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!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Time keeps on slippin....

Howdy guys and gals!

This has certainly seemed like a short week!

Fortunately, the week has been quieter than last week.  There were a few small fires to put out at work, but nothing major.  Everything seems to be running reasonably smooth.

The insurance adjuster has submitted his estimate, and my contractor has started to fix some of the stuff like sheetrock.  We're waiting on the insurance to get settled before we move forward with everything else.

So, last weekend, in Qingdao, on Saturday, I took it easy, recovering from the hectic week.  Bob called and wanted to escape from the hotel for a while, so we went to McDonalds and then to the tool district to check out hand tools and welding machines etc.  Afterwards, we went to a very local mall, most of the places we have been too were upscale places, and this is where the every day person would go to get stuff. I think Bob was a little surprised at what he saw.  Equally, the locals were surprised to see a Westerner in a place like that.   I took a nap Saturday afternoon and ended up skipping the pub crawl, just wasn't feeling up to it. 

Sunday, I went to the office in the morning and used their water hose to wash the car, then headed to church.  Afterwards, I went to the second hand market to look for more furniture.  Unfortunately, the market has oodles and oodles of the same rental grade, sub-college student furniture in 90% of their stalls.  Also lots of restaurant equipment, used AC units.  I was able to find the same furniture thats in my bedroom and bought a matching nightstand for 100 RMB (16 dollars).  This is particle board stuff.    I walked more, and found some nice real wood stuff, and picked up an end table for 180 RMB (30 bucks).  I had to stop , as my car is a 4 door sedan. I'd have to borrow the Buick minivan from work to get more, but this was plenty for now.  Sunday evening, I took my upstairs neighbors out for supper, to show my appreciation for them helping me when I had locked myself out.  They're very nice folks and we hit it off good.  The husband is a supervising engineer at a Golf Ball manufacturer, and the wife works for a company that makes Kim Chee.  They also were able to recommend an acquaintance that has a couch factory in town, so I may be able to take advantage of that soon too!  We agreed to continue sharing meals now and then as well as they both enjoy cooking! 

I have attached pictures of lunch on Sunday.  this street food meal had Tofu Skin, braised beef, soft and hard tofu, mushrooms, rice and a coke, and was $1.62USD, after that I got a haircut and went to the farmers market and bought fruit, as well as the seasons last Lychees (what i"m holding in my hand).  Kody likes the lychees (pronounced Lee-Chee) too.

This week, I used my oven to cook a frozen "Pirates of the Caribbean" branded Pizza.  It was pretty good, and I'm grateful to have an oven, as most places do NOT here.

On Thursday, I met another expat who had put an ad up for stuff he was selling because he was moving home.  I went over to his place, and picked up a Western style King Mattress, a Clothes Steamer, Coffee maker, DVD player with 300 + DVDs, and a LayZBoy recliner!   We visited some about expat life in Qingdao, and I mentioned that it felt very discombobulated.  He agreed and mentioned that the majority of Expats here are teachers, and tend to form cliques within the school, and it gelled that way at church too.  Now I understand better.  I did make a good friend with this guy and he has other expat friends that he wants me to meet to bring me into their fold.  He also told me about all the other stores that I haven't been to yet, including a place called "Metro Cash & Carry" which is apaprently huge in Europe.  Its like Costco or Sams, and has a lot of western products, including (drum roll) CHEESE!!!! Along with other products.

On another positive note, I have figured out how to use Taobao, which is like ebay  in China.  Its 100% chinese language, but Google Chrome has a translator that automatically translates each page, beleive it or not, I've ordered a bunch of stuff from there already and its arrived successfully to the office!  My new expat friend also told me about Amazon china, which has a lot of comforts of home for very reasonable prices.  I purchased Grape Nuts, Raisins, SPices, a car wash Mitt, and yes, DORITOS!

This weekend I will hit the gym,  give Mr Kody a bath, go to the office and wash the car, and  make a trip over to Metro to see what its like.  Hoping that I find stuff that gives me the comforts of home there!

