Friday, February 24, 2012

2.5 weeks in Beijing (2)

List continued...
  • My dad has been in town this week, so I got to spend some time with him both Tuesday and yesterday.  On Tuesday I met him as he checked into his hotel, the Fairmont (very ostentatious), and we had dinner with a couple of his business associates at the restaurant there, touted to be the best steakhouse in Beijing.  Most of the steaks were over 300 kuai (the most expensive was over 600!), so I got lamb instead; it was rather mind-boggling.  We also went over his financial information so I could submit everything to the need access application for law schools.
  • I had a phone interview with the associate dean of admissions for Harvard on Wednesday night.  It went very well - we talked about my program here and my mission and what I wanted in a legal education, and then I asked her a little about herself.  She has spent the last 15 years or so moving between Cambridge and Boston, so she's obviously biased, but even so I might consider Harvard over Stanford.  We'll see.
  • Before the interview there was institute at the Stratford's house.  The topic was on the gift of the Holy Ghost and gifts of the Spirit.  I won't say too much about the lesson, but Brother Stratford told a story that I wish I had recorded.  It was about a blessing he gave to the four-year-old son of a former research assistant of his who had pancreatic cancer, and the boy was cured of his cancer.  Later, his assistant came to clerk in his firm in HK, and the first night he told Brother Stratford that his wife made him promise to ask what the burning feeling they had felt during the blessing was.  And later on the man was able to continue his studies at Duke.  Brother Stratford spoke of holding the boy on his lap and having the strongest desire to be able to bless and help him, and then feeling inspired to tell them about priesthood blessings.  This story greatly touched me, and I felt a confirmation that if I have a desire to bless people, the Lord will allow me to do so.
  • The weekend is in under two hours!  Wahoo!  FHE tonight at Samily's house, running and musical practice tomorrow, church.  Then Monday...

2.5 weeks in Beijing

Well, now that we have Internet access at home, I think updating the blog will be much easier!  As an aside, the only reason I've broken it up into work and the rest of my life recently is because I have to submit work journals to Flagship, so it will be easier this way.

The last week has been fantastic!  List format:
  • Wednesday night was the devotional with Elder Oaks.  I got a recording of it, which turned out well except for one part where the microphone conked out on Elder Hallstrom.  Overall, it was a very spiritually strengthening meeting focused on basic obedience to gospel principles and our covenants, and there wasn't anything earth-shattering on China specifically, but it was well worth attending.  Elder Oaks shook most everyone's hand; I was a little disappointed that he wasn't actually looking at me when he shook mine, but still happy he did.
  • After that, Isaac took me, Joel, Karin and Josef out to a Taiwanese place for dinner, and we ate ridiculous amounts food, including awesome dim sum!  Isaac is pretty well-off, and he's always paying for things (see below).
  • On Friday, about 15 YSA's had dinner at a pizza place, Krow's Nest, which was a cool bar/pizza joint with enormous pizzas.  Think Slab Pizza sized slices and the same kind of pizza.  We got four pizzas and it was more than enough.  And Isaac insisted on paying for half of it.  Then we invited people over to our house to watch a movie, and about 10 people came over and watched The Princess Bride (not my first choice, but a good party movie and some people hadn't seen it).  Isaac drove some of us, and he stopped to get a huge cake at a bakery that cost at least 400 kuai and then took us to Cold Stone for ice cream on top of that!  It was fun to have people over, even though we hadn't really cleaned our house yet, and we only managed to eat a quarter of the cake, so the rest is in our freezer.
  • On Saturday, I walked to Gehua and applied for broadband.  In the afternoon, I went on a 10K run to Tian'anmen Square and back.  Actually, it was 6.3 km to Tian'anmen, so I only ran partway back and took a cab from there.  It was really cool to run through the enormous crowds and see all the Chinese people gaping at me for wearing running clothes in freezing weather.  I might do it again tomorrow!  The first cab driver I tried said 100 kuai to get back home - absurd.  He was obviously under the impression that I was an incredibly gullible tourist.  I hopped in a cab a half block later and it only cost 20 something to get home.
  • After that, I went to the Easter program practice at the church.  They're doing The Garden, a musical by Michael McLean.  Andrew Dougherty volunteered me for it, but I don't mind.  They need the support, and I was given a tenor solo right away.  Fun!
  • Joel and I translated sacrament meeting at church on Sunday.  It was my first time doing it in a while, so I was a little choppy, but it's good experience.  I'm also a branch missionary, and I hope I can be involved in teaching lessons and things.
  • After church, many of the YSA's had dinner at Sister Classen's house, which was incredible.  There were pork chops, pumpkin soup, quiche, salad, peach cobbler, brownies, cheesecake, etc etc.  So good!  Anyway, I got home only to realize that I had left my bag at Sister Clausen's house, so I took a taxi back and bused home, because it was 1/20 the cost.  But it took 40 minutes.  Sigh.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Work journal, Day 12

