Monday, February 10, 2014

Back in the saddle!

Howdy All,
Thought I'd share with you guys my updates for 2014!

It sure has been a while! 

Since my last update, I was homeward bound, but I had to stop in Beijing and have the year end meeting and finalize our company budget for 2014 (very late I know!)
I ended up being in Beijing for almost 10 days and having to go to the office and wait on everyone else, as the officers wouldnt let anyone go till the budget was completed.
Back across the pond, it was great to land, go see my mom and stepdad and have some Taco Bell.  I'm glad I got to see many of you when I was home, but some others, I apologize for not getting to tag up.  It was a perfect storm of the holidays, seeing people, and trying to get the house back in order after the flooding from the summer!  I'll be back more in 2014, so let's make plans!
I arrived back in China in early January, and it was kind of sad getting back here, away from home and my friends, but after a few days of seeing Kody again and hanging out with my friends here in Qingdao, I've started to feel more normal again.  January was spent playing 'catch up' and visiting places in town, as well as taking my department out for Chinese new year activities.  We chose bowling and dinner.  Now, we all know how to act at the bowling alley right?  Everyone enter your name in the computer, take turns and bowl, consdering the person next to you before you throw your ball.  Not so much here.  We pulled up and as soon as i paid, all of my guys went up and started grabbing bowling balls and everyone was just going.  Doesnt matter whos turn it was, just throw the ball.  I had to explain to people that they needed shoes and put their name in the computer for scoring.  They ignored it and just went as they pleased.  Later at dinner, I found out for 80% of the people, it was the first time they've ever bowled.

I'm really happy that I have been learning the streets and now can go into the city and get around to places I normally go to, without the help of a GPS.  My friend Susan and I found a restaurant close to the ocean called "The Diner" that has excellent burgers and Pizza, as well as their own beer they brew in house.  We've gone a few times and it's been nice to have some decent western food.
Many of you know, that Chinese New Year (aka Spring Festival) has just finished here.  This was a 10 day holiday and I was able to do some exploring, as well as 'get out in the crowd' to see what the hustle and bustle is like.  Its very much like the holiday season at home.  Stores full, roads quiet, and people everywhere.  I enjoyed it, but it was also nice to stay home and sleep in late, take naps and stuff.  I did go venture out and do some road trips over the holiday,  we went to Jimo, a small town close to where I live, and went to the Hot Spring resort.  There are tons in the area, and they're mostly hotels with the resort side attached.  The resort consists of a series of rooms each with a large pool and smaller hot tub sized pools, and all the water is from the hot springs, so it was nice and warm.  We went early in the day, and while it was nice, it was very crowded by lunch time.  We were able to find a hot tub outside, where the water was 110 degrees (very warm!) and it was 30F outside.  By the time we left, the water didn't look so clean, but that was to be expected with the number of people that were there.  So travelers tip:
Go really early in the morning and shower well when you leave.
Kody and I also were able to climb the FuShan mountains with my friends Rita and her husband Franz.  IT was an awesome climb and nice to get some physical activity!
On Chinese New Years eve, my Korean neighbors invited me over for a traditional Korean dinner. We had chicken soup, and assorted Korean meats and other noodles. It was very nice!  Then the fireworks went on, pretty much for 4 days.  It got to the point where I was used to hearing them when I went to bed!

We were able to get the superbowl here, and I made a big pot of chili and some 'no knead' bread from a recipe my mom gave me from a few years ago.  It was nice to sit around and watch the lopsided game and have chili and bread.  It felt so 'normal'!

We were going to take a trip to Yantai to see the city and visit the wine museum, but guess what? We got SNOW!  QIngdao usually gets snow but very light.  We did not get ANY snow this season, but we were hit with two very nice snow showers that was just enough to coat everything with white powder and make everything look pretty.
The only new and exciting thing I have to report, is that I joined a crossfit group in China, as well as Yoga classes!   I love both, and it feels good to get back into the physical activity, especially with the cold weather and the early sunsets!  I'm starting to cycle again, so I can be ready for the MS150 when I'm back in April.
Take care and gig'em!












Thursday, December 5, 2013

Homeward Bound!
















Howdy everyone!

Well, we're HOMEWARD BOUND (in about 2 weeks).  I head home in two
weeks for my Christmas leave!

