Sunday, November 16, 2008

Winter Clothes & Western Food

This past weekend, I went to Hangzhou to visit my friend Jin Song again. However, this past week, the weather had turned noticeably colder, and I figured it'd be a good idea to go ahead and get some warm winter clothes for when it gets even worse. Earlier in the week I had bought some long underwear (didn't need it yet, but I want to be prepared) and a hooded sweater (because I had to have SOMEthing to wear while I washed my jacket, which had become a bit dirty).

But now I needed to actually do some serious shopping and get some more clothes. So Jin Song went to the a mall in Hangzhou with me where they were having a sale. By the way, Hangzhou has SOOO many more people. I guess that's going to be typical of a large city though, but I'm actually thankful to be in Huzhou for that reason, I'm not overwhelmed by the sheer number of people.

Anyhow I did find a new pair of jeans (because my 2 pairs that I brought with me are really all I have here in the way of pants) a nice long—sleeve shirt, some quality gloves, and a REALLY nice (at least I think so) down jacket. Here's some picture of the new duds.

I kind of look like a serial killer in this picture, but thats the look I was going for while posing, so there.

I was able to buy the down jacket for $75 USD at a Jack Jones store, which seems like it was a good deal, but I'm not sure how much a jacket like this would cost in the US.

Anyways, that day in Hangzhou I did get to take advantage of one of the benefits of being in a larger, more westernish Chinese city: availability of western food!

For breakfast Jin Song and I went to a hotel that had an “American style” breakfast buffet. It was definitely a heart-clogging, diabetus-inducing meal, but oh was it good! I went up several times, but here you can see my first plate:

I guess that may seem quite ordinary for the rest of you back home (basically a grand slam at Denny's), and don't get me wrong, I'm not ripping on Chinese food, but it was definitely nice (albeit slightly expensive) to get some familiar breakfast foods.

The culinary indulgence didn't end there though. After a long, hard day of shopping, we went to one of the many pizza establishments they have in Hangzhou: Papa John's Pizza. Again, nothing really out of the ordinary for those at home, but it was great for me to enjoy some excellent marinera sauce (and not be surprised by the taste of ketchup) and some tasty chain-restaurant style pizza. I have to say though, I like the pizza at the Papa John's here better than at Papa John's places in the states.

Also, here is a nice shot of West Lake near sunset, just because it's a cool picture.

Thursday Night Poker & Pizza

So this past Thursday, Ellis offered to have a pizza night (where we'd make pizza) and invite some people over. I had some other Chinese friends from Huzhou whom I had told about my attempt at making pizza, and they mentioned they'd love to be there for my 2nd try. So I figured this was a good chance to ask them over. So we invited Nicole (a woman from Huzhou who I had met online before leaving the US, and so was the only friend I had in Huzhou prior to my arrival) and Wayne & Jayne.

Jayne was an ex-coworker of Nicole's so they were friends. I had met Wayne & Jayne about 2 weeks earlier; Nicole mentioned they were interested in meeting me since they would be moving to the United States next year. I thought they were really cool people, very warm, very interesting, and very smart. (By the way, all of these Chinese people can speak English, so if my Chinese failed, we weren't stuck.)

Anyhow, Ellis, being a self-proclaimed “foodie” and amateur culinary artist, prepared the pizzas, making the dough and sauce from scratch and did an excellent job:

When the guests arrived they noticed the poker chips out on my table and said they were curious to learn. So, while eating homemade pizza, I taught them and we played poker! Everyone had a great time and our Chinese friends offered to teach us Mahjiang the next time we get together. In case you've never heard of Mahjiang, it is a very Chinese game played with tiles and that's about all I know about it as of now, haha, but I guess I'll know more fairly soon.

New Apartment

So about 3 weeks ago the hot water was not working in my apartment. I called Tian Jia and she sent some workers over to fix it, but the hot water had been in and out pretty much the entire time since I had moved in.

As a temporary solution, until the workers fixed my hot water heater, Tian Jia gave me the key to the unoccupied apartment on my floor, since the hot water heater worked in there.

So I took a shower in that apartment, #607, and it was difficult not to notice how big it was! The living space was about twice the size of my apartment, the kitchen and bedroom were slightly bigger, but also the bathroom and kitchen each had a window to outside, making it feel less dank. So later, I talked to Tian Jia again and suggested that since I kept having hot water problems in my apartment (606) and since it worked in 607, maybe I could just move into 607. She said that sounded like a good idea, but needed to ask her director.