I’ve been getting more assignments, which has helped alleviate the boredom in some degree.  In the past few days, I’ve translated a couple letters from a French cosmetics company to the French Embassy and the French Chamber of Commerce and then letters regarding those from those organizations to a Beijing court (the company was asking for some political influence to help it win a court case), which was very interesting and made me feel important, I have translated the resume of one of the partners into English, and I have redone LexField’s official stationery design (because Yi Lushi thought I was good at technical stuff – where on my resume does it say that?!), and I have edited a good chunk of the English website and several other documents.  Last Friday, I taught an English class to about 30 of the people in the firm, going over small grammar issues and how to say things more directly.  They enjoyed it, although some people wanted me to speak English while giving the presentation.  Lots of people were surprised that I wasn’t nervous giving a presentation – one of the many blessings of having served a mission.

I go out to lunch most every day with three other guys from the patent team, Shizhao Liu, Shuo Liang, and Tong Qi.  Shizhao is a year younger than me and a funny guy.  He’s the one who plays the saxophone, and he’s always buying things online and complaining about shipping and credit cards and stuff.  Shuo is probably 28 or so and married; he’s kind of the ringleader of the three of them.  Tong is quiet and reserved – he asks me questions about America sometimes, but I know hardly anything about him.  I join in their conversations at lunch except when I don’t understand what they’re talking about, which is maybe 10-15% of the time, and then I follow along and pretend I get it anyway.

We get off work at 5 on Fridays!  Meaning today!  I’m looking forward to the weekend.  Next week I need to be more proactive in trying to get to know what other people around here do on a daily basis, instead of doing my own thing.  It would be cool to go to the court and file briefs or listen to a hearing if anyone has one coming up.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Work journal, Day 6

Days 3-5 were 马马虎虎; I started editing the English version of the website, and then on Tuesday Hester Qiu, who sits next to me, started asking me about my edits, so I explained some of the grammar and other things to her, and she suggested that we have a weekly legal drafting class.  So I emailed the partners, and Yi Yongmei got back to me, and now I’m teaching a class tomorrow!  So I’m more busy than I have been so far – I’ve been editing reports and the website and case synopses, and today I have to make a lesson plan and think about what I want to teach tomorrow so it will be effective and not just more memorization like they always learn English.  We’ll see how that turns out.

I had to open a Chinese bank account so they can pay me.  It’s about time I had one anyway, and now I can finally figure out how to buy things online here!  However, it was a bit of a 麻烦 this week, because when the secretary told me to open an account, she said, “There’s a Bank of China right around the corner there.”  I went over my lunch break, but I decided to get an account with Construction Bank instead, because it doesn’t cost me anything to withdraw there from my Bank of America account.  They were very professional and gave me preferential treatment – my number was 127, and the count was only at 93, but they directed me to an open service desk and let me start setting up my account right away, so it only took 20 minutes.  However, when I got back to the office and showed the secretary my card, she told me that I had to get a Bank of China account!  I had thought she was just recommending Bank of China because it was close.  Miscommunication.  So yesterday, I went over lunch to get yet another bank account set up.  It took the whole of lunch and then some (I didn’t get back to the office until just before 2); they weren’t nearly as nice as at Construction Bank.  They were professional, however, and now I have two Chinese bank accounts, where two days ago I had none.  Now to figure out Taobao!  I mean work on my lesson plan… J  When I got back, Sally and Hester (we share a cubicle block) were concerned that I hadn’t eaten.  I shouldn’t have told them that I didn’t eat lunch, because they were worried about me for the rest of the day, and Hester gave me some fruit.  It would have been fine, except that I was fasting, so it was slightly awkward.  I thanked them and put the fruit in my drawer for later.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Week 1 in Beijing

It has certainly been a full week here, and a good one at that.  So many things to report on...

My train got in Tuesday afternoon, and I headed for Andrew Dougherty's office.  It was only seven or so metro stops away, so I elected for that instead of taking a taxi.  Bad choice - I had to change lines twice, and there were no escalators in these stations, so my arms got more than a workout each lugging an enormous suitcase up multiple flights of stairs!  The subway here isn't nearly as nice as Nanjing or Shanghai - kind of old and run down.