I can't believe that its been over a month since my last update!  That means two things...1. I'm really busy, or 2. I'm finally getting acclimated to things here.  Its more the 1 than the 2.

Since my last update, we've had thanksgiving and lots of visitors. My sister and her family came for a visit.  We celebrated thanksgiving at my home with them, along with my expat friends.  I made most of my own food, with the exception of the Turkey, which had to come from the Holiday Inn (restricted oven space in my home). My friends brought a great salad and a nice apple crumble for dessert!  On Friday, I took  Jennifer and her family out to visit the Qingdao Beer factory, Jimo Lu (the equivalent of Silk Street in Beijing, or Harwin for you Houstonians), and then to the Oceanside Olympic Sailing Center.  I was so excited and happy to have them here! The girls are certainly growing up very fast!  The left on Saturday and went back to Beijing for a few days before heading home today.  I'm attaching pics of the good eats we had!

As far as everything else, its all status quo.  I purchased a dining room table and chairs, so thats been nice to have, and we had a wonderfully decorated thanksgiving table!  The house in China is still
the same, its starting to feel comfortable now.  I have added a few paintings and its starting to feel settled in.  I am meeting more people and have my normal Saturday night routine with my friends down, kind of like back home.  We go try new restaurants, eat western food mostly, and go have a nice time. I've attached some pictures of the things we have eaten. Theres also a photo of a Lamb KaBob vendor in Qingdao, from Western China, on the border of Kazakhstan.  You can
see, he doesn't even look Asian!

The weather here has gotten quite cold.  We are now getting around 28  at night, and 40-50 in the daytime.  With the cold weather, comes extreme dryness right now.  I have two humidifiers going non stop, to cut down on nosebleeds and static shock.  The heat, which cost me around 600 USD to turn on ( will last from nov 15- mar15) comes from the floor of the apartment.  So its nice and warm.  The bad part is, theres not really a good way to regulate it, so I have to open the door to the patio, otherwise I wake up to 80 degrees in the house in the mornings!

Work is good, right now, I'm headed to beijing to attend our 4th quarter meetings and finalize the budgets for 2014. The meeting originally was planned for Dec 4-7 and is now 4-11!  We like meetings here.  WIthin my department, my guys are all doing well.    Everyone now follows our dress code, and we have our daily meetings in english.  I realized that people were getting online and translating their days activities. So in order to get them to speak more, I have added a
question of the day to the board.  Every day, they have to answer a short question.  It has proven effective, not only to encourage people to talk, but to better know everyone.

The house in the US is pretty much back to normal.  I'm going to work with Sharon, my professional organizer friend to go through the tons of boxes that the restoration company boxed everything up when the house was flooded.  I'm very grateful to have my mom and step dad, and my neighbors and contractor get the house back together in one piece being so far away!

That about sums it up.  I'm excited to get home and spend time with everyone, please feel free to email, call, or text and let me know if you're available for dinner or coffee or anything.  I'm really looking forward to some good mexican and italian food!

Peace and love to all!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Texas on my mind....


Howdy Everyone!
Well, its been almost a MONTH since my last update. 



I keep thinking that there's not much to write about, but actually there is!
I've been on quite a few adventures. For the National Holiday, XB, one of my guys that works for me got married, and I was invited to his wedding (also had to give a speech about his work ethic and what a great job he does), my aunt came in from Taiwan, and we had a nice visit, I took her to the grape festival, out to eat at a nice sushi place, and met some friends that I made here. Overall a very nice time!  She's my first foreign visitor! She left on Saturday, and I had Sunday and Monday to recover.

 
The first weekend in October, XB my right hand guy,  Took me to Huangdao, which is across the water from Qingdao.  We drove the longest bridge in the world to get there.  In fact, we had such a good time driving and talking that we ended up overshooting the exit for huangdao, which was ok, because we ended up in a very rural area of China, all farmland.  It was beautiful, and I'm bummed that I didn't get a chance to take pictures, but I was driving.    XB and his wife and I explored Huangdao in the afternoon, and had a nice time.  XBs wife teaches college english there but since she lives on campus, has not had a chance to explore the town, as her weekends are usually in qingdao with XB





.
The second weekend, I took it easy, saw friends, and Sunday went to Church and ran errands.  This past weekend, I was recovering from a cold, which was no match for Nyquil and Dayquil and Mucinex, so I got some CHinese medicine, which worked slow, but yielded results!

