Thursday, October 30, 2008

Early start to the festivities

We had a costume/pumpkin carving contest here at work as a part of the Halloween festivities. Normally, I don't participate in these, but this year, since I already had a costume ready for my party on Saturday, I joined in. Our team also had an entry in the pumpkin carving contest.

There was pretty fierce competition for the solo costume contest and the contest must have been rigged as the winner was a "NASCAR" fan. All he had on was a NASCAR t-shirt and a flag. That was the extent of the costume with no other props nor effort. The winners of the group costume contest were "The Network." These costumes were pretty dumb as well since all they did was wear a hard hat and regular work clothes. There was another team who actually dressed up as the Addams' Family and it really showed they put a lot of thought into their costumes.

After being robbed in the costume contest, I joined my other team members for the pumpkin carving contest. Our pumpkin was an awesome design, with the eyes/nose forming our company stock symbol and the mouth zig-zagging down then up to represent our stock price. We totally blew away the competition, coming in first and winning a $50 certificate to Treebeards.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Why didn't anyone tell me it's BARD????!!!

Just an amusing conversation I had with a veggie. So how would one dress up as Chrome anyways?

Cornbread @ the Oasis and random Halloween oddities

Spent parts of the weekend in Austin visiting the BluPnutMM couple and hanging out with PP. Saturday, I had lunch in Houston with the Papaya couple, our mutual high school friend who was back from business school in Michigan, and Triple S. The lunch ended up being a gossip-fest that lasted for over 3 hours. A key accomplishment was that the Papaya couple will be coming to the Halloween party dressed up!

Drove to Austin afterwords and by the time I arrive, it was time for dinner! We went to Rudy's BBQ for dinner and we all ate way too much. Their brisket was awesome though, so tender, so moist... We followed dinner up with some pool and shuffleboard at Dave and Busters after meeting up with RainbowFruit.

Sunday was an action-packed day that started with my picking up PP from the airport. She was in a cute burnt orange sweater that totally blended in with the rest of the UT crowd. After picking her up, we went to have lunch at Z-Tejas. I have a strange fetish about their cornbread and every time that I had gone, I had eaten nothing but the cornbread. PP was craving some meat and I originally thought Z-Tejas served steak. Unfortunately, they only served steak during dinner and that didn't start until 3 pm. After stealing some cornbread, we changed locales to a place called The Oasis. It turned out to be a great idea as the restaurant was situated above a lake and the view and weather were spectacular.

After lunch, we went costume shopping at a Halloween specialty store. After trying on countless costumes, we all arrived at a pretty cool costume for the party on Saturday. Needless to say, PP's costume is super cute.

Friday, October 24, 2008

And I would drive 500 miles...

Lots of driving this week for me! Princess Pineapple's car had some problems with her axle but needed to get to Austin on Thursday for a flight out to a Job Fair. It was a pretty fun drive (Houston -> CS -> Austin) as I got to see the mostly rural patch of farming land between CS and Austin. There were cows that were about 5 yards from the highway, unfenced, just sitting there lazily grazing! More Austin shenanigans to come this weekend which literally means I would have driven about 700 miles!

I think I am developing some bad habits highway driving all the time. I caught myself going almost 90 in a 45 zone coming into Houston on Thursday. My strategy is typically find some guy who is going fast and just follow him!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


This Halloween, BlupnutMM suggested we should host a cool party that involves pumpkin carving, costumes, and horror movies. Seems like a novel ideal as I don't remember ever hosting a costumed Halloween party. Should be a good time, I think I'll go dressed as Tommy!.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Day 14: Oh Wait....

Not in China anymore...At work...

Well, at least I kept my promise to post about each day of my trip to China! =p

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Day 13: Onward to Home!

Last partial day in Beijing today. Finished up what was left of the packing and had a nice lunch with my family members. We called a University driver (specializes in driving from the various universities in the Beijing area) to take us to the airport. It was a Saturday so traffic was pretty light which allowed our getting to the airport about 3 hours before my flight.

