So.....it's been 3 months since I've written anything. What has transpired in these past three months, you ask? Well, more than you can imagine. A brief summary:
Went to Chicago for 10 days
Went to Germany for 8 days
Spent 24 hours in Amsterdam seeing old friends
Drove 200+km/hour on the German autobahn
Went to Finland
Went to Thailand to meet up with old friends for 9 days
Got the Job of my Dreams
I guess with that precursor, it would seem fair to explain how exactly all of this went down.
My last blog post was August 7th. As planned, on August 16th, I flew to Chicago, and was there for work/visiting family until August 25th. I then flew back to China, arriving on August 26th, before leaving for Germany August 29th. As you can imagine, my internal clock was a bit messed up for a few days.
Anyway, Germany was interesting. Despite my having formerly lived in their neighbor, the Netherlands, I'd never been to Germany, though I did connect in Frankfurt back in 2009 when flying Rome-->Istanbul on Lufthansa. We arrived in Frankfurt and took the train straight from there to Cologne for the SPOGA+GAFA trade fair, a major trade fair involving basically all outdoor-type products (and may others, though outdoor definitely seemed to be the emphasis). Our 9 days in Cologne were sensational, Cologne was a marvelous city of a decent size, full of great views of the Rhine River, nice historical sites, phenomenal beer, and a whole host of other German stereotypes including but not limited to lots of Volkswagens, a very efficient public transport system, an infinite selection of different meats, cheeses, and breads, and a whole host of surly (but in fact quite friendly) Germans! During our time in Cologne, we worked about 7 days at the convention center, and had a couple of days to sort of explore the city.
From Cologne, we had 2 days following the expo as "free time" before our flight back to Hong Kong. My boss, Jacky, and I pored over a map of Europe for about 20 minutes, talking about places that seemed to be within reasonable distance of Cologne. After intense debate centering around my hatred of Brussels, Belgium, we decided that the best thing to do would be to rent a car and drive to Amsterdam. As I was the only one of the 4 people there who knew how to drive, I was chosen as the driver. We got to Enterprise to pick up our reserved car, only to encounter a slight problem.....
The car was a stickshift. In the United States, we NEVER use manual cars. I would guess ~2% of the cars on the road in the US today are manual, and many of them are old and driven by either proper car enthusiasts, crazy people, or, up until about 5 years ago, my grandmother. So obviously I have no idea how to drive a stickshift car.
After making several sad attempts at getting the thing out of the parking lot, I decided to call it quits, and asked if they had another car. They did not, however a place down the road did, so down the road we went. After renting a little 4-door Renault, it was off to Amsterdam via the famed German Autobahn. And justifiably famed it was.
After reaching a speed of 201km/hr (this was literally the fastest the car could go....I was flooring it), I was amazed to see Mercedes's, BMWs, Audis, etc., flying by me in the left lane at what must have been 250+km/hr. Absolutely mental. The highway was remarkably well-paved and in excellent shape. Upon our arrival in Amsterdam, it took around 1hr of driving through the incredible narrow and confusing canal streets in order to find our hostel, which ended up being right in the center of town. It then took me another hour to find parking and return to the hostel.
Anyway, so our 24 hours in Amsterdam (as it were, it was exactly 24 hours, given that I parked the car, paid something like 45 euros for 24 hours of parking, and we got back to the car at the end of the parking time and hightailed it back to Frankfurt) was excellent. I was able to catch up with two old friends from exchange, Marije and Roald, and chatted a bit about their lives as young recent university graduates in the Netherlands. Interesting stuff.
The drive back to Frankfurt was fairly uneventful, however upon return to Frankfurt we did encounter a small problem--a flat tire. Now, this could have been a horrendous situation: we're in downtown Frankfurt, very far from the airport, very far from any car rental place, and we get a flat, five hours before our flight back to HK. Thankfully, we broke down right next to a car repair place.
"OK, well this could be worse, I assume they'll have tires here", I said, trying to sound optimistic.
As it would turn out, no, they did not have tires here. Nor did anyplace nearby. Well, we seemed screwed. However, in a miraculous turn of events, we called the rental car company. And this is how that went:
"Hi, we've just had a flat. We're at some car repair shop right next to the Commerzbank Tower"
"OK, here is what you should do: leave the car there. Give them the keys. We will have it towed later. You will have 120 euros (~$150) deducted from your deposit on the car to cover the cost of tire/towage. Get a cab or metro to the airport. Have a good day"
And Richard Dawkins cried out, "Thank Charles Darwin!"
And so we did.
Anyway, while I did feel slightly dodgy about just handing the car keys to some German guy and hoping for the best, we had few other options, so that's what we did. (update: they really did only take 120 euros from my account. Amazing)
So we got to the airport with time to spare. Only to find out Lufthansa had gone on strike over a decrease in the allowable consumption of German beer by flight crew during flights (flight crew members are now limited to consuming 10 pints on domestic flights, 15 on international). Among the flights affected....Frankfurt-->Hong Kong. So we were rerouted on Finnair via Helsinki. Consequently, I now have a Finland EU exit stamp in my passport, which is something I can't say I saw coming when I woke up that morning.
