you needed a little recuperation time. You still haven’t quite kicked it yet, which is why I’ve been letting you sleep a bit longer. The other reason why we haven’t been out again is that when I queried my dad about the health risks of jogging in Beijing he equated exercising in polluted air to smoking a pack a day. I know, that scared you and me both even though he said your risk of lung cancer would zero out after a year of being home. Now, I’m looking for a gym that we can go to, maybe one that has pool too. This exercise thing is a must!

I’m worried about your legs, which just seem sprawl lifelessly under the desk at work all day. I have thoughts about atrophy, and soft things becoming tight and gnarled. Hey, this thing takes two, just because I’m staring at a computer doesn’t mean you have to shrivel away, bounce a leg nervously or something, I don’t care, anything. You just seem so lethargic when I go to the water cooler to fill up our glass. I’m trying to keep you hydrated because according to the tint of yellow I see in the toilet, you can get pretty dehydrated by doing nothing all day. The first few steps out of the chair can be painful, like you’re a paraplegic at physical therapy. What? That IS what you feel like? Don’t you remember that 560 mile walk we did a few months ago? I can show you that photo someone took of you flexing your leg muscles at the end. That looked crazy!

Okay, we’re losing focus now. Oh, yes, the coffee. I’m sorry I’ve put you back on caffeine. I remember how annoying that three-day headache was when I had you quit cold turkey, but come on this espresso machine at work is pretty nice, right? It’s also making us money…sort of. I mean, we could pay five dollars for a latte downstairs, but we’re drinking for free up here. It’s like getting a ten-percent raise….

I’m also concerned about your belly. You’ve been skinny most of your life, except for those early years as a toddler, which from what I gather in the mirror you seem to be reverting back to. Don’t you remember how we always gawked in disgust at those men at Stadium Hardware with the big pregnant-bellies? Well it’s clear where you’re putting any extra fat, and shockingly specific I might add. It would be nice if you could spread it out a bit more instead of stockpiling it in the mid-section. Don’t you remember when your stomach was tight like a drum? I didn’t take you to the gym or anything and yet you still had a default four-pack. Now when you flex your abdomen its like looking for potatoes buried in the mud.

Actually, don’t worry about this I’ll take care of it. It’s a simple equation really, you just need to burn more calories than I put in you. Done! But it’s not easy when you start craving sweet things after every meal. The other employees have already noticed how much sugar I put in our coffee, and when you nag me to go downstairs to the “Wow-New” market and buy an ice cream after lunch they seem to be even more confused. This all has to stop. Crave an apple or an orange because we get those for free from the fruit bowl.

I know this move has been hard for you, but I promise we’ll find our routine and go back to our old self. These things just take a little time and planning. In closing, I have a few more requests, please do not let your hands soften and fingernails grow long like a nerdy gamer-type. You can start grabbing rough surfaces if they strike you enough to warrant a touch. Try to sit more upright with your shoulders back -I fear you’re getting too comfortable with a turtle-like posture. Look proud in front of that computer dammit! That’s all for now, but we should communicate like this more often. Thanks for being there for me.

Your Mind

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Report #4

I’ve spent the last few days researching pedestrian traffic patterns and shopping psychology for the Metro Valley project in India, which is a mega-structure in a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) just outside of Dehli. I’ve filled my head with things like the invariant-right principle (our bias to turn right), merchandising layout psychology (the items we need are always farthest away from the entrance), the male tendency to shop without a list (and therefore impulsively). And with that, I went to the Beijing IKEA.

The escalator led me to third floor along with everyone else…it just flowed up there. There was no reason to get off at the second floor (although one could, but it looked like a service entry not a main thoroughfare). The only logical thing to do was ride it all the way to top. Once I was embedded deep within the snake-like maze I realized that there was nothing to buy. It was just a showroom. This was a time to educate myself of IKEA’s potential to create the space and subsequently the life that I didn’t know I wanted. However, I already knew I wanted this. I was there. I was ready.

