Monday, May 14, 2007

may 13

Found a piano practice place not too far from my hotel. Played four hours today.

Wen kept calling me and asking if I went sightseeing yet. Personally I am not so interested in sightseeing, but I did oblige him and went to the Jinmao Tower, the tallest building in all of China. The elevator is mercury smooth, and moves at 9 meters a second.

Shanghai from the 88th floor observation desk is impressive. Skyscrapers as far as I could see in some directions (okay, it was a little misty). They are building one right next to it which is just slightly higher. The view inside the tower goes into the hotel lobby atrium --- all the way down to the first floor. It was incredibly beautiful.

The traffic in Shanghai is well regulated and surprisingly not that crowded. They have traffic control people at some of the intersections who basically direct cars to do what the traffic lights indicate. (Go on green, stop on red.) But it seems to help. And people use the crosswalks here.

For dinner I met with four Sloan classmates.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

may 12

Flew to Shanghai today. I left some of my luggage at the apartment for next trip.

I bought this 25-key synthesizer+MIDI keyboard that Jia-Fang brought back for me. It was kind of expensive, but I really did want something that I could use to practice on the plane. It is a Novation X-Station 25. My criteria for getting a small keyboard were:

- weighted or semi-weighted keys (so it feels closer to a piano than the cheap synthesizers)
- small (2-octaves) so I can practice on the plane
- can run off batteries
- can play standalone without a computer (most MIDI keyboards cannot)

I like it a lot, and I practiced in the airport and on the plane ride to Shanghai. It fits perfectly even in the economy seats. I just wish it had a better piano sound built in instead of all the weird synthesizer effects. Because it is so small I can only play one hand at a time.

Shanghai is very cosmopolitan. This area is full of foreigners and expensive shops like Louis Vuitton (bigger than Dalian's) and Armani. But today I stayed in my hotel room most of the day working. I did try out the hotel gym which is much larger than the one at the Somerset. I am staying at the JC Mandarin hotel. So much money around here. Actually it is hard to believe I am in China. So many western faces. So clean and modern.

Here is a picture from my hotel room. (It was overcast today.)

And here I am in my room at the Shanghai JC Mandarin:

Friday, May 11, 2007

may 11

Too busy over the past few days to post much, or even do much worth posting. The taxi driver who took me on the 40 minute drive to my office yesterday was very interesting. He had an avid interest in languages and could speak some Japanese, English, Korean, Russian and even Yugoslavian. But more impressive was his clean taxi and polite manner in driving. He asked me if I would consider hiring him as a driver for the company. (I would if we need one.)

The taxi he drives is owned by the taxi company which charges him a lease fee of 130 yuan per day. And he has to pay for gas, etc. You can't make a lot of money like that in Dalian, where the minimum fare is 8.00 yuan ($1).

My first project manager joined us today at the office. It's my last night in Dalian on this trip.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

may 8

My first employee started today. We are in some temporary space at another company until our permanent building is outfitted, probably another three months. I made my travel plans for my trip to Shanghai and Beijing next week before I return to the US. Unfortunately, this means that my first guy will be by himself for several weeks before anyone else joins.

Monday, May 7, 2007

may 7

Well, I thought today was going to be the first day of work after the break, but I forgot that Golden Week here runs a full seven days. So I could not go into the office today. Instead I worked from home and also played 3 hours of piano.

It is very inconvenient to be without a good printer and scanner here. I went to the same little print shop where I had business cards made up today and asked them about printing some files. But they only have a dinky little HP printer in there, not what I was expecting. And they wanted to charge 2 yuan/page ($0.25) for printouts that that have streaks running across them. Besides, they cannot print double sided. Man I really need to find a US-style Kinkos here that can do anything.

I did feel sorry for the poor girl who does the business cards. She is so busy there and her old PC keeps crashing. Every time I am in there she is rebooting it at least once.

I discovered a cool program today called "MidiNotate" that can turn a midi file into regular music notation. Very nice. Just what I needed to finish figuring out the full piano riff part of "The Way It Is". The version in the Bruce Hornsby Anthology that I have been playing doesn't include all the improvisations at the end of the song. But now I have it. (And all the other instrument parts too!) I hope it doesn't take me too long to learn it---I have already been playing this song over a year now.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

may 6

Bureaucracy (guanliao) is a kind of art form here. The more you practice it, the better you get. I have been unable to dial internationally from my cell phone, which has caused me great pain in trying to connect with my colleages in HK, US and the UK. Yesterday evening I walked to the local China Mobile office to "kaitong" (open) access to international long distance service on my phone. Well, they couldn't do it because my phone number is not registered with a name. They told me to come back during the day time. So I went in again today. Surprisingly they are open on Sunday, even during this holiday week.

I went to the same office on the first floor, and after waiting my turn, was told I have to go to the second floor to do this. After waiting in line again, I was told, no, you must first go to the first floor to sign an affadavit. Okay, it was a different office on the first floor, I figured out after a little probing. Back downstairs to an official looking guy who tells me I can't register the phone (link it with my passport name) until I have three months of usage and receipts... A clear and polite explanation of what I am trying to do resulted in an "okay", and we processed the forms. I am good to call internationally for one year without registering name.

Back up to the second floor to give the piece of paper to the clerk, along with my passport and SIM card, all of which are photocopied. Once more politeness and persistence (I don't understand, please explain a third time) resulted in success. The clerk also gave me a tip for calling internationally from my mobile phone: dial 17951 + 00 + country code + # only costs 2 yuan/min ($0.25) as opposed to direct dialing 00 + # which costs 8 yuan/min. So I guess it can pay to keep your cool sometimes.

Another three hours of piano practice, and then preparation for work tomorrow. My first hire starts tomorrow---all I need to do is find some work for him to do! (Actually, there is plenty.)

Saturday, May 5, 2007

may 5

Sorry for the long delay in updating the blog. It has been hard to find time to do it with the family here and work.

Jia-Fang and the boys went back to the US today. We spent all morning packing, but when I got back from the airport I discovered that Arthur forgot his blanket on the sofa. Without it, he is going to have a difficult time.

It's been a month since I left the US, and my hair has grown way too long. It makes me feel icky. I have always been nervous about getting my hair cut in another country, especially in Asia where people don't have curly hair like mine. Besides, when we were in Beijing in 1995 my old boss and I got totally ripped off in a barber shop. They asked us to pay 800 RMB ($100) for a haircut, and it kind of ruined the whole trip. (I have to admit, though, it was a very good haircut.)

Anyway, my fears were unfounded here in Dalian. I went into the first barber shop I found near my hotel, and the guy did a great job. He tried to charge me 10 yuan ($1.25), but this time I felt bad because it was so cheap, so I gave him 20 yuan. Very different from 1995 Beijing. The people here have been pretty honest.

I couldn't get a piano room at the usual place we go to, so I went back to the Nordiska piano showroom to practice. The pianos there are so much better there anyway. Like so many things here, it is easy to find very cheap stuff, but quality is expensive. It's not as far away as I thought---I took a taxi to make sure I knew the way there, and walked back (about 20 minutes).