Jun 29, 2010

Lack of phone etiquette

I've been getting more annoyed than usual by poor phone etiquette in China. Here are two things that people could do to cure the majority of the phone etiquette problems I've experienced:

1. Leave a voicemail message

I often find that I have voicemail messages waiting for me after having been away from my phone for a while. However, ninety percent of the time, I check my voicemail box only to hear complete silence, or the sound of someone hanging up right away. Sometimes I'll have a half dozen messages of just the [click] sound of someone hanging up.

This happens with people from all walks of life. Off the top of my head, I've had the voicemail problem with:
  • highly educated job candidates
  • people delivering fast food lunches to me
  • package delivery workers
  • colleagues and friends of mine
Through the wonders of caller ID and other tools, you can figure out which slacker is messing up your voicemail box.

Leave a flippin' voicemail message for me, that's what it's there for. It seems like the only people who leave voicemails for me are people calling from the US.

2. Announce who you are when you call

Tell me who you are when you're calling me. This is a big thing with me. I don't have ESP.

It's one thing if your good friend calls and says, "Hey, what up bro?" You know the voice, so he doesn't need to say, "This is Bob, what's up?". It's a different thing all together when a complete stranger calls and doesn't announce who he is.

I have at least three calls a week to my cell phone in China that go like this:

Caller: "Wei?" (Hello)
Me: "Ni hao." (Hello)

[At this point, I'm waiting for the caller to introduce himself.]

Caller: "Wei?" (Hello)
Me: "Ni hao." (Hello)

[Now I'm mildly annoyed, but I'm willing to give it another shot.]

"Wei?" (Hello)
Me: "Ni hao." (Hello)

[The Wei - Ni hao routine has to happen three times, for some reason. Always three times.]

Caller: "Ni shi Eric ma?" (Is this Eric?)
Me: "Qing wen, ni shi shei?" (Can I ask who's speaking?)

[The guy is calling me, so he knows who I am. He needs to tell me who he is.]

Caller: "Ni shi Eric ma?" (Is this Eric?)

[Many times, I hang up the phone right here. I can only tolerate poor manners for so long. Do I want to do business with someone that has social interaction skills that are this bad?]

Me: "Qing wen, ni shi shei?" (Can I ask who's speaking?)
Caller: "Wo shi ..." (Finally he introduces himself.)
When you call a stranger or a customer, you need to say right off the bat who you are and who you'd like to speak with.

For example:
"Hi, this is George Costanza from Vandelay Industries, calling to speak with Mr. Smith about his order for latex."
The once sentence contains it all: his name, where he's from, who he'd like to speak with, and what he's calling about. One sentence, and you know exactly what the person on the other end of the line wants. This is the guy I want to do business with. This is who I'd want to be my latex salesman.

I hope that some of the mouth-breathing recruiters and salespeople that waste my time on the phone get a glance at my advice here and can step up their phone manners.

My third annoyance is all those junk text messages from pizza parlors, discount sushi outfits, and credit cards that I get all day long on my cell phone. Is there a way to unsubscribe from those like there is for email lists?

Jun 23, 2010

New beers at 7-11 in Beijing

Not all of us are Fat Cat Expats that live on the east side of Beijing, with a full time staff of servants and easy access to April Gourmet and Jenny Lou's. For those half-pat folks like me, we have to do a lot of our shopping at local supermarkets and stores like 7-11.

During the last few weeks, 7-11 has started carrying more imported beers at reasonable prices.

Initially, 7-11's imported beer selection consisted of (BeerAdvocate grade in parenthesis):
Now, 7-11 has also added these:
Not spectacular beer, but it's great that they've expanded their selection.

7-11 also has that wonderful malt beverage, Smirnoff Ice, so you can buy a couple bottles and partake in that gay Icing game that's been in the news recently.

See this older post for more on beer available at local supermarkets in Beijing.

