15 Dec 2008

The Job

Despite having planned to spend my first month or two learning chinese, I found myself immediately involved in a major new project.. working with a famous american company. On the friday before my first day at work, I was called to go to work, where my boss and I spent the day talking over the project, he then asked me to spend the weekend coming up with the story for the series, and the unenviable task of solving many plot holes that had surfaced. Fortunately, I managed to come up with a solid story for the series, and I must give props to Guy, Jane and Ross who helped out a great deal with some of the holes.

This picture is a quick concept painting for one of the characters, but more so to propose the art direction to my boss, and eventually the american company working with us.

My first official week at work, was slightly bewildering as I was placed at a desk in the studio, with 4 large binders full of comics. My task for the week, read comics! No matter how much I enjoyed this past week, I had a nagging feeling of guilt that I was doing little, enjoying it and being paid to do so.
Met an english speaking writer who works on the desk next to me, seems to have incredibly similar opinions on film/music/politics/religion and art. He describes to me everyday how infuriating it is to be a writer in China, where ‘freedom of expression’ is not as the term suggests.

Next week’s work is creating a powerpoint presentation for the studio to help them understand the characters I have been ‘researching’ in the comics.

14 Dec 2008

The Apartment

Hi again, been a while since my last post but ill attempt to keep it as short as possible. The day after (or maybe a couple of days) my last post, I moved to Jing An district which is where I am living now. I live on the 4th floor, in a 2 br apartment, which as I mentioned in a much earlier post is situated right next door to a school.

On arrival, Jane’s dad showed me around and explained the various appliances. We then found the shortest route to the tube station, and I finished up doing a bit of shopping in the supermarket underground.

Unpacked most of my stuff and got the air con blasting out some 28 degree heat, although the weather is warmer than in the UK, almost all the housing has no central heating, so its all down to the air con and some valued sunshine in the morning.

That evening, I was milling around cleaning the entire place top to bottom and I had a knock at the door.. strange seeing as Jane was still at work and I certainly wasn’t expecting any relatives or friends to drop by. It turned out to be the security guard of these apartments who had gawped at my arrival just a few hours earlier.

She rambled off a bunch of chinese to me in some haste, which I of course replied to with “my chinese is very bad” (in chinese no less).. luckily my next door neighbor across the hall had heard the commotion and managed to translate for me.. “your air conditioner is on fire” after thanking her I sprinted and turned off the air con.. looking out the window I found that my machine had been smoking the neighbor’s smalls which had been drying on the clothes line.

The next morning, a couple of repairmen arrived and clambered out the window to fix the machine, the one climbing outside had a minimalist safety harness on, the other end of which was handed to his colleague who merely held it in his spare hand whilst sipping at a Kenco gold and watching the football that I’d put on to entertain them.

Last but not least we come to the question I had posed to Jane when she first found this fantastic place for such low rent… “why hasn’t it been taken yet?” .. the answer to which I woke to the first morning in my apartment. An incredibly loud voice boomed over the rock gig speaker set up.. which preceded a song that is played on repeat for at least 10 times. Shuffling across the floor like the undead, I peered out the window to find approximately 100 students lined up military fashion, doing stretches to the command of the mc. This starts at 7.30am and goes on for 30 mins every morning, which as terrible as it might first seem.. isn’t all that bad seeing as I get up at 7.30am for work… I will record the song for a future post, or maybe have loop endlessly when you visit the site.. so you too can enjoy the hit sounds of my neighborhood.

3 Dec 2008

The Snacks

On Wednesday, Jane and myself travelled to Nanjing for a short holiday.
We left the house a bit late and had to rush to the tube if we had any hope of getting the high speed train to Nanjjing. Jane had warned me about the rush hour tube, and how to avoid it at all costs. Unfortunately we hit it head on! Waiting on the platform were at least 30 people for each door, which is a lot but this stop is far from the centre so the train normally has only a few people on it.
After 10 minutes, the platform was filling up even more and when the train arrived I couldnt believe what I was seeing.. the train was full, absolutely solid to the door.
Jane grabbed me and and was drawn into the crush, I had made it about 2 feet inside the door and people were still desperately trying to fit in.
It took about 10 minutes waiting at the platform before the stragglers gave up their futile efforts and allowed the doors to close. The same happened at every stop which severely hampered our attempt to get the train.
Fortunately we managed to get on the high speed train with just minutes to go, and our journey was reasonably comfortable, apart from the dried fish snacks being consumed by most of the train (at 9am!).