This past weekend, another one of my guys got married, and again, I had to do the wedding speech as the boss and talk about work ethic and marriage.  Its interesting how much weight they put on your job and how much of a part of your life it becomes, so much that the bosses have their own table at the wedding!  Sunday, I met with my friends that are in China from Washington state.  We went to Jimo Lu, which is the equivalent of silk street in Beijing (if you're from Houston, think of Harwin Shopping district).  There, they had street vendors with food, produce, clothes etc, and that was just on the OUTSIDE of the shopping center.  We enjoyed a giant Fritter (Yiu Tiao), as well as some Stinky Tofu (Will, the guy in the picture didn't like it, but his mother, who lived in Taiwan for a few years, enjoyed it).  Bought some fresh fruits, and then ended the evening at Burger King at Marina City, along the water.  Burger King was actually really terrible, as they just opened, and everyone and their dog was there, so instead of making your order when you pay for it, there's tons of Hamburgers premade.  The result is a cold, nasty, soggy burger.  I'll come back when they're not so busy and see if the food is better.
Work is going good, if not just constantly frantic.  I've learned quite a bit since taking over the role as operations manager, and one of the biggest things that I've discovered since becoming a manager, is that your productivity level generally decreases, because you're being pulled in 100 different directions in a day.  Some of the biggest headaches are HR issues.  Employees that dont pull their weight, employees that fight, slack off, etc.  Now I really understand why its hard to get a response from managers, because they're too busy putting out little fires every day.    On the good side, you do get to work with people and the people that are on my team are all eager to learn.  I just need to find the fine line between being friendly while still trying to be the boss.
The weather here has cooled signifcantly, and the days are getting shorter.  IT runs in the mid 50s at night and mid 70s in the daytime.  Kody is doing well, the cooler weather has him shedding his summer coat and growing in the winter fur!  Kody has also made a new friend, Yiu Yiu is a Collie that lives in the first building in my strip of apartment buildings.  Shes a beautiful dog, and we run into her a few times a week when we go out for walks.  Her owners are nice people, and we have a great visit every time we run into eachother. 

Dining has been an adventure, as I've been eating local fare, and I've attached some pictures of the goodness for your drooling pleasure.
The House in Katy is
Thanksgiving is fast approaching, and I'm excited that Jennifer and John and the girls are coming.  Then after that, I'll be home on the 17th for about 3 weeks!  Looking forward to catching up with everyone if our schedules allow for it.

Miss you all and would love to hear from you!
Peace and love,

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Life ain't always beautiful.....


Howdy everyone!

Well its been three weeks since I sent an update, so maybe theres more exciting stuff to talk about!  My biggest fear is people will lose interest, but the last week people are sending "wheres the update? Are you still alive? I'm bored, give me reading material!" Haha! OK OK, here we go!

This weeks theme song is "Life Ain't Always beautiful" by Gary Allan

So, since my last update, life is pretty much settled into its own routine. Work, weekends, church, etc.  My circle of friends is slowly growing.

A few weeks ago, the power company had a 'planned outage' on a Tuesday, so I took my guys to the Grape Festival, which was basically going to an agricultural area, and paying for entry into a farmers land, and you can pick your own, or they can pick them for you, and you eat grapes, play cards, visit etc. It was fun, later we had lunch at a Korean Place.  Nice day overall.
Church has been improving a lot, with the teachers all coming back, church is busy and people reach out and are very social.  I've met more people and I get invited to different groups for lunch afterwards!  The only downside is that it takes a LARGE portion of my sunday, as I leave the house at 9AM and I dont get home till 3PM or later if I eat lunch.
I have to own that I have quickly grown complacent in not taking more weekend day trips. I'm in a foreign country, I have a car, a license and GPS.  I should be taking lots more adventures.  I am saying this to own it and start doing more stuff on the weekends.  There are tons of small towns that I can drive to within an hour or two and make it back by evening to let Kody out in time.
On the Work front, its been challenging and sometimes downright incensing. Progress is slow on projects and people are unwilling to deviate from protocol, and people are thinking very two dimensionally.  ("I'm a mechanical engineer and thats all I'm going to do"), well this has to change. I had a pep talk with the troops this week, and explained that we all have to be more dynamic, more flexible.  Also I've implemented a new dress code that goes into effect soon. No more shorts and t shirts and flip flops.  We are all professionals with college degrees. No more dressing like you're going to the beach.  And its good for self esteem too. Last week I had to go to the engineering center and find out why it was taking so long.  One of the guys says that he sent an email to a colleague asking for information and never got a reply. 