The next day she called me back and said it was cool, but that I'd have to pay for the cleaning lady to come and clean it since they had already paid for mine to be cleaned. With the advantages of this apartment, more space, brighter feel, and not least, hot water, this was no problem. In the meantime, I had been waiting for them to install the cooking hood, curtains in the kitchen and bathroom, and for the cleaning lady.

Last Friday (the 7th) I invited a bunch of the other foreign kids in Huzhou over to my place to play poker. Originally I had thought it was going to be about 6 people, which I can easily manage in my current apartment (606).

But earlier that day I got a text from Nellie; she invited even more local-living foreign people, so we'd have a total of 10. It was cool, the more the merrier I say, but we ended up having to move the game into my new apartment, 607, to accommodate all the guests.

It ended up being a lot of fun: good snacks, good people, and good beer. Ellis took some pictures:

[Poker pictures to be added]

My apartment is actually a bit out of the way for everyone else, so we may not do it at my place next time, but hopefully it won't be too long before we can do it again.

I also remembered how much I like playing poker with a group of friends, so the next day I invited a couple of guys, students at the school, over to teach them Texas Hold'em. They caught on pretty quick, and I learned how to say different poker terms in Chinese: fang qi (fold), xia zhu (bet), xiang den (call), jia (raise), fa pai (deal), xi pai (shuffle).

By the way, I will finally be moving into the new apartment this Sunday and Monday. Once I get all moved in I will post a video of it.

Monday, November 10, 2008

This post is not in chronological order

The Monday before Halloween, I sent out a text to a bunch of the other foreign kids here if they'd like to have a poker game Friday night.

I had forgotten that it was Halloween, and they shortly told me that they would be going to Shanghai for Halloween, there were parties there. They invited me, and I said I'd love to go with them, but I had to find a costume.

Well the problem of a costume was short lived as the next day I got a call from one of the teachers at the school saying that Friday night the students were having a kind of a show and they had formally invited myself and some of the other Chinese English teachers and the heads of the school. I was told that it was kind of important that I be there, so my plans got changed.

So, Shanghai got scrapped and I went to the students' show which was more of a formal production than I had initially thought. Anyhow, I was warned beforehand that the students would invite me, the new foreign teacher on campus, to perform up on stage. So I decided to keep it simple and just sang "Frere Jacque" (luckily the school leaders had left, so I was just singing in front of a bunch of kids).

Anyhow, not as exciting as Halloween parties in Shanghai would've been, but on the other hand, I seriously had NO idea what I was going to do for a costume!

Also, the other foreign teacher arrived from the states that weekend, so she JUST missed out on having to perform.

So that's something else, as of November 1, I have a neigbor!

The new teacher's name is Ellis. She's from Arizona and just graduated from Wellesley in May. Upon her arrival, I learned that her Chinese was already REALLY good as she's beens studying it for 4 years, and spent a semester last year in Beijing JUST studying the language. I hope I can get that good eventually, but I'm definitely going to have to 努力 (nu li, work hard).

By the way, Ed and mom, here is a picture of my Huzhou bicycle:

Voting Issues

Ok, I haven't updated my blog in almost 2 weeks. There's still lots of things going on, I just get busy, or sometimes lazy. And when I get lazy, I let more time pass, and the more time passes the less I feel like updating the blog about something that happened. Anyhow, I had quite an adventure trying to vote in the election last week.

The following post is about that process for me, but be warned, its VERY long. Probably too long but I finally finished it (I actually began writing it last Tuesday, so some of the things, like my internet, that were not working properly are now fine) and I don't feel like making it concise, so if you want to read it, it's a lot, and if not, ya ain't gonna hurt ma feelins.

So two weeks ago I filled out this form and faxed it to the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections that requests that they send me an absentee ballot via email.

However, I didn't hear or receive anything from them, but I had an alternative... or so I thought.

The elections office had mailed an absentee ballot to me in the beginning of October, but was received after I left for China. I figured I could have my brother fill out my choices and then have my father sign it, since he has my power of attorney.

So, I called my brother up Sunday night, the Sunday before the election. I asked him to read me each point on the ballot and I he selected for me.

Then I told my dad about this, and he told me to have Richie (my brother) bring it to my father's house before my brother left for work (they live very close about 2.5 km apart).

