Shenzhen September 2013

Tuesday September 3

Lazy day.   My cold seems to have settled into exactly that, a head cold.  Runny nose, et cetera.   But no sore throat, thank goodness.  The antibiotic seems to have done some good along with all the herbal medicines I’m taking.  (The young lady who’s in charge of the course I’m doing this weekend wants me to bring all those meds in with me when I go to the school to check everything out tomorrow.  She wants to see what I’m taking.)

Meanwhile, I’m going to read the papers (the maid saved all the SCMP’s for me while I was away), catch this blog up, and rest.   The guy who did the room recognized my problem and left me an extra box of Kleenex.

I used up the sleeve of antibiotic capsules the doctor had given me, so I checked with the concierge to see if there was any chance I could get some more.  I doubted it, without a prescription, but he called around and sent a bellhop off somewhere to get another two-day supply for me.  I’m glad.  Another day of that stuff should be good insurance.

I’m also eating the most fantastic oranges that Angela had slipped a bag of into the car for me.   They’re big juicy Sunkist valencias from California, better than I can buy in Harris Teeter!   Goodness knows where she got them, or how much she had to pay for them.  But I’m grateful.  Vitamin C for colds, as my mother always used to say.

Wednesday September 4, 2013

I woke up feeling very muzzy-headed.  I took two of the antibiotic pills last night and was scared that I may have OD’d.   The dosage advice was in Chinese, of course.   But the concierge said two was the correct dosage, twice a day.

I went over to the school today to check that everything was OK and the young lady who’s running this course suggested that I bring over all the meds I’m taking.  I did, and she narrowed it down to two and added one more from their stock.  I took one of the latter immediately and whether it was that one that did the trick or not, something did.  My cold broke.  I think you only know how bad you felt when you don’t feel that bad anymore.   How I knew I was better was that I suddenly had an appetite again.   I wandered through the underground shops and up the block and finally decided to sit outside a little place where I could get a chicken curry (I’m a bit tired of Chinese food) and a beer.  I thoroughly enjoyed both and liked the price too:  less than $7.   Then I had a sweet tooth attack and dropped into the supermarket to see what I felt like.  I found durian-flavored ice cream, to my amazement!   Durians are an extremely stinky fruit; the sticky sweet smell permeates Chinese supermarkets.  But I thought, what the heck, let’s do something different.   It was smooth and tasty, a bit like peach ice cream, but the faint odor still put me off.  I only ate about half of it and wrapped the rest in a plastic bag inside a plastic bag.   Speaking of plastic bags, you have to pay for a bag in Chinese stores.  Not much, just a couple of miao, but still.  I always forget.

In the process of looking for somewhere appealing to eat, I found something I’d never seen before.  You know how some authentic sushi places have a conveyor belt or even a “canal” with little boats and you just pick off what you want when it goes by?   Well, there was a whole restaurant using that concept, only instead of sushi, plates and bowls of all kinds of food went by and you could take as much as you want of anything you want for just $6.50!   I don’t guess the health department would approve such a concept in the U.S.  The food is open to the air and people are dipping their chopsticks into the bowls family-style, except that in this case the “family” includes everybody in the whole restaurant!   I could see why it’s popular, though.

Cutting through a nearby park, I saw a couple of people with seven little white dogs of a couple of different breeds.   Dog walkers, maybe?   Or…no, I don’t even want to think about that!

I also found out that I’m teaching Saturday and Sunday, not Friday and Saturday as I had thought.   Gives me one more day to recover fully, although I feel so my old self that I could teach tomorrow morning if I had to.

Thursday September 5

Woke up this morning feeling thirty years younger.  As I said yesterday, you have no idea how sick you were until you’re not sick anymore.   I’m rarin’ to go again.   And there’s a glimmer of sun peeking through the clouds, too.  Hallelujah!

I’ve just written the first paragraphs of two articles friends have asked me to contribute for their publications.   I don’t even want to stop for breakfast.

I took the Metro a couple of stops to the OCT Art Gallery this morning (out near our old stamping grounds, the Venice Hotel) to see two exhibits, one the New York Art Directors Club show (who’d imagine I’d see that in Shenzhen!) and the other a comparison of the work of four portraiture artists, two Dutch and two Chinese.    Re the ADC show, I was of course awed by the executions and the display of technological competence, but I was disappointed that it was all show and no sell.  There was a woeful lack of what I call “dramatized propositions” – visualized reasons why someone might want to buy something.  Focused creativity, if you will.   A lot of it seemed to be, “Look, Ma, at this clever thing I’ve learned to do.”

