Oct 17

Why bother?

Category: China

Check out these pics.  These are outside of under-construction shops near my apartment in Shenzhen.  Yep, another high end shopping mall going up for the conspicuous consumption population of Shenzhen.  That’s a lot of people.

This is one example of mystifying life in China.  All of these high end brands are misspelled.  When I ask why, the answer usually goes something like, “So they won’t have to pay any fees.”  Since when has that stopped Chinese businesses from flat out copying a foreign brand?  I guess it doesn’t bother non-English speakers, but to me, it’s silly.  Good for a laugh though!

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Nov 4

Steve Jobs

Category: China

When I came to China in 2007, almost no one knew who Steve Jobs was.  Very few folks used Apple products.  99.9% of all pirated software was for the Windows platform.  I also remember when I bought my iPhone 3G in Hong Kong, I was scared to take it out in public for fear of thieves spotting it.  Now, with the release of the iPhone and the iPad, everyone in Shenzhen knows who Steve Jobs is.  You don’t see the Apple laptops so frequently, but iPhone 4s and iPads are everyone.  Once on a crowded subway, I just looked around me noting the mobile phones noting which ones were iPhones – every single one except for one was an Apple.  And it looked like every single one of the Apple iPhones, except for my shabby iPhone 3G, was an iPhone 4.  And, I couldn’t believe the various memorials that were on display for him when he died. The Steve Jobs biography was out here at the same time it was in the US.  I saw many people with their own copy.  What an influence he’s had.

I remember asking some folks a long time ago, not long after the iPhone was released, what they thought was the start of Apple’s current greatness.  One friend told me he thought it was the iPod with the revolutionary wheel.  I always felt it was OS X.  I was working at MS when I first got a look at OS X and fell in love with it right away.  I was lucky enough to work on a Mac product while there.  I remember when I bought my first Apple laptop in 2006 in anticipation of my travels – I was so impressed by the experience of taking it out of the box, turning it on, and setting it up in just a few moments.  I remember thinking back then that I should stick some money in Apple stock.  It was around $60 back then and I think I just got lazy and didn’t do any more research.  Oh well, the products themselves have provided plenty of return on my investment.

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Oct 21

Play a rich man…

Category: China

The agent who helped me find my apartment called me up one afternoon and asked for my help. It seemed that she had another client who was considering buying a 8.3 million RMB apartment near where I lived and she needed to take some pictures of the place. Well, being China, she wasn’t allowed to go inside. She needed a client who looked legit so that the complex would open its door to her. Crazy, huh? So, my instructions were to not speak any Chinese and just look around like a “real rich man”.

There’s not much else to the story other than I checked the place out and snapped a few pictures. I can’t imagine spending that much money for an apartment. Granted, it was very nice, but it wasn’t 8.3 million RMB nice. But, this is Shenzhen and prices here are literally “crazy”, as many locals say.

Another interesting thing about searching for apartments was the guards who take help to secure the grounds of each apartment. They would always tell us, “OK, you have 15 minutes to look around!” Apparently, if agents abused this, they’d be put on a banned list and not be allowed to show any more apartments. When I asked why, the reply was, “Oh, they are afraid that maybe we damage something or do something bad.” I totally don’t get that either. When I mentioned that all agents have their ID cards and asked why they can’t use that, my agent just replied, “This is so easy to make! The bad guy will just make a fake one!”

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Sep 30

“L”s and “R”s

Category: China,Language

I’m sure most folks have either noticed or heard the jokes about Chinese, maybe Asians in general, are frequently mispronouncing letters in the English alphabet. The most common, of course, are: L and R. Oh yeah, that reminds me of a Seinfeld episode on this very subject. Well, it turns out that there are good reasons for these mispronunciations. Just take a look at this picture.

