Snakes. Why’d it have to be snakes??

So we don’t discuss work topics very often on here but I did have a pretty big change in my role earlier this year. I moved over to managing one of our teams as my big project finished with The Company. It wasn’t a huge adjustment as I was still working with many of the same colleagues. The biggest change came as I actually have a direct line management role now. One of the first things I wanted to do was have a team building activity (always especially popular in China).

I wanted to do something that would give both a Chinese and a Western feeling to the night. So, we decided to go bowling (which they have in China but which is not common) and then go to a Chinese restaurant. And I delegated the restaurant choosing to one of my team members. Who then surprised me (and most of my team) by sending the invitation. To a famous local restaurant. That specializes in…

Did you remember the post title?

Yep. Snakes.

Now I don’t like snakes. I like spiders less. But snakes are definitely top five in my least popular animal book. I’m not sure why but the concept of eating them didn’t make it seem any better. I’m not the only one a little shocked by the choice (one of the girls on my team seemed particularly disturbed). I announced that we would still all go to this restaurant but no one had to eat snake if they didn’t want to.

So we get there and order. And we find out that each order of snake has just enough pieces for everyone to get one (10, including one lady that had to leave after our bowling). Oh boy. They bring it out and it doesn’t look so bad actually as they fry it. CFER and I are from the south (I’m adopted southerner anyway) and everything there is fried so I figure, why not, and dig in.

And find out there is one very good reason most people don’t eat snakes. They’re all bones!! It actually didn’t taste so bad, just was too hard to eat…So I finish the snake. Now, normally this is the end of the story, right? Not a chance – this is where it really starts to get good…

You see, I realize that there’s a quite engaging conversation going on between the servers and a few of my team members. They inform me that what we just ate is actually not the most important part of the snake. The real thing that you are supposed to do in China, after eating a snake, is to drink two things. Can you guess what they are? Here’s the picture below to help.

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If you said:

1) Snake blood
2) Snake gallbladder juice

Congratulations, you’re ready to move to China!

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Why CFER’s real name is not Grace

So we are having an awesome time in Thailand. We’ve seen amazing sights, met cool people, and had unique experiences to write home about. Part of my wife’s goal with this trip was to make memories… apparently in any way possible.

During the bike tour of Bangkok she clearly decided that pretending we were playing bumper bikes was a good idea. With everything. She was running into walls, into benches, and nearly over cats and dogs at an astounding rate. Seriously. (CFER here… Unfortunately, I can’t deny any of those. It all happened. I’m just glad he forgot about the fence.) One of the German guys on the tour actually wished me luck after one particular goofy run-in with a bench. Which as you can guess was stationary – as benches normally are.

In her defense, some of the areas we rode through were incredibly narrow (literally 2.5 feet wide) so it wasn’t all her fault. However, the most memorable and painful part of the ride was not running into the metal wall in the narrow alleyway. Nope. It was when she wrecked. On the highway. A 6 lane highway. With no cars in sight in either direction. Into a parked moped.

The details went something like this…

She was riding in front of me at the time (which we had incorrectly decided was a safer formation) and I was the last in our group of 7. We were turning right through an intersection. Nobody around except our group. And she says that she heard something behind her (she claims it was me but I’m pretty sure I’d have remembered something like that). We’re not sure what it was but she decided that she should turn around and stare at me and ask if I’m all right. I answer yes but what I’m really thinking about is how she keeps drifting left toward the moped sitting on the side of the road.

It takes her about two seconds to look at me and then turn back around and by the time she does I’m already slamming on my brakes as I was only about 7 feet behind her. She’s about a foot away from the moped by the time she sees it and doesn’t even bother with the brakes. She just cuts out toward the middle of the road to try to avoid it. Unfortunately, not only did she not avoid it, she plows straight into it and bounces off.

