Monday, July 14, 2014

China Recap Part 2: Eating in Shanghai and Wuzhen

On Thursday of my trip to China, I began a 2-day all day meeting with the local team there so I won't bore you with the details of that work meeting.  However, I did enjoy learning about how work culture is different in another country.  One thing that stuck out as being sort of interesting to me was that in China they were a lot more blunt about certain things.  Such as your salary, title/rank at work, or things like that.  At one point in the meeting we broke into two different groups for a break out session and we appointed "captains" (one of which being me) and were directed to pick who we wanted on our teams -- sort of like middle school/high school gym class dodge ball style.  I really wasn't comfortable with that so I pushed back saying I didn't think I could pick team members (having just met the majority of the people that day, I would have been choosing so arbitrarily!)  However, everyone told me, "It's not a problem, just choose!  We don't take it personally here!"  But, I just couldn't do it.

We also had a really snazzy "lunch box" brought to us midday to have our meal.  Again, it makes sense based on the cuisine in China, but I thought that the lunch box was so cute!

I also loved the rule that the business leader put in place for the meetings.  If you were late coming back in after a break, than you had to buy the group ice cream.  I was all set to be late on purpose just to get me some ice cream, but luckily I didn't have to and ice cream was had by all (multiple times...)

At the end of the first day of our session, we all went out to eat as a team, which was a really cool experience.  I'd heard about the restaurants that have lazy susans in the center, and this was the first time I tried one in China.  We sat in a private room with two large round tables, and in the center of each table was a lazy susan that all of the small dishes were on.  You simply had to rotate the center console to have all the different foods in front of you.  It was so convenient and easier than trying to pass dishes all around!

There was a LOT of food consumed, but it didn't really feel that way because you would have a few different bites of all different sorts of food.  My Chinese coworkers complained that when they come to the U.S. they find it very hard to order off of our menus here because you have to choose only one item that you want to eat.  And if you don't like it than you are sort of out of luck.  I totally felt their pain there and sympathized with them on that one -- I have major food-ordering-induced stress at times!  In China, there definitely was a lot to choose from.

However, I did miss my American desserts.  Despite dumplings usually being my favorite part of the different meals that we had, the dessert dumplings weren't all that great.  I'll take chocolate cake to a pumpkin flavored dumpling any day (but that's just me...)  Although they were pretty!

It was great to be able to get to know my coworkers more on a personal level and socialize outside of the meeting that we had been in the entire day.  

It was also an interesting experience to see how working in a time zone 12 hours ahead of U.S. time makes things interesting.  E-mail traffic was very slow during the days while we were in the office, and then started to pick up around 7-8 p.m.  A few times throughout the dinner, people had to step away to dial in to calls in the U.S. which was just sort of a common and unquestioned thing.  Whereas in the U.S. if we had a call at that hour, it would be a big inconvenience.  Many people were planning to go home after the dinner we had and join different calls as well.  It is definitely a different style of work and I can see how it is challenging.  I had a hard time turning my phone off at the end of the night because e-mails kept coming in and in and in!  However, it also wasn't hard to fall asleep at the end of each day :)

Friday morning, I started the day with a run, because it was Friday and that's what I do on Fridays!  For some miraculous reason, when I woke up the sun was shining in Shanghai so I decided to go for it and run outside.  I hadn't run on the treadmill in a while before arriving in China so it was getting old.  Plus, I have been having fun racking up the list of places around the world where I have gone on runs and I really wanted to be able to say that I had run outside in China!  Hopefully I didn't damage my lungs too much but I took the opportunity of a seemingly bright clear sky and air to run outside.

I took my time and enjoyed myself, stopping to take some pictures.  You can see the skyline of Shanghai in the background and the large buildings that I had been walking near the days before.  There was a park nearby my hotel that I had been hoping to run in, but for some reason it was closed. During the time that I was in Shanghai many things were weirdly closed like some of the subway stops, markets, parks, etc. which apparently was beacuase there was some sort of big energy meeting going on (yes, I work in the energy industry, no, I am not referring to the meetings I was at!!)  I heard rumors that Putin was in town was Russia and Ahmadinejad from Iran.  I have no idea if this is true and I also have no idea why the park near my hotel would be closed even if they were (maybe they needed the officials who usually work the park to work the meeting?) but this is what I was told.  However, it's highly likely things were lost in translation!