I recently moved to a new apartment. A little background: I was lazy about moving from my old place even though I didn’t feel completely comfortable there.  When I found out that I had to re-register there for another visa, I figured that if I had to register, I might as well register in a new location. So, I moved to a new apartment complex where the quality of the components was much higher. I’ve got a view of the bay and the hills in Hong Kong. It’s much more pleasant. Anyway, the water heater is a “Rinnai”, which was translated as ?? in Chinese, which is “Lin” (tone 2) and “Nei” (tone 4). So, right away, the pronunciation is wrong. I woulda translated it as something like ??, which is “Ri” (tone 4) and “Nei”. But, then again, I’m not Chinese. I asked a few folks and the best answer I got was that this was the best choice of words. A word that starts with an “L” instead of an “R”.  I never got a good answer to “why”.

Often, the translations for English names choose words that have nice meanings. Of course, we foreigners don’t know these inner meanings unless we take the time to study the characters. For example, there’s a French supermarket that I go to called “Carrefour”. The Chinese translation is “Jia” (tone 1), “Le” (tone 4), and “Fu” (tone 2). The characters mean “Home”, “Happy”, and “Lucky”. So, I like to joke to folks that, “Hey, I need to go to ‘The House is Happy and Lukcy’ to buy some stuff.”

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Aug 19

Play a doctor…

Category: China

Last week I was sitting in the new, posh Burger King in Nanshan, Shenzhen (I hate to admit) having a “bu4 lang2 ni4″ (a brownie dessert – that’s the Chinese sound translation) with mi amigo, Davide, when a girl politely approached me and asked if I’d be interested taking part in a commercial, some sort of medical commercial where I would play the role of a doctor.  Ha!  Of course!  These opportunities always make for good stories.  So, after a bit of explanation, she motioned her stealth photographer to come over and snap a few pictures.  She’d show the pictures to the client and then they’d make the choice.  I figured I wouldn’t pass the next step but the following I got the call just a couple of days ago and the day was set for…yesterday.

I met Candy nearby and we jumped into a waiting taxi where another girl, a westerner, Russian from the looks of her, was waiting as well.  Katerina, yes from northern Russia, was to play the role of nurse.  As a side note, she was almost the spittin’ image of my youngest sister, especially in the eyes (I showed her a photo later on).  We were bound for a hospital in the Long Gang area, a far suburb in the northeastern section of Shenzhen that I’d never been to.  It was quite an effort getting there by taxi – the usual routine:  the map isn’t so accurate, the driver isn’t sure where to go (can’t blame him, this place was waaay out there), and, naturally, folks that we ask on the street point in the opposite direction.  But, amazingly enough, it only took three inquiries then we saw the sign for the hospital and arrived.  Not to worry, the rest of the crew hadn’t arrived either.  Some thirty minutes later when every one else had arrived, we went to a new wing of the hospital where a crew of nurses started mopping and cleaning a room then stocking it with a bed, some tables, and the usual hospital apparatus.  The company whose products we were shooting for brought their equipment and set them up.  It was some sort of vital signs monitor, nothing too earth-shattering.  I did notice that they were running Linux though, which I thought was interesting since most businesses here use Windows (well, maybe that’s not so strange since hospital equipment must be reliable and resilient).

It turned out this wasn’t a commercial, but a photoshoot for a sales brochure.  This sort of vocabulary misunderstanding is common.  No matter, it’s all still good fun.  There was a third actor as well – a Chinese patient.  They had chosen a young, fair-skinned (popular here), pretty girl to play that role.  While the nurse and doctor donned their smocks and stethoscopes, she slipped on her blue and white striped pajamas.

Each time I tried to crack a joke, I got a similar reaction:  a little confused at first…they weren’t sure if I was serious, then they started laughing.  After, the nurse got her little hat, I remarked, “Oh, those hats are nice, can I have one too?”  They sort of politely indulged me, “Hmm, a hat…” and quietly made motions to ask someone else, and after a little more nudging from me, “really beautiful hat!”, they realized I was joking and started laughing.  Great reactions!