As I mentioned, I already had my brakes fully locked and am about at a 45 degree angle with the pavement looming over my wife who is completely sprawled out on the highway. I barely get my momentum stopped and wound up planting myself onto the handlebars and (very unfortunately as I’m a guy) the top tube.

I first thought we were going to die by getting run over by some car turning onto the road behind us. Then I started wishing I was dead as all the pain hit me. Then I checked on CFER only to find out that she only wound up with a small scratch on her leg from her tire. That’s it. She was wearing her knee brace which actually took most of the fall. So I’m really the only one in pain. Oh, and the guy whose moped it was standing on the side of the road with his arms crossed, shaking his head. I think he was probably cursing the stupid foreigners and wondering what he did to deserve his luck.

Leave it to CFER to wait until the safest 5 seconds of the entire trip to completely wipe out both of us. Thanks goodness we have a good health insurance plan. We’ve got 7 more days here!

For photos and more info on the Bike Tour, check out: Colors of Bangkok Bike Tour

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Trick to convert Celsius to Fahrenheit

Living overseas as an American has it’s great points but sometimes it has a lot of challenges that you don’t think about. For instance, most of the rest of the world uses the Metric system. Which makes a lot of sense as the Metric system is much simpler and easier to remember.

That said, if you grew up in America, you likely don’t have the foggiest idea how hot or cold it is when someone gives you a temperature in Celsius. Stay with me here and we’re going to have a quick math lesson so that you can do a basic conversion in your head. Then you won’t look silly having to ask if it is hot or cold the next time someone gives you a forecast.

Double the temperature in Celsius and add 30.
That’s all.

If someone says it was 30 degrees Celsius then you simply double it (to 60) and add another 30 to get 90. 30 degrees Celsius is pretty hot.

If it’s only 10 degrees Celsius then double it (to 20) and add another 30 to get 50. A bit chilly.

If you’re like us and live in the frigid North and someone tells you it’s going to be -30 degrees this weekend, double it (-60) and add 30 to find out it’s…really stinkin’ cold outside.

Incidentally the further you get from freezing the less accurate this is so don’t use this rule for cooking unless you want some unpleasant surprises.

Of course, the reverse is also true. To go from Fahrenheit to Celsius, simply subtract 30 and then divide the remaining value by two. [Corrected thanks to Tim D.]

For those wondering, the real formula is:
Degrees in Fahrenheit = 32 + Degrees in Celsius * ( 9 / 5 )

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Frigidly Cold

Realization #1: Our friends have a weather channel television in the elevator.

Realization #2: The weather channel changes between English and Chinese so we can actually read it!

Realization #3: It’s really cold here.

Realization #4: Whoever translated the weather descriptions into English may take my title as the Human Thesaurus.

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In case you can’t make it out, our weather choices for the next four days are:

1) Sunny, but very cold
2) Frigid with bright sunshine
3) Sunny and bitterly cold
4) Partly sunny and frigid

And the total difference is a maximum of 4 degrees. Winter in Shenyang…

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This is what awesome looks like

So we made it back to China just about a week ago and are now re-settling in. As you probably noticed we didn’t get much time to blog during the holidays when Country Fried was back in the US. That said, things should start to pick up around here again.

In fact, we hadn’t even made it out of Detroit when our trip home got interesting. We had both just finished boarding and were sitting on the exit row on the Detroit-Tokyo flight (Delta seat requests rock!) and getting ready to get some serious reading done. All of a sudden I hear a kid (about 5 years old) screaming at the top of his lungs, “Mom!!! Mom!!! Come quick!”. I look over and completely go into panic mode as he is walking down the aisle and pointing directly at me. He continues yelling without giving any indication of what is going on. Things like “You have to come here!” and “Mom, this is important”…

Now, I was pretty sure that a lot of people could have seen that I was sitting in the seat minding my own business. However, I still wasn’t looking forward to explaining whatever the cause of this situation was to an air marshal as quite a lot of heads were starting to turn our way to see what the fuss was about.
Continue reading

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Have you eaten?