The weekly entertainment includes latest season of the British Top Gear, Ramseys Kitchen Nightmares, and now, I'm sifting through the massive collection of DVDs I inherited.

Thats it from my side, I'm hoping my updates aren't too terribly boring, but it seems as things start to get more routine, there seems to be less to report. 

I am, however, planning a trip to the hot springs and mud baths, maybe next weekend!

Peace and love

Monday, August 5, 2013

Wow, time seems to be flying by!  I can't believe today is FRIDAY!  What a difference 30 days makes. I was talking to my co-worker last night on the way home.  When I arrived here 4 weeks ago, customs took Kody, I stayed at my filthy apartment which had almost NO furnishings except for beds and couches, had no shower curtain, no toilet paper, and no AC.  I remember that Saturday morning, waking up and walking to a bakery, buying bread, and then to a local convenience store to get some juice, going back to my apartment and eating on the couch, thinking to myself, "this is the biggest mistake I've ever made."    Fortunately, I don't feel that way so much anymore.

Well, since my last update, a lots gone on but mostly in the positive direction. 

My house has been dried, damaged carpet/sheetrock etc has been removed.  The contractor and the adjuster were within a few hundred dollars of eachother, so that was good, and my Mom and Stepdad and my friend Dayna, and next door neighbors have been checking it all out and keeping things on track. Again, thanks to everyone for continually offering to help.  I'm very blessed to have so many people willing to step up!  The plumbing has been repaired, and we're waiting on the insurance to work the system for now.

Last weekend, Bob decided to hang out at the hotel, and another co-worker who was just in for a few days attended church with me on Sunday, and we had some street food (steamed meat buns and dumplings)  The photo of the food you see attached was 14RMB, less than 3 dollars.  And we had food we couldn't finish!

This week at work was hectic, with Management meetings and presentations and deadlines.  I have been driving back and forth between the conference center, R&D office and the factory all week, and running on a little more than 3-5 hours of sleep per night.  Needless to say, I am ready for an 8pm bed time tonght!  The cool part about the conference center, is that its right on the water, and the sea breeze felt GREAT!

Kody is doing good, this weekend he'll get a bath.  He loves going for our walks 3 times a day, because he can check out the stray cats that hang around our compound.  This is his usual sleeping position, which allows him to be in the same room as me, and hear whats going on in the rest of the house.  Since I've been here 30 days, Customs called and asked me to bring Kody to the airport for an inspection, which involved me borrowing a minivan from work, going home, taking kody in his crate to the airport, waiting 45 minutes for the guy, having him take 3 photos and petting Kody, and sending us on our way. 

Last night, I had dinner and drinks with co-workers in for the Management Meetings.  We hung out at the pub in front of my complex, and I ordered fettuccine alfredo with pancetta.  It was wonderfully good. 

Last weekend, I broke down and bought some cheese from my grocery store.  It was 9 US dollars for a small 5 inch round of brie, so I've been carefully savoring a little at a time.  I am moving forward with equipping the apartment and I've started to make a list.  I still need to bite the bullet and buy a microwave and a coffee maker.  I keep hearing about a used furniture store in Chengyang but nobody knows where it is.  I may go into town and try to locate one.  Rugs are also on the list so Kody has some traction when he walks around.

Bob, my co-worker is leaving tomorrow.  Its both good and bad, I think because I'll miss having a western colleague, but on the other hand, it will allow me to build my personal 'infrastructure' and get me to meet more people.  Sunday evening, I will take out my neighbors upstairs for rescuing me after my lockout incident. 

The weather has been warm here, upper 80s, low 90s, but only falls to 80 at night. We have rain every day, which makes the car look nasty.  The difference between here and Houston, is that the humidity burns off in the day time in Houston, and the heat is 'dry' .  Here, it ls like a sauna.

This weekend, I'll try to find a used furniture place, come up here to work and wash my car, and Saturday night is an Expat Pub Crawl.  Sunday will be church and meeting people at church.

Thats all I have to report.

Miss everyone!

Peace and love!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

When it rains (or leaks), it pours.....

