Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Zhu Hai

Let me first start this post off by mentioning that the Chinese really know how to let go when its time to let go. Let me secondly say that I am never touching red wine ever again. I wouldn't wish the kind of headache I woke up with on Monday upon anyone... except maybe Darren James (personal joke between me and my friends, Mum).

Houghton China had its annual company meeting this past weekend in the tropical paradise city of Zhu Hai. This gorgeous beach city lies very near the recently reaquired island of Macao (it was also leased to Britain like Hong Kong, but wasn't given back until 1999) off of the southern coast of China. Needless to say, when I found out we were getting flown to a beach resort to stay in a 5 Star hotel and swim in crystal clear waters, all on the company's ticket I was very excited.

And..... cut to reality. It rained the entire weekend. What looked like the Caribbean in pictures looked more like the Jersey shore in a thunderstorm. None of the 180 picturesque islands surrounding Zhu Hai (pronounced Ju Hai) were visible in all of the rain and fog. Despite all this, we still did manage to have a blast.

After work on Friday, everyone took a bus to the Pu Dong airport and we arrived late in Zhu Hai around 10pm. We all checked into our hotel and went to bed. Since I was the only westerner out of 130 people, I was also the only person given his own room. The hotel was amazing... definitely 5-star. My bathroom even had a computerized toilet... yes, Darren, you heard me correctly. It had a heated seat and all sorts of controls to wash... well, you get the picture.

Saturday morning we woke up and met for breakfast. It was the first western style breakfast I have had since coming to China. The bacon and eggs were great, but the best part was the milk. They actually had milk!! That didn't come from a bean!! It should be noted here that in China, everyone drinks soy milk. I like the stuff here a whole lot more than the soy milk that Mum drinks back at home, but I was really beginning to miss the bovine variety.

Next we had a mile walk through the rain to the bowling alley where we all arrived soaking wet. 8-ball, snooker, and bowling was enjoyed for the next few hours where we all got to know each other. Since I was literally the only westerner there, everyone wanted to come and say "hello" or at least something resembling the word. Next we were off for lunch at the best restaraunt in the city. I have to admit it was pretty cool. As you walked in the restaurant, it was more like a deep sea aquarium.... huge lobsters, the largest clams I have ever seen, tanks swarming with shrimp. It was the freshest seafood I have ever eaten. Then it was on to a bus tour of the city (oh, btw... when you can't understand the tour guide, bus tours stink) and the to a recreation of the Summer Palace in Beijing which burned down and was never rebuilt. This was by far the most disappointing aspect of the trip. While I am sure the original Summer Palace was a sight of grandeur, this was more like a cheap Disney World version that you'd find in Epcot. There were even electric trams to take you around the park. Comparing Zhu Hai's version of the Summer Palace to the real one would be like comparing the cardboard crown they give out at Burger King to the Royal Crown Jewels in the Tower of London.

We were given a few hours to ourselves before we headed out for our dinner cruise. As our boat made its way towards Macao, we were treated to a buffet dinner and entertainment from the crew. As the meal was wrapping up we were arriving in Macao where (much to my disappointment) turned immediately around and headed back to Zhu Hai. It is funny to think that of all of the people on the boat, Ngee Siew and myself were the only two people that would have been allowed in Macao. See, yes Macao is a part of China, but there are sections of China that are designated free-trade zones. These zones were set up by the People's Government to encourage economic growth... only thing is, they don't want regular Chinese entering them, but because Ngee Siew and I are foreigners, we would have been allowed. Well, we turned around and went back to the hotel. A few Houghton employees and myself didn't feel like going to bed so we walked to the nearest club where it was open mike night. We had some drinks and I learned how to play an ancient Chinese dice game that roughly translates to "cheating". Then it was off to bed.

All of Sunday was spent in presentation, after meeting, after presentation. Sound fun? Oh, trust me, its even worse when the entire thing is in Mandarin. I was bored out of my mind. To occupy myself I tried to remember how to perform a triple integral to figure out the volume of the donut I was eating. Hey Fargus... if the formula for a circle is x^2 + y^2 = r^2, how do you write the integral of that? Because if you just take a regular integral, won't you end up counting all of the area below that circle as well? You have to subtract out the integral of the bottom half of the circle, right? But how do you write the formula for only one have of the circle? I can do the integral that rotates it around the z-axis, but I couldn't get the area integral. Or do you just use A=pi*r^2?

Do you see how boring this was? That was entertaining compared to listening to a Chinese accountant discuss the status of the Chinese company, in Chinese.

Anyway, after sitting through all of that, the we were treated to a banquet. Business was over and now it was time for the Chinese to let go. Have you heard of the word, "Ganbei"? It is the Chinese equivalent of cheers, although it more accurately translates to "bottoms up". And that is what they intend for you to do... pound back the entire glass of red wine you are holding. For that reason, the wait staff only pour a very little bit of wine into your glass so that you don't kill yourself. Ok, now take that same scenario and pretend you are the only westerner there. Oh, right... all of a sudden every single one of the 130 Chinese employees wants to "Ganbei" with you. I don't know if it will gain them face, or if they just think it is cool to mess with the foreigner. And, its not like you can say no, because that would be considered a tremendous insult. After approximately my 42nd Ganbei, things start to go a little fuzzy, although I do remember being in the kareoke hall upstairs and singing Yesterday by the Beatles with the President of Houghton China.

The next thing I know, my translator is having the hotel staff open the door to my room so that he can get me out of bed. None of his 12 phone calls to my room have woken me and our flight leaves in one hour. I hurry out of bed and run down to the bus that is full of people waiting for me. Embarrased as ever, I am reassured by everyone that it is ok, we are still on time, and my Chinese boss tell me he fells bad because he knows I was treated like a novelty and that everyone wanted to "Ganbei" me. He wants to give me the rest of the day off to recover, which I gladly take upon arriving back in Shanghai, because the woodpecker that lives in my brain is trying to get out and is causing me great pain. I then proceed to lie in bed for the next 9 hours moaning in pain and vowing never to touch red wine ever again.

I'll post pictures of the weekend as soon as I get my camera back. For some reason, some guy in Shenzhen has it (only a few hundred miles away). Not to worry, that guy is visiting Shanghai this week, so I'll have it back in a few days.