Then I got off at Jianguomen station and started looking for the world trade center.  Problem: there are too many buildings here that could be construed as a 'world trade center', so I ended up going to three different places and walking forever before I found Andrew's office.  By which time it was nearly 3:30 and I hadn't eaten lunch.  Andrew works in the tallest building in Beijing, and he's on the 36th floor with an incredible view.  After he finished work, we went home and I got to meet Nicola and the nine-month-old master William.  They're an awesome couple, and I can see why my parents like them so much - they're alike in a lot of ways.  We had tortilla soup for dinner, which was a fantastic welcome to Beijing!

Wednesday I walked all over Chaoyang looking for apartments and realtors.  Actually, I spent most of the morning getting my iPhone set up.  Once I had that, I set up a few appointments.  The first was awful.  The rent was 3100 a month, and it was a concrete cell.  There was no kitchen and the bathroom light didn't work.  I felt around for a second and touched a live wire, shocking myself pretty well but not enough to hurt.  And it was filthy.  No, thank you!

The afternoon was pretty long, but I saw a couple places I liked all right, although they were all 4000 or slightly over, more expensive than I had originally planned on.  But apparently in this neighborhood it's either that or live on the edge of habitability.  You want cheaper, you leave the city center.  Mostly, I felt like the city was forbidding and impersonal.  All the streets are wide and there were no little neighborhood streets with stalls and little shops anywhere.  So I went home slightly discouraged but with a few options.  Pesto for dinner; Nicola outdoes herself!  I went to institute later at the Stratford's home and met them and some YSA here; it will be very nice to have that every week again.

Thursday I started work.  I wrote a journal entry abut that already, so we'll leave that there.  I get off at 6, so after that I headed back for dinner (fish/snow pea stir fry) and then went out to meet Joel and see my favorite apartment option again with him.  We went, and lo and behold the landlord agreed to let us rent for four months!  Miracle!  So we agreed then and there to sign and move in on Saturday.  Rent is 4500, but it was nice to be done worrying about it that soon and without much pain.

Friday I of course went to work again.  It's only a 15 minute walk from the Dougherty's house, so I couldn't have found a more convenient place to stay for my first few days.  After work, Joel and I hung out at the Dougherty's, ordered Italian food and watched The King's Speech, an excellent movie.  I'm glad I finally got around to watching it.  We were going to babysit William, but they ended up taking him to the Valentine's dance instead, so we were on our own.

On Saturday, I slept in (until 9 or so - I've become an early riser in the last week!) and then packed my things and messed around until it was time to go.  I made a salad for lunch, and Andrew made their maid stay and eat some with us.  It was funny to watch her try to refuse, but she finally ate some and quite liked it, so they gave her a bottle of salad dressing before she left.  Oh, mianzi!  Andrew drove me over to the apartment in his Jeep Cherokee, and Joel and I signed the contract and moved in.  It's fairly nice - white tile floors, good furniture, a huge tv - and the area is pretty good, too.  There's a park across the street and it's right by the river, and there are places to eat pretty close and a sports center across the street.  Not a bad find.

It also turned out to be a short bus ride away from church!  So it's close to everything (it's a 25 minute commute for me to work - seven minutes to the station, ten minute ride, eight minutes on the other side).  We made it to church right on time; church here is on the fourth floor of an office building that we rent out.  There were mostly older couples and younger couples with small children in the branch, but there were also about 15 YSA there, and there was a YSA Sunday school class.  Two of the new YSA girls, Karin and Andrea, came to the Dougherty's for dinner after church, so we got to know them a little better.  Andrea just joined the church in November and is here with an American University program until May; Karin is a BYU student here interning with China Post until August or so.  There might be some potential there - she's cute and learning Chinese, two important things in a future spouse...

The last couple days were pretty much the same; not much variety.  Work, come home, grab dinner at a place nearby, and putter before bed.  I mopped half the house yesterday but didn't have the motivation to do more today.  Maybe later.  The place will look really nice when it's all cleaned up.  Joel's okay with small tasks if they don't take long, but he doesn't really have the desire to do any thorough cleaning.  There won't be time tomorrow: there's a fireside with Elder Oaks, Hallstrom, and Perkins at 7, so there's my day all planned out already!  I'm looking forward to the fireside.  Hopefully the spirit directs me further as to what I'm supposed to be doing in my life.  We shall see what the morrow brings...