My impression of China is that the single most important thing to them culturally is “face” and “guanxi”.** However, a close second seems to be the importance of food. Eating together is much more important in Chinese culture than in any Western culture. While friends or co-workers in the West might go grab some drinks, if you are really friends with someone in China you’ll eat with them (alternating who pays of course)! Nearly every day someone in my office will bring in an armload of candy or cakes and just put it out on one of the tables.

Community meal in China

It’s easy to see what sort of things are important to a culture by looking at the language. Continue reading

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Japanese Earthquake

In case you haven’t heard yet, there was a huge earthquake in Japan yesterday afternoon. There were no problems for us here in Shenyang although we’re not that far away. My company did evacuate some of the office building in Beijing as a precautionary measure but no damage was done there.

However, this is a major disaster for the people of Japan and some others close by. We’re sure more opportunities to support will be available in the coming days and months as this is a major disaster and will take years to rebuild. If you are looking for something you can do to help now, we highly recommend the Red Cross. Our hearts and prayers go out to all those affected.

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What does it feel like to become a giant overnight?

The average American man is about 5 feet 10 1/2 inches. Which, coincidentally, is my height. Chinese people are shorter than Americans. And not just a little bit either. The average Chinese man is around 5 feet 6 inches. So imagine growing 4 inches taller overnight. That’s basically what it feels like to me. I went from being average to being taller than maybe 97% of everyone around me. It’s not uncommon if I’m on a bus with 40 people to realize that I am the tallest person there. As foreigners really aren’t all that common in some of the less westernized parts of China (like Shenyang) I already stand out – but this height difference makes it even more pronounced. This leads to some funny situations.

For instance, a little while ago I was smashed on a bus carrying some groceries home. Minding my own business with 50 of my new closest friends. Hanging onto my wallet. (Crime is pretty low in China but they say you have to be a bit careful on public transportation.) And I felt someone push their way over to stand right next to me. I glanced over and he was studiously avoiding eye contact.

At this point, I’m a little concerned that he might try to grab something as he jumps off at the next stop. I think I’m probably faster than him if it came down too it but really didn’t want to have to run down some pickpocket…The next thing I know, he looks directly at me, grins, and then waves to his friend, standing on the other side of the bus. He then starts making a motion where he puts his hand on top of his head and then moves it up until it get pretty close to the top of my head. I just rolled my eyes when I realized that all he wanted to show his friend how tall he was compared to the American giant. Of course. Just a normal day when you’re freakishly tall. :)

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Am I ready to move to China?

A lot of our posts are funny. Sometimes intentionally; other times merely because of the subject matter. This one isn’t really intended to be – this is directed at those of you who are considering a move to China for an extended period of time. We remember doing a ton of research and asking lots of questions of ourselves and others before agreeing to come. Here is what we think you should ask yourself when trying to decide if moving to China is a good idea for you.

Obviously this can’t be comprehensive as personal details will greatly impact your choice. What your job will be, where you’re from originally, what part of China you’re moving to, will all impact your experience. However, we’ve seen the following as challenges that we or other expatriates have had trouble with and think you might too, regardless of your personal details.

So are you ready to move to China? Continue reading

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Where y’all going?

Part of the reason we wanted to come to China is to learn both the culture AND the language. Mandarin is definitely a challenge but I think we’ve done at least a fair job so far. Country Fried and I have very different language skillsets though. She’s much better at giving directions (particularly around Shenyang). She’s good at haggling and asking shopping questions. I’ve tended to more basic conversational skills with my work colleagues and am not so good at giving directions.

So I will give directions if we’re going someplace normal (the apartment or Carrefour) but anytime else it’s her. Even better is when we have one of our other expat friends, J, with us who has really good Chinese skills. We went to Harbin a few weeks ago with J and got into the taxi in Shenyang to go to the train station. J proceeded to give flawless directions to the driver in Mandarin.

As usual, I’m quite impressed and not really paying attention. Continue reading

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