Jun 21, 2010

Open umbrellas indoors

What do you think's going to happen to this saleslady for opening so many umbrellas indoors?

Four umbrellas, so four days of bad luck? Quadruple bad luck? Maybe this?

According to one explanation of the superstition, the bad luck only occurs if the umbrella hasn't yet been used outdoors.

Chinese are generally pretty superstitious — many office building elevators here omit all floors that include the numeral '4', since four sounds like death in Chinese — I wonder how this saleslady could do something so blatant like open four unused umbrellas indoors.

If you read some Chinese, here's a classic blog post about me warning someone about carrying an umbrella indoors.

Jun 19, 2010

Video: Irate man buying shoes

Here's a little video clip I filmed and subtitled myself. It's of a Shopping Mall Dispute I walked into the other week. I'm sure I've misunderstood most of the Mandarin being yelled, but I tried my best to translate it.

Several minutes into this loud, public dispute, a team of between ten and twenty adolescent security boys descended on the scene. They did a good job of hanging back, observing, and doing as little as possible to get involved in diffusing the scene.

One things for sure, that older gentleman has seen Harsh Times one too many times if he's shouting things like "I'll kick your teeth down your puke hole!" at salesladies.

Jun 17, 2010

Hitchin' a ride in a septic tank?

I seen this truck on the Fourth Ring the other evening. What kind of tank is he sitting in?

Jun 12, 2010

Noshin' on raw vegetables

Raw cucumbers and fried bread

While waiting for the Beijing city bus one morning this week, I observed a high school girl standing near me. In her right hand, she held a long, thin, prickly cucumber. In her left hand, there was a folded wad of greasy, fried bread.

As she stood there, waiting for her bus, she would take a bite of cucumber, chew, and swallow. A couple minutes later, a big mouthful of fried bread. I'm thinking to myself, "Vegetable group, bread group. Vegetable group, bread group. Vegetable group, bread group."

For me, I'm usually double-fisting donuts, so it's more like, "Jelly donut group, glazed donut group. Jelly donut group, glazed donut group. Jelly donut group, glazed donut group." And then a swig of juice or coffee every now and then to wash it down.

I think that the bites of cucumber must be a great way to offset the grease from the bread. I should try it sometime with my donuts.

Raw tomatoes

Another amusing sighting of a vegetable nosher I had was on an international flight back to Beijing last month. I was sitting next to an 80 year old Chinese woman. I don't think she spoke a word of English.

The woman had moderate osteoporosis, and was overweight by twenty pounds or so. She was so curled up and rounded that she reminded me of a grey-haired Sonic the Hedgehog, you know, when Sonic curls into a ball to attack his video game enemies?

At one point during the flight, I saw my elderly seatmate pull out a giant zip-lock bag of goodies. Fruits, crackers, and other snacks. I thought to myself, I should have thought ahead and done that to, because these Air China in flight meals are unbearable.

In my peripheral vision, I saw that the woman was munching on bright red Jonathan apple. Something was out of place, though. I didn't hear any crunching and munching sounds, like you usually hear when someone's eating an apple. I wondered, what, did she take her dentures out and try to gum the apple to death?

I spun my head ninety degrees to observe my seatmate's habits in more detail. It turns out it was not a Jonathan apple that she was sucking on, but a medium sized, raw tomato. She was totally gumming it, and hard. She was sucking and gumming that tomato like there was no tomorrow. I don't think any teeth came in contact with the tomato. It was amazing.

These New Age California people think they're so hip with their vegan lifestyles and raw foods movements. I'm telling you, Chinese folks have been doing these things well before Californians, and they don't do it to be cool, either. Californians and other New Age type people in America are very direct about telling you all about their dietary habits. "I'm a vegetarian.", "I'm a fishitarian — I don't eat any meat except seafood", "I eat only raw, unprocessed foods", "I only buy organics".

I've got a lot more respect for the Chinese as far as this goes. They eat what they want because they like it, and they don't need to tell everybody around about their habits.