It was a good thing too as the line to check in for my Continental flight was literally 100 people long. The Beijing managers for Continental must be totally brain-dead as they only allowed economy passengers to check in at the automated kiosks. This would have generally been a good idea, except 3 of the 5 kiosks weren't working and the ones that were working were in English. Needless to say, at least 50% of the people there knew little to no English and so had to be helped by the Continental attendants with every step. Counting that everyone had at least 1 bag to check and it all just compounded the wait. The kicker to this whole situation was that they had at least 6-manned booths available to help with check in but they were reserved for first/business class only. There were maybe 15 of those in total, so only 2 of the booths were being used leaving the other 4 completely idle as the rest of us waited in line. Eventually after about a 45 minute wait and constant not-so-subtle suggestions from the people waiting, they finally opened up the non-automated booths for general use. I was quickly finished with the check in 15 minutes later. The one hiccup being they wouldn't let me take Catnip's gift aboard which was this Olympic torch-looking lighter that when ignited, had a flame that constantly changed colors in accordance to the colors of the Olympic Rings. Luckily, there were duty-free stores nearby to compensate.

The flight itself wasn't too bad. The main bad point was there were lots of babies on this flight. Babies + turbulence + regular crying + crying + crying + freaking annoying crying + more crying = no sleep again on the way back. We had the personalized entertainment sets again, but they were the older version and didn't allow us to choose what we wanted to watched. As a result, I watched Get Smart 2 times, Hancock 2.5, and some other random gibberish the rest of the way. The elderly person sitting 2 rows away was on his way to see his grandson in Philadelphia but had to change from plane to train at Newark. He knew very little usable English and his son was apparently too busy or unwilling to come get him once he got off the plane so the other passenger in my row and I tried to help him out as much as we could. The flight from Newark to Houston was uneventful and the Papaya couple picked me up from the airport and took me back home.

Overall, the trip to China was phenomenal. I got to see all my relatives, ate way too much (and somehow only gained 2 lbs...), and even smoothed out some plans for the future!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Day 12: Random Shopping

The internet was out for most of the day at my Grandparent's house so I decided to do a little shopping for the Veggies. I had already picked up some gifts for coworkers but hadn't really gotten anything for =VGI=. We went to this Bai Huo Lou (literally building of 100 wares) to look for cool stuff.

It took a while, but I managed to scrounge up a lot of goodies for all the Veggies...excluding Catnip, since Catnip will be going to China in about a week and can buy her own souvenirs.... =p including Catnip, who is totally awesome and whom I had forgotten was helping me bring a new camcorder to my cousin in Shanghai. Won't go into details, but they are 1337 on a whole new level!

Spent the rest of the day at my Aunt's new house and basically got back around 8 and finished up the final packing. Tomorrow, I head back to the States and what will no doubt be ultimate Stock Market Recovery!

On a strange aside, I have noticed that a lot of the shows in China use video game music when they create montages. Like during this Soccer montage, they were playing the Soul Calibur character select screen music. During another show, they were playing music from FF. I could swear that the after race music during the swimming portion of the Olympics all play the Dynasty Warriors 6 victory music. OMG, It seems like I wasn't the only one who noticed!!

Day 11: The Silence of the Lambs

Didn't really do much today, mostly just resting at home and enjoying some relaxation. The highlight of the day was going to this restaurant called Lu(4) Ce(4) Lou(2) Lan(2).

The story goes that Lou Lan was once a thriving town that was known for it's awesome lamb dishes about 2000 years ago. The town was located in northern China near the Lop desert and over time, was consumed by the desert leaving nothing but ruins. However, people still visit this place for its mystique and for supernatural happenings that supposedly take place there. This restaurant specialized in cooking Xin(1) Jiang(1) cuisine meaning they have the best lamb dishes ever! They even imported their lambs from that region.

China has a very strict immigration policy..this is what happens to illegal immigrants!
As I had stated before, there were three things that I really wanted to eat in Beijing. I had already had Peking Duck and Tang Hu Lu so this restaurant took care of the lambkabobs. These kabobs were absolutely awesome. The spit was some kind of wood that added to the flavor, and the meat was seasoned so nicely. It was cooked to perfection, super tender and flavorful. These were the best lambkabobs I had ever had anywhere.

Omega Demon Chaos!!!
As a result of the awesomeness, I ate nothing but these kabobs and as the dust settled, the body count was 10 kabobs destroyed and no survivors. Woot! The rest of the day was spent recovering.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Day 10: A Taste of History

Today, I went to the historic Qian Men/Tiananmen area to do the usual touristy things. The main goal going to Qian Men was to pick up some souvenirs. We took public transportation to stay away from the choking Beijing traffic and it was the usual massive barbarian hoards of people everywhere. The subway was basically one big lovefest with everyone pressed against everyone else.