One exception:  The Mercedes 0.0 emissions “invisible car” campaign where the proposition is that the car is invisible to the environment.  Beautifully dramatized here:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=vWtcz9PMFHo
But note that in the video the creators still talk mostly about how they did this clever thing, not what the rationale was for doing it in the first place.

When I went next door to the art exhibit, maybe I heard the reason for this failure if not reluctance on the part of art directors to communicate effectively.  The curator talked about how the artist is always looking for new ways to express himself or herself. Exactly.  In fact, as if to underscore the point, one of the Dutch artists had hung 100 portraits of his own face!  But that’s NOT what you’re supposed to be doing if you’re an art director trying to help a client persuade a potential customer to buy the client’s product or service.   Maybe the difference is that artists think inside-out  (“What can I show this person?”) rather than outside-in (“How can I help this person to understand something?”).

On the way back I saw a sign for St. Anthony’s RC Church, so I walked up to see it.   It’s quite new, built only in 2002.   (Of course Shenzhen itself is quite new.  Nothing was here but fishermen’s huts thirty years ago.)  A volunteer layperson told me it’s a full parish, with a seminary attached.

I think I finally tumbled as to why I never see any other round eyes when I’m wandering around.   Western visitors don’t wander around the streets, especially in a non-tourist place like Shenzhen.  They don’t even ride the subway.  They take taxis or get picked up in limos and eat in expensive restaurants catering to business people.   Most of them don’t really see what the place is like off the main boulevard and away from their hotels.  There’s still some old China here, the guys setting up impromptu bicycle repair “shops” on the sidewalk, the lady tucked into a niche in the wall with her primitive sewing machine to make repairs for people, the news agent behind her stacks and racks of newspapers and magazines.  Anyone who thinks print is dead, by the way, hasn’t been to China.

I spent another pleasant 45 minutes when I got back listening to the pretty Belarusian lady pianist play the grand piano in the Palm Court.  I’m an audience of one for her. Everyone else is in conversation with tablemates over their high tea; no one else seems to be listening to her at all.  I took one look at the prices, though, and skipped the high tea, thank you very much.  $10 for a little pot of English Breakfast tea and a cookie?  The hotel staff knows me by now; they just bring me a glass of water with a lemon in it.  One of the senior staff people I’ve gotten to know refers to the pianist as my muse!  I love my little afternoon private concerts and I’m sure she appreciates having someone actually listen to her playing.

Friday September 6

Last night I was a little hungry and I’d been told by a Spanish girl on the staff about a terrific Canadian jazz singer who was working in one of the hotel lounges called “Duke’s”  (which for some reason they pronounce dee-OO-kes) so I dropped in to listen and grab a bite to eat.   Wow, was I glad I did.   Her name is Diane White (although she’s Black, via the Caribbean).  Her dad is a diplomat, so she’s been a world traveler all her life.   Mostly she grew up in Ottawa so she has no accent at all, not even the Canadian “oot and aboot” sound.   I’d seen her in the breakfast room and wondered who she was; she was always alone and eating too late in the morning to be someone here on business.   This is what she does for a living, she travels around the world singing.   Her contract here is through November.   The hotel had supplied her with back-up musicians, two Chinese guys.  The bassist wasn’t bad, but the pianist had no ear for jazz and no feel for the songs.   He played the notes; that’s about it.  It had been a bit of a trying experience for her, getting these guys to play the way she needed them to play, but she is a tall, independent, confident lady with a good sense of humor.  I have the feeling she could handle whatever comes along.  The restaurant serves tapas, surprisingly good and surprisingly generous, though unsurprisingly expensive.   I could only stay for two sets, but I enjoyed listening to her.

This morning I didn’t feel as chipper as I had yesterday; maybe in my exuberance yesterday I’d overdone it.  I’ll have to be sure to rest more today.

It was a beautifully sunny, blue-sky day, temps in the low 80’s and not humid.   Great day to throw on shorts and find a place to work on my cold and my tan at the same time.   I found a huge shallow pool on a terrace between the hotel and adjoining apartment towers, so I took off my shirt and sprawled out on a lounge chair.   There was no one else there, although the Chinese have an aversion to the sun (the prized white skin thing) so I wasn’t too surprised.   After about a half-hour, though, this Chinese hotel worker came running up to me all concerned with a handful of pieces of what looked like concrete.  Eventually he made me understand that these rock-like objects were raining down on the terrace from the two high apartment towers that were still under construction!   The terrace was actually closed, for safety reasons.  It was OK; I’d probably had enough direct sun for one sitting anyway.  So I went down into one of the little parks between the hotel and the street, found a stone table and read my two newspapers in dappled sunlight, to the amusement of Chinese citizens in the area who kept sneaking peeks at me.