"When did you email him?" 
"August 23rd"
"So you emailed this guy over a month ago and he didnt reply.  Where is his office?"
"He sits 2 rows behind me."
"So you didn't think that it would be a good idea to just go over and ask him?"
*Blank stare*
I had to remind them that we're all very busy, but when someone else is holding up the work, you need to gently remind them that they are.  But people generally are too afraid to ask a second time once the request has been made.

The house here keeps improving little by little.  I got new area rugs (plain) but it sure helps with the noise and Kody likes them too.  I bought some for the office to spruce it up some as well.
The house in Katy is almost back to snuff.  Big thanks to my Mom and Stepdad, the best neighbors in the world, Nick and Ally, my incredibly talented decorator Sharon, and my great contractor Mark.  If you want to do business with the last two folks on this list, I will heartily recommend them.
RIght now, fruits and veggies are so fresh and inexpensive.  My supper has been fruits and salad for dinner. After walking Kody in the afternoon, I put the podcast of "Americas Test Kitchen" on the ipad, and I wash and peel fruit in the kitchen.  Its very nice and makes it feel more at 'home'.    Speaking of home, I have been reflecting lots on how great it is to have email, facetime, skype and google voice.  Being able to communicate so seamlessly has been a blessing. Takes the sting of not being at home and makes it less.
Last week, we had a "mid autumn festival" where people celebrate the fall and enjoy moon cakes, as well as see friends and family.  Next week is Chinas national holiday, and I'll be off the entire week.  My aunt Joyce from Taiwan will be visiting for a few days, so I'm very excited about that.  Also my right hand man at my company is getting married, so I'll be attending the wedding.  I plan on taking Aunt Joyce to go enjoy some local food, sight see and enjoy time with her.  I've been introduced toa bunch of local restaurants now, so its been nice to be able to go there and take friends!
I know lots of you have heard me write about how inexpensive things are in CHina, but thats not always the case.  I went to the Toyota dealer last saturday to get the oil changed in my car, and was quoted almost 200 US dollars for a plain oil change.  I ended up finding a local place where I have been before and they did it for 100 US Dollars.  A regular pair of Jeans, like Lee or Levis that you can get at Walmart or Academy for 20-30 dollars, is 90-200 US dollars here.  And then you can walk down the street to the hair salon and get a haircut and shampoo for 3 dollars with no tipping.  Go figure.
Last weekend, I had to go to Korea for a day because of my visa expiring.  The Incheon airport is very western, with nice clean and welcoming feelings throuhgout. Its very "zen" feeling, warm wood, shiny stainless steel.  They have a museum of Korean history inside the airport, a cultural experience center, a day spa, all kinds of shopping, cosmetics, electronics, books, etc and TONS of restaurants.  I spent half a day there and didn't even leave the international terminal. It was fantastic!  I had a nice juicy cheeseburger and a dunkin donut!

Other than that, not much else to report.  I'm homesick as always but I'm surviving.  Jennifers husband, John, is back from Deployment and home safe, so I'm very grateful for that.  I'm excited for their visit to China.

Miss you all!

Peace and Love!