I'm not exactly sure about the sequence of events after that, but I know that at some point my father was at the elections office in Tampa, I suppose trying to submit my absentee ballot. They would not accept it, but they said they could send me an absentee ballot via e-mail, but they had to contact me and talk to me first to verify that is what I wanted to do. They called once but either Skype didn't forward it to my cell phone or I didn't hear my cell phone. They called me again and I heard my phone ring and I answered but the person on the other end couldn't hear me. Luckily they called me right back (since I can't make international calls from my cell phone, only from my computer). The woman asked me if I agreed to the absentee e-mail ballot, I did, and she said it would be sent that day.

Later that day I got an e-mail from that woman confirming our conversation and her contact phone number. However I did NOT receive the e-mail absentee ballot. I replied to her e-mail saying I had not received it, but this reply was sent at 2am Florida time, so I could only hope she'd see it first thing in the morning.

Anyways, Tuesday night (Tuesday morning in the states) I went out to dinner with Ellis, the new teacher at the school here and my new neighbor, and the other foreign teachers here in Huzhou, so Ellis could meet the gang. Afterwards she needed a few things and I needed milk so we stopped at the grocery store. I also picked up peanut butter and bread. When we got back she asked for some help setting up her internet. The school gave her a computer, like me, and it worked when she arrived, like mine did, but she was wanting to be able to use her Mac.

By the way, her internet works as it is supposed to. Meaning she doesn't have to install special software on her computer in order to access the internet, and her internet access doesn't cut out at midnight. These were problems that were supposed to have been fixed in my apartment as of this last Friday, but as of Tuesday, they had not been. Anyways, after setting up her internet and getting an actual wireless network up and running, the power in the building went out completely. Not a scheduled power off like they do for the students when the turn the students' power off at 12. The whole building lost power: the foreign teacher dorms, the lights in the hallway, everything.

At that point, I was about to go to bed, but I remembered I had to get the absentee ballot filled out before 7 PM Florida time. I guess because the internet is through a DSL line, it is not on the same power as the rest of the building, because I was still able to access the internet, using my laptop and its battery power. I tried to call the woman, Jacque, at the elections office, but the circuits were busy. I emailed her again. And then I called my dad to let him know my status. He said just to try to keep calling. So I did, and I got repeated circuits busy signals, but finally got through. I waited on the line, as calls were being answered in the order they were received. The receptionist answered and said "Hillsborough Country Supervisor of Elections." I asked to be transferred to Jacque's extension, and then the signal got cut off. So I tried calling back, again and again, and finally after many more "All Circuits are Busy" messages, I got through. I asked to be transferred, and finally, connected with Jacque. I told her I had not received the absentee ballot via email. She asked me to wait, she would check on why that was. After about 5 minutes she came back and told me it would be e-mailed within the next hour, and if I didn't receive it to call her back.

Now, this was at 11:30pm China time. The power had been out for about 80 minutes at this point. My computer battery only had about 20 more minutes of power (it's 3 years old so I only get 90-100 minutes of battery time), and even if the power DID come back on, my internet still turns off at midnight (even though it is supposed to have been fixed already).

Anyhow, at about 11:47pm, 2 minutes before my computer lost power, I did finally receive the e-mail with the absentee ballot. That my computer lost power wasn't so bad. As long as I could get to the internet somewhere, I could get it. And even if I had power and internet after midnight, all I would've been able to do is copy it to my USB flash drive. To print it, fill it out, and fax it I would've had to wait till morning anyway.

At that point, I was tired, and there was nothing else to do anyway, so I went to sleep. I set the alarm on my cell phone for 5:30 am. I woke up at 5:30 but still had no power. So, knowing that I had until 8 am (7 pm EST) to get the stuff taken care of, and knowing that nothing was open this early, I went back to sleep until 6:30. I woke up again at 6:30, still no power, but I could always just use a computer in the school. I would need to go into the school to print and fax anyhow.