Howdy everyone, some of you noticed right away that I didn't send my Wednesday night update this week.

Well, there's a pretty good reason for that.

Lets just pick up from last update.  The weekend was the normal routine, not much exciting, though Bob and I did try a German restaurant in town, and had their "giant pig knuckle" which was great.  They also had a nice coffee machine inside, so we ordered a cup of joe.  It was the nicest cup of coffee I've had in a long time.  Afterwards I did my usual shopping. Check out the picture of this HUGE durian.  You could smell it from a mile away!

This week has been very busy workwise, deadlines and big management meetings coming up have stretched me pretty thin.  Between work, home, and Kody, there wasnt much time to punch out an update.  I also finally did join the Gym by the house and went to my first spin class there.  I dont know if it was me being out of shape,  no fans in the classroom, or the lack of AC, but I only lasted about 30 minutes.  The room is dark like US spin classes, but has LED strobes all over the place like a trance club.  That, combined with EuroTrash Techno exhausted me.  I decided to leave before I had seizures from the lights.

This Wednesday evening, I went to bed, and for some reason forgot to power off my Houston cell phone.  I always power it off. About 12:30 midnight, phone rang, it was my neighbor.  I answered, completely incoherent, and he was paitent enough to let me get my bearings, and to tell me I had a major water leak in the house.  Nick has been checking on the house regularly, along with my Mom and stepdad, and Dayna, so the house usually doesn't go for extended amounts of time without people looking in.  Well, the water leak started at the water heater (defective rubber hose), and leaked all over, caving the ceiling in at the guest room, and leaking down the hall, to the office, dining room, living room, and kitchen.  I'm so fortunate that my Mom and Step Dad , and Nick and my contractor friend Mark, all stepped up to the plate.  I called my insurance agent, and the same day, Mom, Darrell, Nick and Mark, and the insurance company had come out, done estimates, brought in fans and dehumidifiers and were starting the cleanup process.  Felt really nice to know I'm in good hands. The damage is pretty extensive, floors, sheetrock and plumbing repair. Still waiting for the final estimate.  Thank goodness for insurance.

To top that off, Friday morning, Kody and I went for our usual 5AM walk.  Except this guy, walked out the door without his house keys.  So here I am, sitting outside the door of the apartment,  flip flops, shorts and a Tshirt with Kody. I had my wallet but no cell phone.  And knew nobodys phone number here.   I hadnt shaved, showered or even brushed my teeth.  I was going to walk down the street to the Holiday inn and wake up bob, and have him call my admin who has a key, but it would take two hours to get her to the office, get the key and then come unlock the door.  On top of that, they probably dont allow dogs into holiday inn.  So option 2 was to take Kody in a Cab and head to work, and twiddle my thumbs still 8am when people came to work to get a key, but most cabs dont allow dogs.   So the last and final option, was to bother a neighbor.  I had met two neighbors, the one on the first floor, who is VERY nice,but not sure how nice anyones going to be at 5:30 in the morning.  The second neighbor lives above me, we met once, but the important part is, since he lives above me, I know what time he gets moving.  Which was about 5:30.  I knocked on his door, and asked him to lock kody up while I went for keys, and he said that he and his wife go to work at 7.  So that wasnt an option. Then he remembered that there was a flyer for a locksmith at our West entrance to the compound.  He ran down with me, we got the number, and 15 minutes later, the locksmith arrived, wearing cutoffs, no shirt and carrying with him a hammer and a metal rod.  Using  the hammer and his scooter key, he punched out the peep hole, and the metal rod was shaped exactly like the door handle.  It took him less than 5 minutes to get in.  Total cost? 100 RMB= 16 dollars.   I was back inside by 6:15 AM.

So, here I sit writing this email on Saturday at 2pm from work (deadlines due!) and looking back, thinking about how very fortunate I am to have so many great people around me.  People that I can not express how grateful I am, people that have stepped up, offered help, and responded when called on.  So for those of you that have offered help on the house, thanks so much, but its under control so far.

This weekends plans are to look for a microwave, and go to the used furniture market (the renter grade furniture just isnt cutting it), I'm deal hunting!