First cool thing I saw was Tang Hu Lu!! These things are basically shiskabobed haw fruit in a sugar coating. When I came to Beijing, there were three things that I HAD to eat, Peking Duck, Lambkabobs, and these sugar coated haw fruits.

I wandered around for quite a while picking up some small gifts from the various stores that were strew about the place. The main attraction was that these stores were all remodeled to look like what the street would have looked like in ancient times.

I am totally not out of place!
I had lunch at a famous place called Gou Bu Li. The main attraction was the Baozi there. The story goes that there was a guy named Gou Zi who was totally awesome at making these steamed buns. His place was so popular that he was too busy to chat with any of this customers, hence they called the buns Gou Bu Li (Gou doesn't notice us). Sadly I was too busy eating these awesome buns to actually take a picture, but here's one with ole Tommy on a golden throne inside!

Bring me a Jumbo Jack, no cheese...and Bafmodads
After Qian Men, I headed to the nearby Tiananmen Square to look for the remaining souvenirs. I have been to the square multiple times, but no matter how many times I go, the size of the square always impresses me. It's so huge that no matter how many times you see it in pictures, you have to go there to truly appreciate it's grandour.

There were various decorations in place such as a giant lantern,

the olympic mascots, and various other unique floral arrangements.

I am totally not jealous!

After finishing up the gift buying, I passed through Tiananmen one last time on the way back. See you next time!

Maybe one day, my picture will hang from something famous!
Can't have a day end in China without a banquet, so dinner was a banquet with many of my Grandfather's past students and coworkers. Felt just a bit intimidated sitting in a room filled with professors and PhDs.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Day 9: Beijing Welcomes Us...Again

Even though today was supposed to be a travel day, my mom still decided it was best to visit even more relatives. This time, it was my great aunt. We took the subway this time round to get a taste of public transportation and besides the barbarian hoards of people everywhere you go, it was very smooth.

We only had about 2 hours of time to visit before having to head back, but of course, they had the usual banquet waiting for us. Now, these crabs are really good and all...but after having them day after day after day, it gets a bit routine. We chatted about the usual family things and were about to leave. We had already gotten on the bus when my mom realized she had left her cell phone at the great aunt's place. We hurriedly headed back and to welcome us back for the second time, we had another banquet (okay, not really, but it totally could have happened).

We still had some errands to run so we headed to the shopping district to buy some snacks and withdraw some cash. This is where I learned that the chinese banking system is retarded. According to my mom, if you deposit money in Shanghai, you can't actually withdraw it in Beijing. The only way to transfer was to manually withdraw all the money and then redeposit it all. This made no sense to me at all, but my mom insisted this needed to be done.

After errands, we headed home, packed it all up and went to the airport. We flew Hainan Airlines this time and the experience was pretty pleasant again. The only annoying thing was after landing in Beijing, the plane taxied for almost 20 minutes before arriving at a gate.

Day 8: More Feasting

Today, my mom and I went to vist my Grandfather again. As usual, we were greeted by a feast for the ages. This time however, only 2 of us came while the feast was prepared for 12. Following a session of gorging, we talked some more and left grandfather's house at around 5 in order to make it to...what else, another banquet.

One small problem we encountered was that it was actually two banquets. Some my mom's friends in Shanghai had been trying to get a hold of her the entire day to let her know of this banquet, but we had already agreed ahead of time to go to another banquet at my aunt's place. So, for the best of both worlds, my mom's friends decided to have their banquet at the same place where my aunt was having hers. This lead to our room-hopping to entertain both parties.

The highlight dish was the "drunken shrimp." The dish consisted of live shrimp, that were soaked into some kinda wine. The shrimp were then consumed raw while still alive. It was a bit disturbing to see the shrimp still moving their tails as you bit into them, but they actually tasted pretty good...if you can stand the weird factor.

If you look closely, they are still moving!

It was also my cousin's 30th birthday so we had this awesome cake. It was super tasty with delicious frosting. Usually, the frosting is way too thick and tastes terrible, but this cake had light, fluffy frosting that tasted awesome!


Sunday, October 05, 2008

Day 8: The Ancient Capital

Today is the big day! The day that I am travelling to Nanjing to visit Princess Pineapple's parents.