Some scenes from my run on the outside of the park...

After my run I had a 7:00 a.m. phone call with someone in California.  And the only reason that I mention that is because it totally blew my mind.  The call was at 7:00 a.m. in China but 4:00 p.m. in the afternoon -- the day BEFORE -- in California.  Time zones are weird!!

After another day in the office, my official meetings in Shanghai were over -- however, the fun was not yet!  The previous day as I had been talking with coworkers I asked if they had known a former coworker of mine from my previous job.  I had met her multiple times on her trips to the U.S. and had also taken the time to spend time with her outside of work while she was in the U.S.   We'd gone shopping, to the movies, dinner, etc. so we had really had a good chance to get to know one another, but we'd lost touch since she had left the company.  Well, it turns out she is still good friends with some of my current coworkers so they sent her a message on Thursday with this photo saying, "Guess who is in Shanghai?!"

One thing that I have found true from my travel in Asia... which I consider to be Shanghai and my prior trip to Turkey (1/2 Asia kind of...) is their incredibly hospitable nature.  My former coworker immediately asked if I had plans on Friday night and if she could take me to dinner, which, of course, I gladly accepted!!

I am always SO appreciative of the people who go out of their way to help take care of me when I am traveling.  I am lucky that with many of the places I have visited, I have had wonderful colleagues who have taken me out, cooked for me in their homes, and done so much to make sure I am comfortable and entertained when visiting new places.  It makes adventuring so much more enjoyable, less scary, and a real cultural experience when I get to spend it with locals.

Because of this, I always try to go out of my way to do the same when I have coworkers or out of towners visiting the site where I work.  Americans I feel have the tendency to get very wrapped up in their own lives.  They have families, out of work priorities, and often just an air of letting people fend for themselves.  I like to live by the virtue of treating others how you want to be treated yourself, which is why I always go out of my way to at least offer to take people out to dinner, cook them dinner, or show them around -- like I did for this coworker when she was in town years before.  And I ended up having such a fabulous evening in Shanghai because we were able to reconnect and she offered to take me out!

She picked me up from the office and took us to a fantastic restaurant with an incredible view overlooking the Bund.  The clear sky from the morning stayed throughout the rest of the day and we ate dinner sitting outside with a fabulous view and atmosphere.

The view continued to stay amazing as the sun went down.  As I mentioned last time, Shanghai really shines at night.  It is breathtaking, right??  Man, this view was unreal.

We had a great dinner with wonderful conversation as I asked and learned a lot about dating and relationships in China, how women are viewed inside of work and outside of work, the education and school systems, and more details about the rule of only one-child per household.  I laughed a bit at one point as she told me a story that, unintentionally by her, actually I think showed a lot about the American school systems!  I had asked how her family was, as she has one brother, and she explained to me that they had been having a hard time because her nephew, her brother's son was struggling in school.  She explained how the pressure to be the top student in the schools is so high in China.  They put a lot of pressure on students to be the best and compete against their classmates.  Her nephew, was not keeping up to the same standards as his classmates so his self esteem was suffering and he was not very confident.  Additionally, her brother, was receiving regular phone calls from his son's teacher to talk about his performance.  She said that he joked that he heard from his son's teacher more often than he heard from his boss!

So what did they do?  She explained that he had family on his wife's side that lived in the U.S. so they sent him to the U.S. so that he could finish his schooling here, and now he is at the top of his class.  He is feeling confident and his self esteem has improved now that he is in school in the U.S.

When she told me this story I said, "Well... I am VERY happy that your nephew is doing better now and is doing well.  But, MAN, that is TERRIBLE for the U.S. that he was at the bottom of his class in China and now is at the top of his class in the U.S.!!"  We laughed about it for a bit, and she felt bad because she didn't really realize how it sounded for America :)

After dinner, my friend took us to a local shopping district.  We had stayed a while at the restaurant, so we only had about 45 minutes to walk around the shopping area, but let me tell you, it is possible to do a bit of damage in that time :)  She took me to her favorite stores, and the whole experience was very cool because the shops were all tucked away in tiny winding streets and around corners that I could never have navigated or found my way around without her!