In other news, works in China, so I can listen to Satellite Radio from my desk, and get a taste of US music.  I'm working out regularly and just finished the first season of Arrested Development.  Presently watching the current season of Hell's Kitchen too.  So I'm able to keep sane.  Kody is doing good, he's enjoying sharing my after dinner popsicle (Chinese sweet green bean).

Weather here is nice, mid to upper 80s but its stays very humid!

I miss everyone, and I hope this note finds you very well.

peace and love,

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Time flies....

Has it been a week already? Time has seemed to have flown by since the last update.

So, since last week, I've been just settling in and exploring more.

I'm still pretty homesick, but being able to facetime with family and friends helps a lot.

On Friday afternoon, I got the windows tinted in the car, and Friday night, I had dinner with a colleague at his hotel.  Saturday the A-yi was supposed to come and clean but did not show up.  I later found out that shes scared of Kody, but supposedly will be back Saturday as long as he's crated.  So Saturday, I cleaned the floors and the bathrooms, and did laundry, and watched it rain outside. In the evening, I went out for a little drive and then stopped at a street food vendor outside my neighborhood for some meat skewers (see pictures).  They were good, but eating from a street vendor does have risks.

Sunday, Bob, my colleague and I went into Qingdao for our 'day in town'.  He was looking for a hotel that had a nice brunch, but he couldn't remember the name or street it was on, so after 2 hours of aimlessly wandering, I made the decision that we would stop by "Sunshine Center" which is another high end shopping mall downtown.  Inside they had a very upscale buffet, which we were lucky to get a table without a reservation.  The food was great, international choices and fresh seafood.  In the afternoon, I took Bob back to his hotel and went by the farmers market to get fresh fruits and vegetables.  I ended up with 4 bags of stuff for about 12 dollars. I went home to meet the AC Repair man (on a sunday!) who misdiagnosed my AC unit, and would be back "later in the week" with the new part.   Kody and I went for a little walk, and I headed off to find a place to get a haircut.  There was a place close by the house, and I walked in, and it seemed pretty fancy.  I got a little nervous because I figured it would be pricey, but the staff told me the haircuts were 38 RMB, a little over 6 dollars, and included shampoo and blowdry,  however, If I bought their "preferred customer card", for 200 RMB, (32 dollars), I could get TEN haircuts, which is what I did.  And they dont accept tips.  I later told a local chinese colleague about the 20 RMB haircut and he told me that it was too expensive, and he pays 10-15 RMB. Go figure.  Afterwards, I did some shopping at another Walmart/Target type store, and this one was the nicest one yet. 

This week at work, I have decided to leave the office for lunch, as I'm getting a little tired of the cafeteria food.  Its been nice to get away for an hour, and also helpful to learn the local area around work.  Customer emails have been flying back and forth but it appears that as fires are being put out, people are beginning to mellow out quite a bit.

As far as preventing myself from going insane, this weeks entertainment includes more CHiPs from Itunes, and Hells Kitchen (latest season).  There is an expat meetup tonight, but its in town and I'm seriously considering going and taking a cab (police like to do sobriety checks at night, and I dont have an official Chinese license yet).   I'll be joining the gym in my neighborhood, but access to cash is not easy right now because china employers pay salary once a month.  So I dont get a July paycheck till August.  So I go to a bank that actually accepts Visa Logo ATM cards and I pull out the equivalent of 300 USD at a time. Fortunately, I finally got a gasoline card, so that helps with the amount of cash I need to lay out for gas.

Yesterday, I went to a steak place for lunch,  Steaks in China are different.  Where in the US, we're used to nice, thick cut steaks, with a nice pink center, (rare or medium rare), the Chinese steakhouses serve steaks like Pork Chop thin, on a sizzling plate, well done.  I ended up ordering some chinese food they had instead.  If I do want a steak, there's a place downtown called "Wang Steak House" , which is a franchise all over Asia, and they're as close as you can get to a western steak dining experience.

Thats all for now everyone, I hope you are all well!