When I’d had enough of that, I went back into the hotel and decided to have lunch in the Palm Court, expensive or not, while listening to the beautiful Belarusian pianist whose name I’d learned was Katerina.   She’s best at the classical piano pieces, Chopin and Schumann and the like.   She also played a set from a book of American songs, Noel Coward sorts of things, but although she played the notes fluently she lacked both a feel for the music and the phrasing.  I finally decided that maybe she doesn’t know what the songs sound like when they’re sung in English; she speaks English with a strong Russian accent.   Perhaps she doesn’t even know what the words are saying; she just sees notes on a page.  I wonder if the same might be true for opera singers who learn the Italian or whatever lyrics phonetically. Although they may be able to sing the notes with technical precision, perhaps some of them may also lack the ability to project the passion, the feelings that are embodied in the words.   Never thought about that before.

Saturday September 7

Went to bed very early last night, dosed up with TCM herbals, throat lozenges and a couple of aspirins.   Woke up after ten hours of sleep feeling like a million dollars.   It worked!

The class seemed livelier than most and visibly interested in what I was saying and so they got more from me than passive classes do.  I told more stories, added in some additional material, and in my enthusiasm talked so fast that I got well ahead of schedule.   My two translators were amused at my level of energy, but chided me for forgetting about them at times.  They were having to work pretty hard to keep up with me, they said.

Actually more people in each class now speak English.   When I started doing this back in 2005 perhaps only two or three people in a class of 30 could speak English well enough that they could listen to me without resorting to the interpreters.  These days at least a third of the class can speak English well enough to have a conversation.

At the end of the day voice got tired, but my throat wasn’t sore.  After class I ducked out for a quick $6 meal at a little place in the underground mall (the Chinese are fascinated at the sight of a Caucasian eating in places like that!) and hit the sack very early again all medicated up.

Sunday September 8

It worked again!  I slept quite well and woke up feeling good.  My voice wasn’t back to full strength, but I was pretty sure it was going to hold up well enough to get through the day.   The second day I do a little less talking and there are more breaks while they do exercises.

The class stayed “hot” all day, interested and involved.  It was one of the best experiences I’ve had teaching over here.   I think my evaluations will be exceptionally good; at least I hope so.

After class, my former TA from the semester I taught at Hong Kong Baptist University and her new fiancé showed up at the hotel; they’d come all the way up from HK to take me out to dinner.  Sylv and I always called her “our Chinese daughter” and she called us “her American mom and dad.”  She’s a lovely kid and a loving person.   If we’d ever had a daughter we might have hoped she would have turned out to be like Anna.

We had a fun meal in a quarter of Shcnzhen I’d never seen before called something like Sha Shi (I’ll have to look that up).  It’s all lit up and alive with people (mostly young people) at night; there’s even a little street market.  Sylv would have enjoyed it.   Anna’s fiancé is named Kit.  He’s a bright, pleasant young man.  He’s a PhD candidate at Hong Kong University and also teaches some straight-up journalism classes like newswriting.   She sent me a video of him commenting about something political on TV, which is apparently another facet of his talents.  It’s in Cantonese, so I have no idea what he’s talking about but he’s seated alone on a professional set and he goes on for quite a while with great confidence, so it’s obviously not a one-off.   I told them afterwards that I’d be proud to have him as my Chinese son-in-law, which amused them both of course.  Anna’s given me the great honor of inviting me to the wedding next October (it takes a year to plan a Chinese wedding, I’ve been told!) as their guest; she’d even like me to participate by making a little speech.  That will be fun; Sylv and I have happened on a couple of Chinese weddings by accident on trips over the years; they’re very colorful to say the least.

I’m glad she’s told me a year in advance because I’m starting to get bookings in 2014.  Not only can I reserve those dates, maybe I can even arrange for a class or presentation immediately before or after to pay for the airfare.

Monday September 9

It took me a couple of hours to pack this morning to go up to Beijing.  I’ve got a shopping bag full of presents people have given me that there’s no way I could get into the luggage.  I’ll just carry it on its own.  Fortunately I’m flying first class inside China and business class internationally so it won’t matter that my luggage is 3 kilos overweight and I’ve got one more piece of hand luggage than I’d be allowed in economy.   I remember having a terrible hassle about that kind of thing a few years ago when Sylv and I were flying economy from Sanya for some reason.   We had to repack our cases right on the floor in front of the airline counter to balance them out and make an extra package disappear.   Almost missed the flight.