Jun 7, 2010

"Woman stabs nine on China sleeper train"

From this article:
Nine people asleep on a train traveling through northeastern China were stabbed in the early hours of this morning by a woman armed with a 15-cm-long knife.

The woman struck at around 2am, slashing at passengers sleeping in the lower bunks of a carriage and causing widespread panic in the darkness, as the K7019 train from the northeastern city of Harbin to northern Hebei province chugged south.
On a Chinese sleeper train, there are typically 3 levels of bunk you can reserve: lower, middle, and top. The lower bunk is the most expensive, the top bunk is the cheapest.

I always found this pricing structure a little strange. I would much prefer the security and safety of the top bunk. I feel like a cat up there in the top bunk, surveying the terrain for prey and other predators. Another problem with the bottom bunk is that strangers and seat mates will make themselves at home sitting on the bottom bunk during daytime hours.

This train stabbing incident is another strong point for choosing an upper bunk. You'll be that much further from knife wielding crazies.

Jun 4, 2010

Important notice: no hot water

This "Important Notice" was posted in the elevators of my apartment building over the last weekend.

The gist of it is that my apartment management needed to do some work on the hot water boilers, so they had to turn off the hot water for all the buildings in the apartment complex.

They list the effected period as May 31, 2010 6:00 AM to June 3 8:00 AM. I optimistically thought that this meant that for four days, they would work for two hours each morning, 6:00-8:00 AM, during which time there would be no hot water. No sweat, two hours a day is no big deal.

It turns out, though, that the hot water was off for the entire three day period. I mostly use hot water for showering, but thankfully I could take a hot shower at the gym instead of a cold shower at home. When there was no other choice, though, I used my huge stock pot to heat up a bunch of water on the stove if anyone wanted a hot sponge bath.

I did take one freezing cold shower out of necessity. Mostly it was because I was too lazy to go to the gym or a local swimming pool to take a hot shower. I showered the same way you would in a boat head. My technique was to grab the hand held shower head, turn on the cold water, and quickly spray all over my body for a total of 10 seconds. This minimized the unpleasantness. Then I turned off the cold water and lathered up with shampoo on my head and soap all over my body, and I did another quick rinse off for about 20 seconds. It seemed to mostly work.

Jun 2, 2010

The boisterous Ohio State fan

On a recent Europe vacation, we visited the Acropolis in Greece. I had worn my University of Michigan t-shirt that day, one with a very small, two-inch block 'M' logo on the lapel. I'm by no means a big football fan, more of an academic supporter than anything else. Of course, the colors aren't bad.

So, while minding my own business as I walked around the Acropolis, I was surprised to hear a Midwestern accent boom out from behind me, "Michigan, huh? You know what we say to people from Michigan in Ohio, don't ya?"

I cast the older gentleman a sideways glance, ignoring him and continuing on my way.

"Booooooo!", the man cried out at the top of his lungs. "Booooooo!"

I didn't dignify his Ohio-ish behavior with a response. Several minutes later, though, it occurred to me how I should have handled the situation. I suppose I was too spaced out due to lack of coffee and the jet lag, so I was way too slow with my comeback.

Good thing I can write about this on my blog. Here's how the situation should have played out, had I been more on my game:
Ohio State gentleman: "Michigan, huh? You know what we say to people from Michigan in Ohio, don't ya?. Booooooo! Booooooo!"

Me: "You know what I say to your son at the drive through, right? 'Don't forget to give me some ketchup with my fries.' "
Who would have thought Ohio State fans have such low self esteem? It must be the economy down there. I thought Southerners were hospitable and friendly.

I was surprised to encounter this kind of rabid man in an exotic locale. I've worked with and am friends with plenty of people from Ohio, as well as people that have graduated from schools like Michigan State. I wonder how the fellow I met saved up enough unemployment to pay for his plane ticket.