March 24, 2009
Given the swirling mass of cars, bikes, and scooters here, I guess it was bound to happen; I was in my first little car accident in China today. It was a totally minor thing where another car changed lanes into my car; we were stopped and the other car was moving about three miles per hour -- just enough to put a little dent in my left passenger door.
The more interesting thing was what happened next. After we got out of traffic, my driver and the other driver started chatting (mostly amicably). The other driver was new as was his car -- no plates or insurance yet (the plastic was still on his seats). A policeman who was directing traffic nearby came over. As I sat in the car, I watched some more chatting, a few phone calls, then the other driver handed my driver 400 RMB (about $60 USD). We then drove off.
Since the other driver didn't have insurance, everyone agreed to an on-the-spot cash payment. The estimate for our damage was about 300 RMB (about $45 USD) so my driver asked for 400 RMB to be sure. (It's amazing how cheap car repair is here. The same damage would easy have been $400 USD in the US and maybe more.)
I have to admit, it was pretty cool how quickly everything was resolved. There were no police forms, insurance claims guys, etc. Apparently, this kind of resolution is pretty common.
March 12, 2009
When I first joined Microsoft in 1990, I was given a postcard of our corporate campus. The company had been in that location for about four years and had just over 5000 employees. I’ve scanned the photo and included it below on the left. For a comparison, I have included the Live Maps 3D view of the site today. The maps view is even a little old since there’s building 37 on the right side now (the dirt construction in the maps view.) (BTW, I used DeepZoomPix to display these photos; this is a new technology from Microsoft’s Live Labs. You can drag the photos below around and zoom pretty deeply into them.)
You can see the how we have more buildings and fewer soccer fields, big trees, etc. It’s also interesting how much the trees around the parking lots and driveways have grown. Of course, there are many many more buildings on campus now that aren’t in view. The area behind campus had a lot more trees before; it’s all houses today.
[Updated 4/18/2009 to point to the new DeepZoomPix (formerly PhotoZoom) location]
March 9, 2009
This is a picture of the gas station next to my office. Michelle pointed out the "fire equipment" at the station: three shovels and two buckets. I'm not sure how useful those shovels and buckets will be if that tanker truck goes up.
March 8, 2009
Two of the things Andrew (11) and Michael (8) love most are Halo and the Discovery Channel. So, they were delighted when they saw this parody of the Discovery Channel's "I Love the Whole World" commercial and insisted I post it here.
March 8 is International Women's Day. Until two days ago, I had never heard of this international holiday. According to Wikipedia, this holiday was originally a Soviet holiday, spread to other Soviet-bloc and Communist countries (including China), and is a recognized holiday in few other countries that begin with the letter i (e.g. Israel and Italy. Notice that United States does not begin with i.)
As I understand it, when March 8 falls on a weekday, at least Microsoft gives female employees in China a half day off (I imagine this is true across China - can anyone verify?). This year, since March 8 fell on a Sunday, the company handed out flowers to all of the women and gave them an Amazon gift card. Here's a picture of the admins handing out flowers to all of the women as they entered our building.
I would have been more impressed if some of the senior male leaders had been down there handing out the flowers -- maybe next year...
Just for the record, there is also an International Men's Day. Some might question the need for a holiday to recognize the role of men in a male dominated world, but to each his/her own.
So, as a man who has a certain fondness and much respect for women, I'd like to wish all of the ladies a Happy International Women's Day!
March 6, 2009
Today marks our 100th day since we moved to China. It's been a fun, if not always smooth ride so far. I alternate between how-did-we-wind-up-in-China days and I-totally-belong-here days. I think the vast majority are the latter, but sometimes it still feels like we're here on some kind of long vacation.
I think we were pretty well-prepared when we came, but of course there were still lots of little surprises. I thought I'd share a few of those surprises (in no particular order).
Well, that's enough for now. I'm sure in a year or so, all of this stuff will just seem normal, but for now, I'm enjoying the differentness.
March 3, 2009
I don't really have much of a sweet tooth, which surprises some people since I love pretty much all other kinds of food. It's pretty much the one class of food to which I can say "no". I like sweets, but I just strongly prefer salty stuff. So, it should come as no surprise, then, that my favorite confection in the world is Fran's Gray Salt Caramels.
Fran's is a Seattle-based chocolatier who makes a luscious caramel, robes it in rich chocolate, and the sprinkles a few grains of gray salt on top. The salt really brings out the yumminess (sorry for the technical term) in the caramel and provides a nice balance to the sweetness. They also make an equally great smoked salt caramel.
These little morsels of love are one of the few things we've had friends bring to us from Seattle to China; pretty much everything else we've been able to find here or live without. Michael (8) is especially fond the "salties", as he calls them.
If you can't wait to try them (and really shouldn't be waiting) and you don't happen to live in Seattle, you can order online right now. Too bad they don't deliver to China...
March 1, 2009
It's March 1 and spring is in the air (or is that just coal smoke?). One of the surprises for me about Beijing was how cold it really gets, especially since Beijing and San Francisco are roughly at the same latitude. Unlike in SF (or even Seattle), in Beijing, the lakes and rivers freeze over, and Beijingers head out onto the ice.
One popular place to play is Houhai, the lakes behind the Forbidden City. In addition to ice skating, the locals have other ways to enjoy the ice. One popular older form is to sit on ice chairs and propel themselves with sharp poles. According to our driver, they did this originally because many people couldn't afford skates.
A newer toy is the ice bike. I think the back wheel must have studs on it.
Nearby, vendors sold animals (usually ones from the Chinese zodiac) blown from blobs of sugary dough. (The art is called nie1 mian4 捏面 in Chinese, meaning "knead or pinch dough".) These were super cool, but they kind of sagged and melted when brought into the warm house. I've seen some people eat these, but I don't think that's advisable since the dude worked the dough with his hands and then blew into it the blob.
It was definitely a popular place and, like all fun things in Beijing, crowded. (The big tower in behind the lake is the Gulou or Drum Tower.)
We weren't dressed to play that day at Houhai, so I took the boys skating at a rink near our house. Well, Andrew (11) skated and Michael (8) ran around on the ice.
Eventually, Andrew dropped his skates and started ice bowling (with himself as the ball).
I can't remember the last time I skated or even walked on a frozen lake. It's definitely been 25-30 years (crap, I hate the way that sounds). Skating on the bumpy, grooved ice is definitely a different experience than smooth arena ice (go, Zamboni!) but we all had a great time.
While I'm looking forward to spring, I'm sad we didn't enjoy the ice more while we had it. We'll have to play more next winter.