Once in Nanjing we dropped our bags off at the hotel and got a taxi to the Tombs (one of Nanjing’s most famous sites). The place was fascinating and so beautiful. The highlight being the stone statues which were built to accompany a King in his tomb. This King was the first to use statues in his tomb in place of the tradition, which involved burying all the King’s employees and pets alive with him.

On the walk around the gardens here, Jane heard something and shrieked.. chasing after us across an open field was a small white dog. The dog rolled over and started excitedly playing with us, but after we started to walk away, it turned on Jane and began biting her ankles. I went to grab it but it had no collar and I was unsure how you can handle a dog ensuring you are out of biting distance.. like holding a crab’s back. Before I knew it, Jane had made a sharp exit and I was left with him biting my ankles, in the end I had to make him airborne to stun his continual chase.

The first night in Nanjing, we met a good friend of ours called Mi Jia who lives there. She took us to a very good restaurant which serves traditional dishes in a ‘themed’ setting.. excellent food and live music. I will definitely go back again some time.

After the meal, we visited some of the night sights of Nanjing and a good market. I tried several new snacks the first of them being something similar to a candy apple, but with a smaller red fruit that im still yet to identify. The sugar glaze is much thinner than a candy apple and there are 8 of the fruit on the wooden stick. I have had this snack again since Wednesday.

The second snack is called smelly tofu, which as the name suggests smells, BAD! It has to rank in my top 5 worst smelling things in the world.. actually top 3. When you are walking along the street in market areas you often hit a wall of this smell and it honestly will make you gag, and hold your breath until you get through the pocket.
As this was a special trip and as Mi Jia was showing us new things, I agreed to try some.. instructing my sense of smell to turn off for the next 15 minutes I bit into it and surprisingly it was very nice, at this point my sense of smell rebooted and every bite from there on (a total of 3) was terrible. Please dont let your curiosity make you try this snack, you’ll regret it for the next 2 days, when you cant get the taste/smell out of your mouth!
The next snack was a popular drink called Milk tea, which as the name says is a very sweet milky tea. It doesnt have much of a tea taste, more like a hot sweet milk. Very nice on a cold evening, and it comes with the option of some ‘chewable’ clear sweets. These small sweets are very popular in drinks and desserts here, and I have to say I love them.. simply for the pleasure of having a little chew on them whilst you have your drink. I will try and get a photo of them in the drink and out of the drink so you can understand. If you want to try some, I could post some, let me know.. I know Chelsea will want to try it.

Next day, we travelled to the natural hot springs on the outskirts of Nanjing. I had included a picture of the springs in an earlier post. Unfortunately taking photos was banned for obvious reasons.. but we managed to take a few with Jane’s mobile.
Jane had booked a very high class hotel for us, which is part of the springs. Very soon, we realized that we had a problem.. when they wouldn’t allow me to check in without a copy of my Visa and passport! So annoying, and no way of getting a copy as it was in Nanjing and the time in the UK was around 1 am. So after much argument, I told Jane we should just enjoy the springs with an individual ticket and then travel back to Nanjing and go out to some clubs instead. Jane reluctantly agreed, and we went in. The place was incredible, so beautiful and clean, every need is thought of and catered for.. free drinks on hand wherever you are.. clean dry towels handed to you each time you get out of the hot spring, which is very necessary because of the cold winter wind.
There are over 56 baths, each one having a different medical purpose.. some for the lung, some for the heart, and the massively popular one for the colon.
Some of the pools have wine in them, some flowers and one with around 3000 tropical fish (cichlids) living in it!!! I literally couldnt believe what I was seeing, each person had about 50 fish swarming around them. After selling these exact fish just a few years before in Parkers Aquatics I found it bizarre that I was getting in the water to have a bath with them!
When you are in and sitting down, you cant see the floor so its very surprising when the first one starts nibbling on you. The fish are between 3 and 5 inches long and very quickly you have a school of them all nibbling away at your feet, legs, arms, back, nipples and neck. The first nibbles I had were on the bottoms of my feet which was terrible seeing as I am very ticklish, so I quickly pressed my feet flat to the floor. The fish have tiny teeth which are just big enough for them to feed on the dead skin, and from what I could see during my day there, this is all the food available to them.
The experience wasnt so relaxing for me as I had a spot on my back which they insisted on attacking, the only defense for which is covering the spot with your hand.. not exactly what id call a comfortable position to sit in for 30 mins.
Great fun though!! You must try it if you come here.. Guy and Chelsea you’re already booked in.