I met an interesting young German guy in the Shenzhen Airlines lounge.  He works for Linde Engineering, a German company, and lives in Hangzhou.  That’s a lovely city on West Lake less than an hour from Shanghai on the new high-speed train.  He was fascinated by what I’m doing here and had a bunch of questions about executive education in China.  I didn’t know many of the answers but I was about to refer him to a couple of friends who would be able to help him, one of whom is in fact a countryman of his as well as a former star student of mine, Christoph Flink.

The flight up was uneventful except that even though I’d deliberately taken a later flight to avoid the rush hour in Beijing the traffic was still awful and it took more than an hour to get from the airport to the hotel.  I’m staying at the Grand Hyatt in Oriental Plaza, of course – Lee Kai-shing (the richest man in China) owns not only the school I mostly work for but also that whole complex so I guess the cost of my room is just a transfer from one pocket to another.   Wouldn’t you know they gave me a beautiful suite this time when I’m only going to be in it for less than 12 hours?!

Tuesday September 10

The guy who picked up my bags at 6:30 was the same guy who brought them to the room last night.  He’d had five hours sleep before he had to be back to work.  I know I’m not supposed to tip n China, but I still gave the guy 20RMB ($3)  Doesn’t sound like a lot, but remember he can buy himself a new polo shirt for that.

Liao shifu, my favorite little driver from CKGSB picked me up early in the morning and the trip to the airport was uneventful.   The usual Beijing bad air, but no bad traffic jams.

For all the times we’ve been here, there are still lots of things I haven’t gotten around to doing.  There’s a part of the huge old city wall not far from my hotel, looks like a guard tower.  I keep thinking I’ll go have a look at that but I never figured out how to get there.   This morning on the way to airport I suddenly spotted the metro station near it.  That’s on the agenda for next time.

It’s so nice to fly first class or even business class in China.  Everything gets done for you: you bypass lines, they lead you where you’re supposed to go, you get a special bus to the plane.  I like the ‘rock star’ treatment, I have to admit!

American Airlines uses Dragonair’s lounge in Beijing.  I think Dragonair is a sister airline to Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific, maybe its mainland China arm.  (Remember that even though Hong Kong has been owned by China since the handover by the British in 1997, it’s treated by the Chinese government as an international destination – immigration, customs, the whole works – so it’s logical that it would be in the international terminal.)

Cathay Pacific has some sort of a relationship with American.  I know I get AAdvantage points if I fly them, as I might when I go to HK for Anna’s wedding next year.   I got into a conversation in the lounge with an older oil guy from Oklahoma who’s working way up in northwest China next to Mongolia and a bright young lady who’s just graduated from Middlebury.  She had an internship here for the summer.  She speaks pretty fluent Mandarin; she spent a study abroad year here when she was a junior.   That’s an idea I’ll have to share with my grandson Evan who’s just enrolled as a freshman at Ithaca College.  Meanwhile, everybody in the lounge seems to have “a little heck-y cough,” as Sylv used to say.   Including me, of course.  I’m not totally over my whatever-it-was yet.

I still think China is the future.  I’m amazed at what they’ve accomplished in the thirty years since “the opening-up” as Mr. Deng’s initiative is called, but the potential is even more mind-boggling.   A guy from Dallas whom I sat next to on the plane to Chicago is setting up plants here to manufacture what are basically Piper Cubs for general aviation in China and knowing my very wealthy students as I do, I can see them jumping at the chance to own their own planes!   There are issues, of course, not the least of which is the fact that the military owns all the airspace.  It will take a lot of sensitive negotiation to get general aviation off the ground.  (Pun probably intended!)  But if enough of the right well-connected people want it to happen, you can bet it will happen.  And fast.  They can cut through the bureaucracy pretty quickly if they want to.  Another guy I was talking to, a New Zealander, just sold two helicopters at a trade fair here.  The Chinese wired four million bucks into his company’s account within a couple of days from when they shook hands on the deal.

I watched a great old classic film on the plane, “All About Eve.”   I’d never seen it before but I’ve been reading a fascinating new biography about Ava Gardner and she mentioned it.  It was young Marilyn Monroe’s screen debut and though she only had a small part, it was impossible not to stare at her no matter who else was in a scene.  Sort of like I remember being mesmerized by Julie Christie in her debut film, “Billy Liar.”

I am more than ready to be home after a month in China, as interesting as the trip has been.  I’m salivating for a thick, juicy NY Strip steak, seared to keep in the juices and grilled to medium rare, washed down with a good cabernet sauvignon from the best side of my cellar.   But at the same time, I’m sad at the thought that I’ll be enjoying it alone.   I’ve still got a lot of adjusting to do.

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