I tried to rush through the rest of the third floor, but I was handicapped by a giant yellow bag and little folding cart that I was enticed to pick up along the way. There is a pace to IKEA, which cannot be violated; it’s a slow pace. Hurrying does no good other than cause anxiety. I finally emerged on the other side and discovered a giant dinning area with fancy food. It was such a smart set up they had, wooing the shoppers with ultimate IKEA lifestyle and then feeding their hunger with good but inexpensive food. After that, staying at IKEA for hours on end was no problem.

I finally made it down to the second floor where I traded my empty yellow bag and grandma cart for a real shopping cart. I went through the kitchen section slowly and recited some strange narrative that I conjured up about a potential dinner party or brunch that I might have at my apartment, and wanted to be sure I had enough settings for everyone. I couldn’t get this out of my mind. I kept going back and forth. First two wine glasses and then four. I tried to give myself a reality check every so often, which is that I’ll probably never have anyone over to my apartment. For one it’s so damn small, and two I just don’t lead that leisurely of life right now. But… could happen…and this glass is only $1.50, so what’s a couple more. I continued through getting multiples of four and even trading up in some instances. Choosing between the absolute cheapest option and next one up was an easy move. It’s hard to distinguish quality online (where I first did all of my browsing). This quality issue kept coming up, until I had a meltdown in the bedding department.

The quilts seemed so thin, so wimpy. I feared for the cold as I pinched the quilt between my fingers (this is the “petting principle” which is huge for shopping psychology….we have to touch things, we just have too) The sheets seemed so crappy. I was looking for the trade up but never found it. Every sheet, flat or fitted, looked grainy and see-through. The goose down comforter I thought I was going to buy wasn’t there; everything was synthetic. If only a marketing strategist would have caught me on tape (this is how many studies are done, viewing hours and hours of footage to see how and why shoppers make decisions) I would have looked crazy going back and forth to the sheets, then the duvet covers, back to the sheets, even putting a few selections in my cart, wheeling around a little bit, and taking them out, going back to the comforters…ughh there were so many things to consider and what threw the whole thing off was that DIVLA sheet set in crimson orange was out of stock in my bed size! I was falling prey to the fact that men are not as good as color matching as women and IKEA seems to take a democratic position on this and keep the fields level, whereas Gap and Banana Republic will match outfits for men and leave it up to the women to find their own combos (because women like to do that, I guess) While browsing online I thought I would go for the super-graphic, lots of color bedding, but later realized I just couldn’t handle that much action in small apartment. I finally broke down, and took out all the bedding-related stuff in my cart and headed for checkout. I would do my linen shopping at Carrefore instead, which has been described to me as the French version of Walmart.

I fish tailed my way to the escalator ramp and braced my overloaded cart for the incline only to be presently surprised that IKEA had thought of that too. My cart fused itself to the metal ramp through a strong magnetic force. I let go and it stayed in place. At the bottom I meandered through the warehouse like space at the end of the IKEA experience where the reality sets in: you have put this shit together; it’s just not as easy pointing your finger in the showroom. I approached the long gate of check out aisles and intently considered the “point of sale” items laid out for me (these are the last minute impulse buys one can make…very common for men). After my purchase, which included the default-blue IKEA bags because I didn’t think to bring my giant suitcases, I rewarded myself with 15-cent ice-cream cone and an 80-cent hot dog. The hot dog was odd looking, skinny and too long for the bun. It crookedly poked out on either end in a gross way, like a problem bowel movement for a small dog. It tasted good though.

Outside taxicabs were lined up waiting for the shoppers. I loaded up my stuff in the trunk and backseat of one and hopped up front (customary in China). It was short trip home. I managed to schlep everything up 5 flights in one shot, but created a ruckass as I squeezed my oversized bags through the narrow stairwell. I was panting at the top and it seemed inevitable my neighbors would appear out of curiosity.