Friday, February 10, 2012

Work journal, Day 2

Hardly anyone was here a few minutes before 9 when I got here.  They all seemed to arrive together a couple minutes after 9 (you’re not late unless you arrive after 9:05).  So far I’ve sat at my desk and read part of the Patent Law of the People’s Republic of China and written down vocabulary words I didn’t know, and I’m waiting for Mr. Jiang or someone to give me an assignment.

A funny from yesterday that I almost forgot – when introducing me to one of the guys from the patent litigation department, the head of HR (or the secretary, I forget which) said, “He’s really good at sex!”  No kidding.  I figured out after a bit that they meant the saxophone, but she and others said it so it sounded like sex.  Should I tell them?  Hmm…

Some things I’ve learned at Lexfield: use the left bank of elevators to avoid traipsing the maze of corridors on the 10th floor.  Food is slightly cheaper at the regular cafeteria downstairs (15.50 for a decent-sized meal; I found some coworkers to eat with and I remember one of their names!  Progress.).  Office plants smelling of lemon and costing 10 kuai are a plus.  HR directors aren’t as perky in China.  I just met the director of HR again coming back from lunch, and she is so quiet and reserved!  I guess that’s okay here, but in the States, HR people always seem to be bubbly and exuberant, or at least loud.  Interesting.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Work journal, Day 1

I made it here right on the dot – I thought I would be early, but this building is a little confusing.  Either way, they put me in a conference room and made me wait for 25 minutes before anything happened.  Then I got introduced to the head of HR and the head secretary here (it is so hard to remember everyone’s names – that’s something I’ll have to work hard at so as not to offend people), and we went over little procedural things.  Then Yi Yongmei, one of the partners, gave me a tour and a brief history of the firm and what we do.

Since then, I’ve had a few assignments thrown my way, including a copy of China’s patent law and a translation of a patent application to look over.  Most of my work will probably be translation and communicating with clients in English, which is fine; I’ll learn a lot of law vocabulary that way.

I had lunch with three coworkers in the patent litigation department.  Again, I can’t remember their names.  There’s a cafeteria in the basement with good food, although a little pricey by Nanjing standards (20-30 kuai a plate).  I had beef and rice (more like Korean food, very tasty) for 22 kuai, and we talked for a while.  Now I’m back in the office working on reading a statement concerning a lawsuit brought against a Chinese company by a division of Huntsman in Switzerland so I can help Mr. Jiang draft an email about it later.

It is so hot in here – I’m dying…

The seats are really short, and I haven’t figured out how to put them up yet, but it doesn’t matter because the desk is so short…

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Train ride to Beijing

Only a little bit more to catch up I'm on the train to Beijing.  After flying to Hangzhou, saying goodbye to Jonathan and taking the train to Shanghai, we spent the night at the Griffiths' house.  Sister Griffiths is friends with my mom, so I properly introduced myself this time.  We left at 7:30 this morning, Seth for work and Josef and I for the Hongqiao train station, where he got a train to Qingdao and I boarded mine to Beijing.

I love high speed trains!  They are so convenient and cheap compared to air travel, and I can bring all of my stuff with me without paying baggage fees.  I finally got all my stuff into my two suitcases and backpack, so I'm more mobile than when I left Nanjing, thankfully.  The train left at 9 am, and we just stopped in Nanjing ten minutes ago; the next stop is Beijing South.  The scenery is quite beautiful, actually, and I'm really enjoying the ride.  Beijing will be cold, and I'm only wearing a light jacket, but I don't want to open my suitcase to dig for a coat.  Hmm.

So the five of us who went to KL for the break turned into four, then three yesterday, two this morning, and finally I'm by myself.  I had a small bout of nostalgia as we passed through Nanjing - I loved the city and my time there.  I'm a little sad to have left everyone behind, but I'm also excited for Beijing and work.  Seth was nervous for his first day of work - I probably would be too if I were working in a lab.  On the other hand, though, at least his days will probably be fairly structured.  Lexfield hasn't ever had an intern before that I know of, so I will feel useless some of the time, I'm sure.  I'm slightly worried about my language competency, but hopefully flagship has prepared me well enough.  Whatever happens, it's too late to go back; I'm hurtling towards Beijing at 307 km/hr!