Later, after the spring we travelled back to Nanjing and went to a very nice thai restaurant to celebrate Jane’s birthday. The food was by far the best I’ve had since I’ve come here.. wish I could go back to it every night.
After the meal we went to a club called Tiger Tiger which was good. Expensive but the music started out well, before they started playing ‘Soulja Boy’ and the ‘cool guys’ wearing Yankees caps starting doing the dance moves on stage. Head meets table!
Jane had to translate a few girls attempts to ask me out, which is incredibly awkward as you can probably imagine. Also had a few come talk to me when I went to the bathroom as they have shared sinks.. again very awkward when my chinese is very poor. One of them asked me where I was sitting and I replied “Ingwo” which means England! Oops.
We also played a bar game with one of the hostess girls which involves 10 dice and is kinda like poker. Ill explain in another post.

The next day, we went to the Nanjing lake which is so idyllic. We rented a motorized boat and spent an hour on the lake eating some snacks and taking photos. I made a mess with my sugar coated fruits, when I bit into what I thought was an apple (like before) but which was actually a tomato! Ugh! The seeds went literally everywhere and I spent most of the boat trip trying to clean them up.

Whilst I was there I spoke to my new boss and he talked about a project that I may be working on in January. The project is with a the biggest american comic company, and ill be making a 104 episode series with them for Chinese and American tv. The project combines The Monkey King story with some famous comic characters and sounds very interesting. Hope I can post a little more when the details are finalized!

The Massage

The flight here had left me with a bad neck and Jane’s sofa bed had added to the ailment with 2x bad shoulders.. so on Tuesday night we went to a massage centre.
The first one didnt offer massages to girls, so Jane hurriedly escorted me out of there. We eventually found a good one, and chose the type “Traditional Chinese massage” which didnt involve any tools or fire.
The place was four stories high, far different to the massage places in the UK, and was decorated in what I can only describe as Caeser’s Rome crossed with the neon colour of Tokyo.. with some fake amazonian jungle thrown in for good effect.
I was asked by the masseuse what level of massage I would like, soft or hard.. medium was unavailable for some reason. I chose hard in the hope it would be more effective and to make sure she was working hard for my money.
As soon as she started I realized my huge mistake, she pushed, pulled and crushed me for an hour leaving me looking like a wet leaf by the end of it. I was meant to go back to have another session but I’m only just getting over the pain from the first massage now. Maybe the massages involving fire will be less painful.

2 Dec 2008

The Health Check

Its been a few days since my last post so I have a ton of stuff to tell you about, thank you very much for your comments by the way.. before they appear I have to approve them (so that I dont get 100’s of viagra adverts appearing on each post).