I unloaded my stuff and continued the shopping mission, this time on bike to Carrefore. Upstairs about a dozen women in yellow shirts swarmed like bees around the comforters. This was too much. I pointed to the goose down and one took me down an aisle “Ty gway la!” I said (too expensive) at the $300 dollar price tag. They were all following me, saying what little English they knew “Hello, hello, you like this one?” This went on for a while until two of them coerced me into getting a wool-filled comforter. They even convinced me to do the trade up. They pointed to the different packages, one had a small sheep that looked kind of young and thin, the other package had this robust, super furry sheep. It was clear which one was better.

I rolled around with it in my cart looking at sheets. Another yellow shirt approached me with a brick-like sheet set, but the dimensions were all wrong. I showed her the measurements I had taken of my bed 150cm x 190cm, and she pointed out that my comforter was 200cm x 230cm. “I know” I said “I really like to wrap up…” but it quickly became clear that this was not a pick and choose set up. I would have to buy a comforter precisely the dimensions of my bed if I wanted to buy sheets here. This is fucked, I thought.

I rode home and parked my bike, then walked back out to the street and caught another cab to IKEA. I only rode the escalator up to the second floor this time, and took a few cut-throughs between aisles. Everything in the bedding aisle now made sense. Winter quilt with a coldness rating of 6, done! Duvet cover that is kind of textured and a soft gray-blue, got it! GOSSA HILLA pillows, you guys are so soft, in the cart! White sheets because those crimson ones are still missing, I’ll take you! Two white pillowcases that are 50cm x 80cm, that’s a match!

Back at the check out aisle I filled the conveyor belt with all my stuff and showed the clerk my blue bags like I was a seasoned veteran. I handed over my card and she seemed confused after trying it on her machine, and went to another. I knew what was happening. It’s either my US bank or China that doesn’t want you going on wild spending sprees, so it only works once per day at any given store (no repeat trips). I quickly handed her my Visa and she seemed surprised and almost humored. Yes, I thought, it is true that Americans have many of these cards. One of my co-workers was shocked when I pulled out my rubber-band wrapped stack of cards. “They’re for different banks!” I said. “I heard Americans get many cards and spend all the money.” He replied. “Yeah, I guess that’s true.” I recalled this conversation as the clerk swiped the new card and it went through. I signed the receipt and wheeled over to ice cream and hot dog stand for another cone. After all that I had been through, I needed another reward.

The next day at work I became a “marketing maven”, the term used for the consumers who are in the know and have a great influence over other consumers (they apparently watch a lot of tv, read junk mail, and like to talk about products). I told my co-worker, Ben, about shopping for linen and how IKEA was way better than Carrefore. “Really, how far away is it.” He asked “Just right up the street. A straight shot. Fourteen-kwi cab ride” I said with confidence. “Oh man, I’m definitely going…” And it is precisely that sell that is most effective and the hardest for companies to influence, and most of the time the “maven’s” don’t even know they’re doing it.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Report #2

There are some things you just have to do, like eating a duck foot when you're out to dinner with your boss. Rubber and cartilage.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Report #1

My blog is now up and running with some new features. I've created links to my old blogs below the title page, and best of all there is an email subscription link to receive notifications each time a new "report" is posted (that's for you Janyki)

REPORT #1: The Acclimation Period, Two Weeks Chinese

From Detroit to JFK and then 5 hours of layover. I had two bags checked in Detroit, which were being shuffled somewhere in the airport system. I took the subway to Rockaway Beach to have one last fish-taco deluxe, but to my disappointment Rockaway Taco Stand was closed for the season. The cafe next door sufficed. I ate a fancy baguette sandwich, and then felt panic like I always do when I leave the airport on a layover. I headed back to JFK and the security line had grown exponentially since I had left. I tried to inquire with one of the line monitors about skipping it if my boarding time started in 45 min., but they assured me I would get through by then. "Don't worry your airline will come looking for you if you're late" she replied. That seemed too easy, too friendly for the airline industry.