So, I made my self a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for breakfast (no cereal, didn't want to open the fridge with the power off), and headed off to our office. I arrived at 7:15am (6:15pm EST, 5745 minutes till the polls would close in Florida). Once there, no one was there and no computer was on. I went to the office next door, which was also an English teachers' office. There was one guy there, and I asked him if I could "shang wang" (上网, use the internet). He said sure and he let me, but he then said "ke shi you yi dian man" 可是有一点慢 (but it is a bit slow). A bit slow was an understatement. After plugging in my USB flash drive to download the PDF file, it took THREE minutes for the thing to recognize it. About that time another teacher showed up in that room: Mr. Xia. (Xia is pronounced kind of like "sha") I've met him several times before and he's a really nice guy and his English is fair. He offered to let me use his laptop as it was a bit faster. So thanks to Mr. Xia (who would prove instrumental in this process) I was able to access my e-mail and download the PDF for the absentee ballot to my USB flash drive. It was now 7:30 am (6:30 pm EST). The next step was to print it. There is not a printer in either of the offices for the English department, and the room they [the English teachers] use to print was not yet open.

At that point, with just under 30 minutes to go before the deadline, I considered giving up; this was going to be nearly impossible to get done in time, and there wasn't much I could do about it. But I couldn't. It was my fault I didn't take care of this stuff sooner, and so I had to try down to the last minute.

With the help of Mr. Xia (Xia, 夏, means summer by the way), we went to other teachers' offices nearby where someone, anyone was in, asking if they had a printer (da3 yin4 ji1). Finally we found one, they booted up the computer and let me print the 6 pages I needed (the document was 7 pages, who needs instructions in Spanish?).

It was now 7:40am. I had 20 minutes in which I had to fill it out and fax it. Since I didn't know of any closer or better place to fax it, I went to the same office I went to last time to fax the absentee ballot form 2 weeks ago, Tian Jia's office. The last time I had sent an international fax, we used the fax machine FROM Tian Jia's office, but they cannot make international calls from that room. So, we had to bring the fax machine into the office of a man across the hall (I can't remember his name. How terrible! Let's call him Mr. H) in order to send it, so we'd probably have to do that again. Tian Jia works in the administrative building which is on campus, but not super close to where I was at that point. So, I sprinted down the hall, ran down the stairs, unlocked my bike and high-tailed it to the admin building. I then ran to Tian Jia's office, arriving at 7:45. I knew she wasn't there yet, but hoped maybe someone was. No such luck.

I then tried to see if I could find ANYone whom I could ask "Nar keyi fa guo ji chuan zhen?" (Where can I send an international fax?) The first person I saw walking up the stairs was Mr. H! Luck was finally turning. After asking him if I could send a fax, he said we could, but Tian Jia was not in yet. In Chinese (Mr. H was EXTREMELY helpful but unfortunately speaks very little English) I told him I knew, but that I had to send this fax Before 8 am. When we got to his office it was 7:46, but unfortunately, no one had yet arrived at the office across the hall, the one with the fax machine.

Luckily, one of Tian Jia's co-workers, a girl named Yuan yuan, arrived 2 minutes later, and then Tian Jia about 30 seconds after that. So, we moved the fax machine over to Mr. H's office and began setting it up. I scanned the instructions page for the phone number, but before we started that, I wanted to make sure we would be dialing correctly, so I called my dad from the fax phone. He picked up, I said, "It works, gotta go!" Then we began faxing the actual absentee ballot at 7:55 am (6:55 pm EST). However, I tried to put all the pages in at once, let the fax feed them through as multiple pages (5 in total, no need to fax the instructions page), but Yuan Yuan and Tian Jia said I had to feed them one at a time. Unfortunately, this meant it had to dial each page as a separate fax, which, figuring dialing, connecting, scanning, and disconnecting, ended up taking about a minute per page. Finally, on the last 2 pages it was 7:59 and I just went ahead and put both pages in the fax, hoping it would feed both pages through as one fax, and figuring if the pages were received after 8, it wouldn't matter anyway. The 2 pages DID feed through as a 2 page fax, and the time on the fax machine said 8:01.

Next I wanted to call the elections office to see if they had received my ballot. Unfortunately I didn't have the number for the elections office handy, so tried calling my father, my brother, my mother, and my sister to see if they could check it on my e-mail. But none of them answered, so I called the only other number that I could remember off the top of my head: Joe Molinaro. He was still at work, but he did answer and was able to check for me.

So next I called the elections office to see if they received my ballot. The receptionist who answered tried to transfer me over to the woman who could check, but she was not in, but the receptionist offered to send me an e-mail later to confirm that they had received it.

A couple hours later I received the e-mail, and they got it! After all that, my vote finally counted!