The whole night was really magical and I was so thankful that my coworkers reconnected us the day before.  My friend who I spent Friday night with is a Shanghai native and truly loves her city and loved showing it off to me.  When I told her that I was going to Beijing next, she said she wanted me to be sure that I knew that Shanghai was the best city in China :)  She was so hospitable and it was great to see her again.  For fun, she had brought along a photo from the last time that we had seen each other.  And in addition to being a really funny photo, it's also amazing what a difference the years have made!  I sometimes forget how far I have come with my weight and health over the years.  I do not want to go back there!

Friday night was a really special night and an exciting way to start my weekend in China.  The next day, my coworkers had arranged for a tour through a water village called "Wuzhen."  It was similar to Venice, how there is all sorts of canals with buildings and homes built into the riverside and there was a lot of museums, restaurants, shops, and cultural displays all throughout the village.  I have never been to a tourist attraction like this and it was very interesting and a ton to see!  We had to drive a way in a hot car ride to get there but I think it was definitely worth it!

Plus, there were some interesting sights along the way!

Here are a few pictures from when we were actually walking around and exploring Wuzhen and all that it had to offer.

One of the most memorable parts of the day was when we sat down for lunch.  It was a really interesting experience for a number of reasons.  One of which was an observation of the class system that they have in China.  As an example, we had a tour guide that was with us for the day showing us around the water village.  She was young, really sweet, and talked with us throughout the day.  However, when it came to lunch time, we sat at a table by ourselves and she went and sat by herself at a table.  I essentially was just following my coworkers leads, but I felt bad and wanted to invite her to eat with us!  The meal however was really good, and I requested white rice, which is sort of a love of mine.  It was quite yummy and made for a fun challenge with the chopsticks.  I also thought it was just totally fascinating to watch the order be written down in Chinese characters.  They totally intrigued me.

Additionally, we had a funny situation where when we sat down, my coworkers asked if we wanted to try Chinese white wine with lunch.  I figured, sure, a glass of cool white wine sounds delicious (it was a REALLY hot day out!) with lunch!  When I said yes, I was very confused by one of their reactions of, "Okay, but if you get too drunk I am not carrying you out of here!"

I was a little confused because a glass of white wine really wouldn't do much to me at all, but hey, what are you going to do.  Well, when the "wine" arrived I realized why they had said that.  The Chinese "white wine" was really NOT wine whatsoever.  Calling it "wine" is a big fat lie because it is really a super strong alcohol of about 55% alcohol (but it can range up to 70% alcohol.)  The smell alone was so strong it was hard to even smell.  My coworkers got a kick out of documenting me trying the alcohol.

It was a fun day in Wuzhen!  Before departing, my coworkers also had me buy a special food to take back to my hotel for dinner.  It came wrapped in these bamboo leaves and was white sticky rice that was wrapped and steamed around different types of fillings.  Apparently it was a speciality of the Wuzhen village so they insisted I get one.  Oh, and we got some ice cream.  Because it's my duty to try ice cream around the world.

I also brought that white wine with me.

No, not to drink, but to keep the container!  It came in this really beautiful bottle, that when you buy it in the restaurant, you get to keep.  I felt bad wasting it, but I dumped out the alcohol so that I could take the bottle home with me as a souvenir.   When we said goodbye and dropped me off at my hotel at the end of an awesome day, they joked that they didn't think I would actually eat the sticky rice ball, and to be honest, I wasn't sure if I would either.  But it actually ended up being delicious and I ate the whole thing, taking pictures as evidence to send to my coworkers, now friends!

I know it looks gross, but I swear it was good!  Following the dinner in my hotel room, I ran back out the door again because my colleague and I that I was traveling with had last minute bought tickets to the Shanghai acrobatics show.  It was amazzzzzzing and totally impressive.  There were definitely some tricks that you would never see in the U.S. and a number of *gasp* worthy moments.  At one point there was about 6 motorcyclists revolving in circles in a cage, moments away from a huge crash.  It was scary and cool at the same time!

At the end of this, I was about ready to pass out though.  It was a totally incredible day and I am so glad that I squeezed so much into one day because I feel like it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to have a free weekend day in Shanghai.  However, sleep felt good that night!

And the next day?  It was off to Beijing!

The next part of the trip will be the Beijing portion.  Thanks for reading!

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