On the plane I sat in one of the four seats in the center. The headrest unfortunately did not have one of those little tv screens to watch movies...I guess I got spoiled flying back and forth to Spain this past summer. My neighbors, a young chinese couple, had a baby....the kind that cries on airplanes. Air China served us dinner after a couple hours in the air. I got mine first, before anyone else because I had requested a vegetarian meal when I booked my ticket -it just seemed like a safer bet. The tray had a piece of tape stuck to it with my seat number written on it. I had mixed feelings of VIP status coupled with some type of deficiency.

I slept, and woke up to another dinner...again with my tray arriving first. It was similar to the first dish, pasta and vegetables in some type of alfredo sauce. I walked around some to stretch out my knees. The plane was so large you could easily do laps around the 4-seat center aisle, cutting through the flight attendant's prep area. Out one of the emergency exit doors the sky was turning a pale gray. I wasn't sure if it was dusk or dawn. We were flying pretty far north over the ocean off the coast of Alaska according to animation map. I could see the water below was covered in a sheet of ice. This would be certain death.

At the airport my luggage arrived promptly. I exited the baggage area and bought a chinese SIM card from a young girl standing next to the SIM card vending machine. She assured me that her cards were cheaper because I would get an additional 20RMB of talk time. I popped the sim card into my iphone (which I jailbroke and unlocked back at home) and she activated the prepaid minutes and I was up and running. I called Tom Lee, another UM architecture alum, who also flew into the airport that evening after a 3 day stint in Hong Kong to reset his visa. We met up and took a cab back to his place where I would stay for the next week.

Tom lives in this massive block of apartment high rises just east of the 4th ring rd. His roommate, Nick, an Englishman from Manchester teaches english classes and can speak mandarin. Both Tom and Nick smoke in the apartment, and when casually asked "Oh, do you mind?" when Tom lit a cigarette, I lied and said no. I slept on the couch and went to bed when the living room was vacated. Nick stays up late watching internet television, drinking cheap chinese beer and chain smoking. He often brings home chinese girls he meets at the bars, and from what I could gather sleeplessly on the couch, he has no regard for intimate audio levels. That was my last night on the couch. I started sleeping on the floor of Tom's room who was sympathetic to my need for sleep. My commute to work was 1.5 hrs via a bus, two subways, and a short walk. After a week I had worn out my welcome, or rather Nick inquired about my progress in apartment hunting to Tom, and also added that he felt the apartment was not big enough for three people. I was glad to leave, and would have done so before then had I known that staying on the couch in the office was fine with my boss.

My office is in the top floor of a Steven Holl building called "The Linked Hybrid". It's a 3 bedroom 3 bath condo. Most of the desks are in what would be considered the living room, and the rest take up the master bedroom. The other two bedrooms are dedicated to a library and a conference room. Our roof deck has a nice sized grass lawn, and on a clear day you can see mountains surrounding the beijing skyline. Living here has been awesome. The shower has one of those "rain shower" heads on it and just dumps out water. We have a full kitchen with a fairly robust cappuccino machine that has already swung me back into the coffee habit. It's just too easy to steam up some milk and pull a couple shots...and it's on the house.


OBSERVATION: Riding The Subway During Rush Hour

In the subway tunnels people form thick lines on the platform waiting for the next train. When the door opens only a small void exists inside the subway car, which is far too small to fit everyone. The line slowly shuffles forward....and then....there's the push. The shuffles turn into fast wobbles, and the thick line several people across, compresses into compacted chunk of bodies squeezed tightly like a stampede that might suffer casualties. It's a frantic moment but doesn't seem to cause panic. The subway doors slice through the mono-body separating the chunk of people. Five minutes later the scene is repeated. It took three trains before I got on. When I was part of the push it felt like we were one big organism. Inside we were all packed together, bodies against bodies, all movement was felt collectively. The fat chinese men had sweat on their foreheads -the air conditioning just couldn't overcome the body heat present in the car.