Sunday, September 8, 2013

Autumn Tactics

This installments "Theme song"

Is "Autumn tactics" by Chicane


So many of you have noticed that I haven't been blogging weekly anymore.
Mostly I don't want to bore you to death with my mundane stories.  Otherwise, its been going fast.
The strange thing is, its the first of September, and the start of Autumn is here.  Leaves are falling, its upper 60s at night and  pleasantly cool and dry!
My weekends have been busier recently,  the expat guy that I bought the furniture from, Jason, has pulled me into his circle.  I have met many other expats through him, and have started to meet lots more people.  Otherwise, its just been normal, trips to Metro, grocery shopping, etc.  I went out for Italian last Saturday night, and then caught some of the A&M/Rice game, and Sunday after church, went with a large group to a northwestern Chinese place in Marina center, (also an upscale shopping place).
Last week, my clothes dryer came in!  Most people in China dont use clothes dryers, but if those of you have dried towels in the sun, you can appreciate what it feels like to use 400 grit sandpaper to dry yourself with.  I was able to get one for a great price and I'm so happy to have soft towels, sheets and socks.  The things we take for granted.
I also finally passed my driving exam!  You need 90% or higher to get it, and I had to take it three times.  Mostly because of 'lost in translation" and strange chinese driving laws.  For example, in China, when a car is rolling out of control on a hill, you must put your seat all the way back, unbuckle and get on the floorboard and hug the steering column....Or Jump out of the car if you know its going to flip over.  My favorite is for the driver to crouch into the  fetal position and holding your knees, and turning to the side in the event of a head on collision.

Work has been crazy, but its starting to slow down.  I've attached a photo of what we build in case you were curious.  The office is kind of sparse, so I've purchased some carpets and stuff to quell the echo and warm the office up some. Taobao has been great for finding these things on a budget/or at a very reasonable price.
Kody is doing good, enjoying the cooler weather and enjoying our three walks a day.  I've been buying his dog food online on Taobao, which has been great for getting stuff.  Amazon and Ebay rolled into one. 
I guess the big news is, my sister and her family are planning on coming to China over thanksgiving!  I'm very excited to hear this, and have started to find ways to get things I need to make a traditional turkey day.  This holiday will be a tough one, as its my first Thanksgiving ever, away from my Moms wonderful Thanksgiving party.
I'm looking forward to coming back over Christmas.  The worst part of being here is being away from all my friends.
Thats all I have to report.  I hope you guys are all well.

Much peace and love!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Takin care of business.....

  Howdy everyone!

Well, this update's theme song is 'taking care of business"
I know, you're already saying "well what happened to last weeks update?"
Lets start with last weekend (17-18).  I had lunch with some co-workers (hot pot!) and then Sunday, I went with a coworker (Mrs Zuang) and her family to the QD beer festival.  It was a nice time, and they were nice enough to pick me up and drop me back off at the house.  It was lots of fun, but like anywhere that has some sort of Festival like this, the prices are inflated and its crowded, but it was a great experience.  There were lots of arts and crafts, a "make your own pottery" area, lots of food on a stick, and rides and games.  We ended up going to a VIP Tent that had AC, and let you stay as long as you spent 150RMB per person.  We had 4 adults, so we had to spend 600RMB (100 USD) which was easy compared to the prices they were charging.  After we ate, my co-worker took her son to play, and her husband, the driver and I stayed in the AC tent to enjoy beer and watch festivities. One of which included toasting me (gampai!) , and refilling my beer every time I took a sip, but not theirs.  I had a nice buzz going and was enjoying myself, then Mrs. Zuang and her son returned, and offered to take me to check out the Qingdao history museum.  We all went, and I don't really remember that much of it, but plan to return soon.   Was certainly  a nice day, and their hospitality was much appreciated and enjoyed.

Well, work has been swamped.  We had a function test last week, which included yours truly going to the airport and picking up customers, and arranging their hotels etc.    We had some issues with the test, and it seemed very disorganized.  I told Xianbin (She-an-bin) my project manager, that I want to have a team meeting every morning.  We will all meet and discuss for 5 or 10 minutes total, what every persons top 3 priorities are for the day.  That way if one person is struggling with too much to do or does not know about a certain function, someone else can assist if they're familiar.  This also breeds teamwork and communication.  So far, people have been receptive and are participating well. It also allows them to speak english more. 
This past week, I was able to get some stuff done around the house.  My dad was nice enough to bring a shipment of Amazon stuff back to China,which included bathroom Caulking (to seal the shower in my guest room), dog treats, and car detailing stuff.  Which reminds me, the car got out of the shop Friday.  They did a "C minus" job and I'm sending it back for them to fix it. 
This past weekend, I had some new furniture delivered! The mattress and LayZ boy I purchased from a fellow Ex-Pat were both delivered, as was the new leather couch that I was able to get from a connection from my upstairs neighbors.  I turned the room 180 degrees and now its very comfy and inviting!  Saturday evening, I went into town and had some Korean BBQ (pics attached) with some Ex-pats that I met along the way.  We all really enjoyed it and plan on doing it again very soon!  Sunday, Xianbin and his Fiancee and I all went back downtown to check out another high end department store.  MyKal is like Sunshine or HiSense, and we split up, did our own shopping and met for lunch.  Afterwards, I took them to Metro for a look around.  I also picked up some Kraft Parmesan Cheese (the kind you put on spaghetti!) and some mango popsicles. 
This coming week looks to be less busy, but will be productive.  The weekend? thats open, but I may do some looking around at touristy places so I know where to take you guys when you come for a visit!