After returning to the great People's Republic of China, I was here for about 3 weeks working before heading to Thailand for Chinese National Holiday to meet Dan, one of my good friends from High School who currently lives in Vegas. I also met with my friend Tina from Illinois State who is currently studying abroad at Thammasat University in Bangkok.
Put bluntly, the trip to Bangkok was 9 days of drinking on Khao San Rd., chatting with Chinese tourists in Chinese while Dan watched and had me translate, and doing very little in the way of actual sightseeing. Though as I'd previously been to Bangkok twice and seen most of what there was to see, this was no great loss.
One very interesting thing to come out of the Thailand excursion, however, was an email from an old coworker of mine from SES WORLD SKIES in the Netherlands. She was short and to the point, something like:
Hi Blaine, how have you been doing lately? In case you haven't heard, I left SES, and am currently working for Company X. We're looking for new analysts, I was wondering if you'd be interested in applying?
I had a look at the job description. 3 things stood out at me:
1) I would be writing research papers for money. This is something I've previously done and would do for free
2) I can make my own hours/work from home
3) "We are very flexible in terms of location, provided there is sufficient internet and telephony services"
Well, as anyone who knows me can imagine, number 3 is a pretty dangerous proposition. So I applied. And interviewed. And interviewed again. And interviewed again. And on November 9th, 2012, I received an email making me an offer I couldn't refuse.
And I didn't refuse it.
So now I will be leaving Shenzhen. Having resigned earlier this week (which went remarkably well with my boss), my last day with my current company will be November 29th. I will be returning to Chicago the next day and staying through the holidays, before taking a 1-way trip I booked yesterday to Seoul, via San Francisco, on December 28th. Intention is to look at apartments in Seoul for a couple of weeks, and if I can find some decent ones for some decent prices, I will live in Seoul for probably a year or so, learn some Korean, eat some kimchi, and probably learn to Gangnam Style like you would not believe. If apartments in Seoul prove unreasonably expensive or cramped, plan is to head to Beijing or possibly somewhere in stupidly northern China like Harbin.
Anyway! So that's all, folks. It seems my year or so in Shenzhen will be coming to a rather abrupt and bittersweet end. I briefly toyed with the idea of staying in this city, as I really do love it, but at one point I realized that if a 2-years ago version of myself was told that at age 24, with a fair bit of cash saved up, I'd be told I can go live anywhere in the world, and that I chose a place that is 1) the city I've just spent the last year living in, and 2) Shenzhen, China, I would have thought this to be a terribly unimaginative choice. Consequently, Seoul it is, at least for now. I suppose I'll try to put at least one more post up here from Shenzhen, though who knows.
Some other assorted goings on and interesting events as of late:
1.) Text received from a good friend of mine here in Shenzhen the other day: "Most bizarre thing I've ever seen in Shenzhen. Just arrived at this technology park, fancy office complex and there is a homeless guy who looks like he arrived from feral middle of nowhere yesterday with his dick out walking around pissing on the pavement and no one is paying any attention"
Well, no one comes to China because it's the most civilized place in the world...
2.) 2 nights ago when walking home through a park, my friend and I witnessed what can only be described as a many hundred person dance orgy. Basically, there was a huge public square that was fairly logically divided into four areas. In what we'll call "area 1" were several hundred people following the lead of some guy doing the Gangnam Style, with the song itself blasting out. In "area 2", there were people doing the tango. "Area 3" was ballroom dancing, and "area 4" was a sort of traditional Chinese-ish Tai Chi sort of dance.
So I suppose you'd not find that at home.
3.) This article: http://www.chinasmack.com/2012/pictures/chinese-boy-defecates-in-guangzhou-subway-netizens-shocked.html
4.) I ate at a fairly traditional Cantonese restaurant a few weeks back. Outside the restaurant, they had a display case with dead dogs hanging there for purchase. This no longer unsettles me, as you see it all the time here. However, halfway through the meal I had to use the toilet. I went back to the toilet, which was on the side of the restaurant outside in an alleyway. I had to wait outside as it was in use. I saw, to my sort of perplexed but not so surprised amusement and horror, was a sheep's head, cut in half down the middle (imagine a human face cut in half right down the middle through your nose, sort of like a 2-face type of idea), sitting in a basket on the ground just next to the toilet. I have no idea what this sheep head was doing there, but I can only hope it was not waiting for someone to purchase the "boiled sheep head" and consume it, as it was just sitting outside in the horrendously filthy alleyway in the horrendously filthy part of Shenzhen known as Buji.
So obviously, it must be impossible for the readership consisting of 5 people to imagine why I'm a bit apprehensive to commit to another year in China, and am rather going to a much, much more developed, civilized, and generally pleasant place that is Seoul, South Korea.
So now that we've all caught up on what I've been up to, heard some other random and disgusting stories, and have become thoroughly bored of this blog post, I will wrap it up.
I will be leaving 2 weeks from yesterday for Chicago, and will be around for 4 weeks. So any friends of mine in Chicagoland, let me know if you'd like to get together during December. That's all for now, more to come as it develops.