The day started very early as the train ride was at 6:07 am. I woke up at 4:00 am and got dressed for the occasion. I also tried on the previously purchased anti-perspirant. I had a nice black striped CK dress shirt, some Ralph Lauren Khakis, and black dress shoes. Unfortunately, it was raining outside but my uncle managed to hail a taxi for my cousin and I and we got to the train station about an hour before the scheduled departure. The train we rode was the super fast magnetic rail train that runs between Nanjing and Shanghai. A one-way trip only took about 2 hours and 30 minutes. Pineapple's parents greeted us at the train station and we were off!

We first went to get some breakfast at the company recreation center. This place was awesome with courts for just about any racket sport, pool, hotel, etc. We had some light conversation during breakfast and I learned of the day's plans: A visit to the Sun Yat-sen Memorial followed by lunch on Hunan Street, then freeform.

I had visited the Sun Yat-sen Memorial before in 2001 as part of a tourist group and remembered lots of stairs. This time, the visit rekindled the fondness I had for those 294 stairs. The weather was super awesome and the temperature was cool, but climbing the stairs briskly while wearing dress shoes and a dress shirt still caused me to sweat like crazy. But Velius, didn't you wear that fancy Chinese anti-perspirant? Yes, but it doesn't work at all, even though I had a triple application. However, the scenery more than made up for the loss of electrolytes as it was absolutely stunning. From atop the Mausoleum, you could almost see the entire city of Nanjing. There was also this awesome floral placement with individual potted flowers that shaped into the logo for the 2008 Olympics.

It was more beautiful when seen in person
We also visited an amphitheater designed with spectacular natural acoustics.

This is the before scene, I'll spare the after pictures of bones picked clean
There was a live concert going on and there were hundreds of doves on the grounds as well as various people that were being eaten by the doves. These doves were super aggressive and flocked to anyone with food. They even flew on top of people's head and arms for better shots at the food from above.

Before he lost his right arm!
The entire time, Pineapple's parents and I were discussing many different topics like my job, my family, the hurricane in Houston, and many inquiries about how Princess Pineapple was doing.

After the Sun Yat-sen Memorial, we went to Hunan road and had lunch at Shi Zi Tou (Lion's head). This restaurant chain purportedly has been around since the Song Dynasty which is roughly about 1000 years. At the restaurant, I met Pineapple's uncle and aunt. The food was excellent with the best food being the signature Lion's Head dish. We talked a lot more in detail during lunch and the conversation was good. I had some difficulties expressing myself in Chinese as sometimes, I just couldn't think of the proper phrases fast enough. I have to definitely work on that in the future.

After lunch, Pineapple's parents really wanted to show us around some more, but the morning's activites were pretty tiring so we suggested they take a rest and meet up with us at the train station later on. My cousin and I decided to spent the remaining time touring Xuanwu Lake. The lake was huge with many things to see so my cousin suggested that we should ride one of those two-person bikes that were available for rent. This turned out to be a horrible mistake as the bike we got sucked.

Check out the Rims on this Baby!
It was totally rusted over and besides the bell, everything else on the bike made sounds. Luckily this benefited in that it was very hard to hit any pedestrians because they could hear our coming from a mile away and make preparations to avoid us. This was a good thing because the steering was also crooked on the bike and the best we could do was the zigzag the bike around. After 15 minutes of pedaling, my legs were about to fall off because the chain and pedals were so rusted that it felt like we were pedaling in quicksand. We finally stopped at a bird sanctuary to watch more birds attacking humans for food.

The problems with the One Child policy..
Coming out of the bird sanctuary, we decided to just ditch the bike and walk on foot.

After the tour of the lake, we headed back to the train station to meet Pineapple's parents again. They gave me stuff to take back to Pineapple and gifts to give to my relatives in Shanghai. Overall, Pineapple's parents were super nice and often times went out of their way to make sure my visit was enjoyable. I sincerely hope that I was able to put forth a good first impression.

The train ride back was uneventful and Pineapple's friend's brother picked us up at the train station. He also gave me some stuff to take back to his sister. The day was tiring as we got back home at around 10 pm. It was just in time to watch Walden defeat O'Sullivan 10-8 in the Shanghai Masters snooker tournament.

Day 7: The Calm before the Storm

Today was another pretty restful day. The only line of duty was a bit of shopping in the morning. The objective was to find a store that carried shot glasses with some kind of Shanghai or Chinese insignia. It's hard to imagine how hard it was to look for these. We looked all over Xu Jia Hui which is one of the largest shopping districts in Shanghai and none of the stores carried any decorated shot glasses. The closest were plain clear glass ones. We finally found some shot glasses with the olympics logo but decided that it would probably be best to look for them in Beijing instead.