I'm having mixed feelings about the land I'm passing through.  On the one hand, it looks wide and inviting, with well-groomed fields and roads and lines of trees to break the wind.  It reminds me of Ontario in that way.  However, it's almost too organized.  Every field looks the same, and every few fields there's a row of concrete or brick houses lined up on the same street.  The vestiges of a centrally planned economy are still strong here, despite the transformation China's large cities have been through in the past 30 years.  This farmland has been tamed for so long that nearly all the charm and rugged beauty has gone out of it, and looking at it I don't feel the pride of ownership and productivity that seem to emanate from similar sights in America.  Of course, that's just a feeling, and maybe it's inaccurate and stereotypical.  But I do believe our cultures have different attitudes about farming.  In China, farmers provide sustenance.  They are the backbone of the country, but they were not glorified as the laborers were during the revolution, and nearly everyone whose grandparents were farmers are glad that their parents left and gave them a good education and a better life.  In America, farmers were the brave, intrepid souls who tamed the wilderness and claimed it in the name of Manifest Destiny.  They were pioneers and entrepreneurs.  Education, for the most part, is no worse in rural America, or at least the social stigma and systematic differences aren't nearly as large as in China.  Yes, we still have the archetypal stories of the young man from the farm going to the big city to find a better life, but for the most part there is no shame in being from a rural community.  Looking at the farms out the train window, however, I feel transported back to feudal society - these people have been here for generations, and they don't have the resources or education to change that, for the most part.  Modern technology has improved their lives, but they are still largely in thrall to their old way of life and the emperor who is now the central government.  The government has done much good, especially in the last 20 years, but some things are uniquely Chinese, and they will remain with China for the foreseeable future, perhaps forever, among them the differences between rural and urban life.

Now we've gone from the green fields of the south to the brown fields and frozen rivers of the north.  The train just passed Tianjin on the right, and we should be coming to Beijing soon.  I'm not looking forward to the freezing weather! :( It looks more like Russia now, still wide and open and flat, but with brown fallow earth and icy tributaries snaking everywhere.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Surgery continued

Now I'm on the train to Shanghai from Hangzhou with Josef and Seth.  This last week in KL was a little uneventful; other than walking around a little forest reserve, we didn't really get out.  The group dynamic changed a little with Ben leaving and Lena's arrival.  We kind of turned into stay-at-home bums.  Or maybe the inevitable inertia of KL caught up with us.

Back to the surgery: I went in on Friday morning with Mom, Seth, and Lena.  We got there at 8:45, they did minimal prep (read: swab my eyes with disinfectant and give me a robe and head cap), and then they left me in a chair for almost two hours!  Not cool.  When it was finally my turn, I walked into the operating room and lay down on the operating table.  The door was glass, so the other three stayed outside and watched.  Professor Doctor Muhaya Mohamed was very professional and supportive - she said a prayer before beginning and gave me continual encouragement during the surgery, which kept me from thinking too much about it.

The surgery itself was worse than I thought it would be.  I have pictures Seth took, but they don't come close to approximating how it felt.  First she cut off my corneas, and then they mapped the tissue underneath with lasers to determine where to cut.  The second part for each eye was the actual burning of the tissue with lasers, shaping my eye into a better lens.  I had to stare into ridiculously bright lights the whole time, they put thick contact lenses into each eye to keep them open, and they kept dripping saline solution into my eyes the whole time.  For the actual surgery, they had the machine suction the contact lens to keep my eye in place - not a pleasant sensation.  Nor was the tapping on my eye with the scalpel.  When they finished, I felt like I had been swimming in the ocean with my eyes open for hours.  I was tearing up constantly, and they gave me dark glasses to wear because my eyes were so sensitive to light.  It's been three days now, and things are still slightly blurry, but I'm mostly recovered, and my vision is great!  On the whole, I think I would do it again.

Thursday, February 2, 2012


I'm sitting in Prince Court right now waiting to see the eye doctor.  I came in on Tuesday to get a checkup and asked about LASIK, and now I'm doing the prescreening!  The surgery is tomorrow.  The tests so far have been normal, but they gave me some eye drops that dilate my eyes and cause my eyes' autofocus to not work, so I can't see anything up close.  Paradoxically, the effect is even worse with my glasses on.  The doctor doing the prescreening is Malay Chinese, so we had most of our conversation in Chinese.  Now I'm waiting for the surgeon; I met her on Tuesday, and she seems very competent and nice.  She got her PhD from Edinburgh, and she's performed over 500 LASIK surgeries, so tomorrow should go very well.  And at half the price of LASIK in the US!  Not shabby at all.  Unless of course I go blind or my corneas detach themselves or the laser fries my brain or something...just kidding, this is probably safer than seeing a dentist.