On Tuesday I went to the International health centre which is about an hour from Jane’s house (where im living until Sunday night). I arrived there ridiculously early and had to wait for 45 mins in the reception and listen to some American and German men struggle to make small talk with their female translators. I hate hospital waiting rooms with a passion (surely the most ‘ill atmosphere’ there is) and although this place is a checking centre for good health.. there were still a fair few shufflers coming in and out coughing and sneezing all over. After my last illness in China (back in June) I didnt want any repeats so I stood outside until Nora (the assistant manager helping me) arrived.
We checked in and received our number and went to the next waiting room populated by about 40 people (meant for 15) and filled in the form. I had to tick the boxes for previous ailments, the usual array of plagues.. mental disability.. and heart failure. Nora was watching me like a hawk zipping through them ticking all the no boxes without hesitation, and for some reason I paused over ‘Pregnancy’ which of course made her collapse into a fit of giggles.
Once my number came up, I had my photo taken.. didnt have time to take my beanie off so in the picture I am in mid conversation with her asking if I needed to take it off.. great. Next, Nora paid for the check and I had to go into a changing room and take off my top (actually 5 tops as its so cold here) and put on a disgusting creamy yellow coloured robe (think it used to be white). Put on some shoe covers which made the floor like ice, and was weighed.. im no expert but im pretty sure that wearing shoes when being weighed doesnt give an accurate value. The ‘Chinese way’ ?
I was then sent to various rooms at a furious pace to have my blood taken, ears checked, nose checked, eyes tested, ECG, and weirdly enough have an ultrasound done on my stomach which I could quite easily watch on screen. Very bizarre to watch!
The last test consisted of a bed with a concerning array of wires and clips connected to several machines.. I was led down and ‘dampened’ on the wrists and ankles (even more worrying!) and then hooked up with the wires.. when the girl turned on the machine it done nothing and she had to re-dampen and try again. This time it worked and I managed to sneak a peek at the screen she was using which simply read “NORMAL”. I of course asked what the test was about but she could only muster the single sentence required of her position.
Once finished we left the centre and got in a taxi, unfortunately I had forgotten to take the damn shoe covers off which are bright blue and stupid looking.. looking back on it I must have looked like some escaped mental patient, or someone with courageous fashion creativity.

1 Dec 2008

The Flight

Hey again, sorry for the delay in writing the next post.. the last couple of days in the UK were non-stop. I arrived in Shanghai yesterday, after buying lots of gifts for Jane and her family in the airport.. I bought two bottles of Gledfiddich whiskey.. one for Jane’s dad (for helping me with getting an apartment sorted) and one for my new boss. $40 for two bottles of 12yr single malt.. I have no idea if thats a good price or not.

In the airport after doing my shopping, whilst waiting for the gate number I was sitting next to an asian man who was reading a Nuts joke book intently. When the gate number appeared I told him which it was, assuming he was going to Shanghai. 5 minutes later I am sat in the gate room and he comes in. We start talking about what we’re both doing in China and about the economy and 9/11 strangely. He shares my opinion on the events. Anyway we board the plane whilst chatting, and he asks what seat number im in.. I tell him and it turns out he is in the seat next to me, at the emergency exit seats (good legroom but a mountain of responsability). At this point im split between whether this chance coincidence is a good or bad thing - on the good side he seems cool, he’s got a ton of jokes, and appears to share my opinion on loads of subjects - on the bad side, (and ive expericed this once already on a plane) we hit a communication deadend and look like those awkward couples struggling through their first date, taking a sip of drink at every deadend. Thankfully this time was great, despite talking for approx. 6 hours straight non stop.. he was an incredibly interesting guy who shared a scary amount in common with me - a few examples.. we both havent seen our partners since July, both used to work with tropical fish, both are involved in graphics. The jokes as I expected came thick and fast every 5 minutes or so. After talking about Feng Shui for a while, which is incredibly interesting, he half agreed to ask his friend to check out my apartment for bad luck. Apparently this year you must have your bed as far east in your room as possible. West and North are very bad luck for business and health.

First night at Jane’s I had dinner with her mum and dad, nice food, although I can firmly state that I am not a fan of eating River Crab!.. @_@ The next day (today) I went shopping with Jane to the local mega-mall. We rode bikes there which I can now rank as no.6 in my top ten near death experiences! I followed Jane as we rode along the side of the road, then across the road and across 6 lanes of traffic and a highway junction.. I think I would have been safer closing my eyes and riding straight across! Jane of course rode across like you would in a park on a sunny afternoon, I survived the peril and we had lunch,. Later on, we came back (a quieter route thankfully) and watched some ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ (Series Six) with Jane.. amazing episode. I have to go now to prepare my documents for the health check tomorrow.