We shot scenes standing next to each other, the patient in the bed, sitting next to the patient, discussing results, pointing at the machine, etc. etc.  We had a few action shots of us running down the hallway pushing the gurney.  I had to look behind me the whole way, facing the camera, with an urgent expression on my face.  The best locales were the final two:

The operating room!  We switched into operating clothes, put on the masks, the full gear.  There were several giggling nurses around who were just having a great time.  Before we walked in though, I made the remark, “I really can’t stand the sight of blood!”, which is kinda true, but I was just making a joke.  They all got really serious and consoled me and let me know that there would be no blood.  How cute!  This role was pretty easy, the only facial expressions were with the eyes.  But, the photographer was a little difficult at times.  He took huge amounts of time between each shot and he never warned us when he was going to shoot.  So, a few times, I’d turn my head to see what the heck was going on – and he’d snap the picture:  “Don’t look at the camera!”  I tried my best to explain that we needed to know when he was about to shoot.  So, he’d count off to three for the next shot, but then forget for all the others.  We adapted (easy for the patient, who just had to lie on the table while I put the oxygen mask on her face!)

The last locale featured just me and Katerina as the primary actors.  But, a new actor joined up:  a six-month old baby!  Uh-oh.  We were in the baby wing (what the heck is that called?) and, unlike the first location and the operating room, it was full of real patients!  We were shooting in one of the rooms which had two beds, no separations, nothing…and the first bed was occupied with a 60-year old woman completely cashed out in the bed…her bar arms were splayed over the side.  To make the picture better, one of the company men went over to her, gently picked up her arm, put it back on the bed and hid it under the sheet.  She kinda looked up, made a few sounds, and rolled over on her side with her back to us.  Amazing.  In the mean time, a crowd of parents and grandparents holding babies were congregating around the doorway to watch the fake doctor and nurse have their pictures taken.  The baby was great, by the way; he kicked and smiled and made our job real easy.  Everyone was delighted.  Always glad when the customers are happy!

All-in-all, a great day.  It was a lot of fun working with everyone.

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Aug 13

Shenzhen 2011 Universiade

Category: China

Have you ever heard of this collegiate Olympiad known as the “Universiade”?  I never have, nor have a majority of friends of mine.  But, this collegiate equivalent of the Summer Olympics has been around for quite a while.  Beijing held it back in 2001, and now it’s Shenzhen’s turn.  I had no idea how big of a deal it was to Shenzhen until I visited their headquarters earlier this year.  The offices of the planners of the Universiade occupied a few floors of a skyscraper in the central district.  Somehow, they got wind of our music performances and wanted to interview us as an international music group in Shenzhen for their dedicated magazine.  Yes, they had their own magazine – a nice glossy piece of work.

In the mean time, two stadiums had begun construction some months earlier, one near my place.  It wasn’t until sometime around that interview that I realized the one near my apartment was being built exclusively for the Universiade.  And that stadium, though it is a huge and impressive venue, wasn’t even designed to be the primary location.  The Universiade Village and the main stadium is in the “suburbs” of Shenzhen, in a district called “Long Gang”.  Photos that I’ve seen of that place are stunning (below).

But, it wasn’t until just a couple of weeks ago, only a couple of weeks before the opening ceremonies, that I realized just how seriously the city was taking this Universiade, much moreso that I had originally realized.  I was exiting the new subway stop near my apartment one evening.  A few weeks before that, the subway system had received orders from on high that all passenger bags needed to be scanned, so there are now installations of scanning machines as well as a large staff to help the process along.  Now, there are also many volunteers dressed in brand new, clean, bright orange shirts and hats decorated with pins and buttons, to help folks to either ride the subway or direct them to the Universiade events.  There are also guards standing up on raised platforms at stoic attention which is, I suppose, more of a show of the formality of the whole event.  Well, I had been used to seeing this inside the subway for a while.  But, outside, I was greeted by several more guards also with around 5-10 drug sniffing dogs at the exit of the subway.  The whole plaza that this stop opens on to is near the Universiade venue, but I wouldn’t consider it “close”.  You still have a good 10-15 minutes of walking to do.  Yet, there were tons of banners and flower displays.  All of the trees were decorated with white and purple lights.  It was impressive to say the least.