Sunday, August 18, 2013

"Crash into me..."

Every week I have a catchy song lyric for the email, so this one is
"Crash into me..."
Howdy gang! 
Well, last weekend, I started my Friday night out at the front of my compound.  I walked over and enjoyed a cold beer and some meat on a stick! On Saturday, I went and checked out the Metro Cash & Carry, which is a European chain store, equivalent to Costco or Sams Club.  And man, did I get some stuff!  I picked up cheese, 3M Command strip stuff (Shower caddy and a towel rack), Bosch wiper blades, Chicken drumsticks, cream of chicken, Tortilla Chips, etc.  It was FANTASTIC!  Sunday, a co-worker invited me out to dinner with her family.  They live in Licun, which is another suburb of Qingdao, a nice area.  The restaurant we went to had crawfish!  It was very nice and I'm starting to build my social circle slowly but surely.
This week at work has been hectic.  I'm slowly starting to see the gross inefficiencies here and trying to merge some western business practices into the fold.  Things like using outlook calendar, and letting your boss know ahead of time before you need to take off to entertain customers or take your wife to see the doctor. etc.  So we're getting there!
The house is slowly but surely coming back together. Sheetrock and insulation have been replaced. And we're waiting on the insurance check for the rest of the project to complete. Once again, a big THANK YOU to my mom and stepdad, Nick and Alissa, my awesome neighbors, and Jim and Sharon, my closest friends and interior decorator.  This would not have been possible without your involvement!
Now for the crash part. On Wednesday, going downtown to a meeting, I was crossing an intersection, and a guy driving a mini-mini van (1/2 the size of a normal minvan), did not stop, and slammed into the front of my car.  Fortunately, nobody was hurt, and I was buckled up (unlike 60% of the people here) and the rules are here, if there are no injuries, you discuss compensation away from the scene and go on your way.  Because I didn't have my license yet (missed the test score by 2 points due to a glitch int he computer system at the DMV), I didn't want to draw too much attention.  We both had insurance, so we both just went on our own ways.  Except the tie rod in the car had snapped, so I had to get the car towed.   No big deal, but was just very surprised on how casual the whole situation was.  Later at lunch, one of the other managers told me that he gets into a fender bender twice a month with the company car. Its 'normal'.
One other exciting piece of news, I updated my information with the A&M former students web site, and I was contacted by the Ag Intern program where I did a semester in DC in College, as well as the Study Abroad office at A&M. Both want to interview me for publications that they put out!  Pretty surprised and excited at the same time.

This weeks trip to the farmers market, I picked up some delicious blueberries and a very large and sweet mango along with my other weekly staples.  Kody seems to be enjoying the fruit around here too.  I let him have stuff once I read that its safe for dogs to have it.  This week, I made a salad, and I haven't been able to find croutons, but I used raw ramen for the crunch.  Kody likes those too!
This coming weekend, I'm going into town for Beer Festival (was Oktoberfest but they have it now, so cant really call it that).  My coworker and her family have invited me to go, so I'm looking forward to it!  Church is a 'maybe' this week.  But the funny thing is, last weekend, I decided not to go, and to listen to a podcast of my home church.  The next Monday, I get two emails from two of the staff at the Qingdao church.  Coincidence?
This weeks entertainment is Chapelwood sermons, Kitchen Nightmares, and last seasons TopGear BBC.
I miss you and love you all.  And l love hearing back from you guys.

Stay tuned!
Peace and love to all!