I also picked up some deodorant/anti-perspirant for the trip tomorrow. Apparently, Chinese people don't really use the stuff because I almost couldn't find it in the store. It took a bunch of searching and doubling back over the same aisle to finally find 1 kind of deodorant. It's also the weirdest thing ever as it looks nothing like the kind you find in the US.

Honest, what do you THINK this is...
The rest of the day was spent basically in leisure. Dinner was hand-made dumplings which tasted fantastic!

Just lick the monitor if you want a taste!
Tomorrow is the big day!

Friday, October 03, 2008

Day 6: Remembrance

Today, I went to visit both my dad and grandmother. The cemetary provides it's own transport and usually it's very hard to get a seat on the bus. However, because of the National Day celebrations, there was not the usual number of people riding so getting seats was relatively easy. The trip there winds through many of the outlying areas of Shanghai so I got to really see what life in a rural (Xiang(1) Xia(4)) setting was like. The houses were small, mostly rundown, and there was trash just lying everywhere in sharp contrast to the image Beijing tried to paint of China as a super modern nation.

After paying my respects, I started walking back to the bus, but noticed on the way that for some reason, this cemetary has live peacocks. Upon closer inspection, they had almost 20 peacocks in this small enclosure, mostly adults, but one mommy peacock had 4 little chicks.

No, you can't tame one Faalena
None of us was really wearing anything vibrant or colorful so none of the male peacocks fanned out his feathers.

I am too sexy for this picture
Getting back, my cousin and I went to purchase some random stuff just to stretch out our legs. Shopping in China is definitely another experience. There are just massive hoards of people in the streets and most stores are jam packed with people. I saw an IKEA, Best Buy, and even a Dairy Queen! The first order of business was to upgrade my cousin's computer. Her computer only has 256 MB of RAM. As such, trying to blog everyday took quite a long time. We upgraded her computer to 2 Gigs of memory which sped up the performance considerably. We also needed to buy a couple of 2 gig USB drives. I ended up getting a 8 gig one for myself.

We had lunch at this Korean restaurant. While seated at the table, you see these nicely wrapped wet towels sitting on the table. You would think that these are complimentary, but no, they actually cost about 5 RMB each which is a ludicrously high price as 5 RMB can easily get about 5 of the same towels at a store. The most under-handed thing is they wait until you USE the towel to let you know there is an extra charge for it! Overall though, things are comparatively a lot cheaper in China. The entire meal probably would have been at least $40 or so, but only cost about 110 RMB (17 bucks or so).

After the shopping, we headed back and basically spent the rest of the night watching the televised Shanghai Snooker Championships. Snooker is wildly popular in China and televised snooker events often gain exceptionally high ratings. I was never really a snooker watcher, but I gotta admit, those people have some amazing skills.

Day 5: Leisurely activities

Today was basically a rest day. Stayed home the entire time and had lunch and dinner with various family members. The food was spectacular as usual, with my aunt cooking a double whammy of fried chicken wings AND sweet and sour ribs. My cousin also brought over the baby and outside of one small milk regurgitation episode, he acted really well.

Cuteness Overload!!
The night was spent watching the world snooker championships and this awesome obstacle course show where contestants humiliate themselves for a cell phone. It's always great watching the types of people that compete in these.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Day 4: The Shanghai Connection

Today, I went over to my grandfather's house for a Xu family gathering. Everytime I come back to China, my grandfather always hosts a large party consisting of many many delectable foodstuffs. This time was no exception.

I need to L2HoldHandStill.  I phail at photography
The food was awesome and we all talked about various Xu family topics (75% about Princess Pineapple of course..) and I got to play around with my nephew. He's about 8 months old and super playful. He really really likes heights, as everytime I hold him up above my head, he laughs and giggles like crazy. He also cannot seem to hold his body still as he's always moving. He can't quite crawl yet since his legs aren't strong enough, but he sorta uses his arms to pull himself along. It kind of looks like he's swimming, but on the floor. Phelps better watch out, this kid's doing the breast stroke at 8 months!

We stayed at my grandfather's house all the way until about 6:30 pm when we all called a couple of taxis home. I was totally exhausted afterwards because of last night's tea mishap and basically slept like a log from 7 pm until about 4 am. While definitely not helping my jetlag, the good night's sleep hit the spot.