The stadium (shown under construction on the left – on a nice and hazy day!), which remember is still quite far away, is easily discoverable in the evening due to an impressive display of soft-spotlights shooting into the night sky and illuminating the clouds.  There must be at least a hundred or so spotlights flashing across the sky.  The office towers near my apartment are adorned with huge lights that depict one of the sports represented at the event.  There’s a reserved lane on the expressways that extends practically the full length of Shenzhen, at least as far as I’ve traveled recently.  The whole thing is decorated with flowers in the colors of the Universiade.  Not to mention there are all sorts of bush sculptures along the way with additional banners.  There are sections of flags and posters.  The pedestrian walkways have all been upgraded with futuristic canopies.  And helicopters circle around the Nanshan stadium area.  It really doesn’t stop.  Shenzhen is a city flush with cash and it shows.  The whole production may be the most impressive thing I’ve ever seen.  It screams:  “prosperity!”  And, back across the ocean is the USA getting it’s credit downgraded like some bozo who doesn’t know how to manage his money.  OK, that’s the only jab you’ll hear from me about that.

There are these “Universiade Stations” scattered all over the city, even in off the beaten path locations where you wouldn’t expect folks to be inquiring about this event.  I’ve never stopped at one of these.  I assume it’s some sort of information booth, but I’m not sure.  I just know there all over the place.  The promotion and organization is something to behold.

The opening ceremonies last night.  I caught some of it on a giant LCD hanging on one of the buildings downtown.  A TV crew came and interviewed me while I was watching.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t think of the Chinese equivalent of “impressive” and “organization” so, I eventually lapsed into English, but still, that was fun.  The ceremonies were almost as impressive as what we all saw during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.  Afterwards, so many people came up to me saying “Hello!” and wanting their pictures taken together…guess they thought I was participating in the Universiade, though they never asked me about that.  Maybe it was just the spirit of openness and welcoming that the Shenzhen Universiade is trying to project.

Even parts of the city far removed from any action, like the heart of downtown in Luohu, display all sorts of decorations.  And the volunteers also swarm the metro stations there.  Even Dong Men, the place in Shenzhen for knock-offs and counterfeit has received a major facelift.  It’s not nearly as stinky and grimy as it used to be.  Although, I was just there the other day for the first time in a long time.  I swung by the DVD store expecting it to be “closed” because of the Universiade.  It was.  And, as usual, I was approached by someone and then taken to the real store.  Guess we’ll have to wait a week or so after the games in in a day for these sorts of stores to re-emerge.

That reminds me:  many of these unlicensed capitalists have been swept aside for the games.  So, I guess I have to adapt to that.  I miss the folks who sell the fruit out of the back of their little van.  I always patronize them – they have tasty grapes and mangos.  And there are no longer any makeshift barbecue joints appearing after 9-9:30pm.  Although, the little DVD salesman outside my apartment is still there actually.

Can’t see this on youtube…yet:  Watch some of the opening ceremonies on China’s youtube.

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Jun 17

Published Hike

Category: USA

I’ve posted tons of hiking and climbing trip reports over the years.  Of course, like most folks, the majority of my trip reports have been repeats of climbs or hikes.  No shame in that.  But, I’ve put up a few originals as well.  The one I’m most proud is, of course, the North to South traverse of the Picket Range, while climbing the major routes on Fury and Terror along the way.  That is still the best climbing trip I’ve ever done and I don’t expect to ever surpass it.

But, another one, much more mellow, and far more popular, is the Gore Lake – Deluge Lake loop hike in the Gore Range, near Vail, Colorado.  My sister, my now-brother-in-law, and I did this way back in 2001.  I published it on my site right away and folks seemed to be drawn to it.  Of all the hiking and climbing emails I’ve received, this hike receives the most attention.  I’ve seen many folks write up trip reports on the loop.  It’s been adopted by the Colorado Mountain Club.  And now, in the March 2001 issue of Backpacker Magazine, it’s hit the big time.

(above) Hanging out at Snow Pass after summiting Snow Peak, visible in the background.

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