Posted by: 1of10boyz | February 7, 2012

Sam’s Chinese Adventures in Shandong Province – Part 1


We have spent a near fortune of the company’s money to get our son to us here in China. Not that we intended to, but Continental Airlines did remind me of why I have promised myself that I wouldn’t fly them or one of their code shares (you can refresh your memory in the Welcome Home Son post). I enjoy flying United Airlines and most of the Star Alliance partners, but Continental is on my $hitlist. Sam will be here with us in China for almost 3 weeks. The first week will be in Shandong Province, the second will be in Beijing, and the last week will be again in Shandong.

The interesting thing about visiting and living in a country is that we go through a number of phases in how we feel about being there. This blog post will cover what I will call Sam’s “honeymoon phase” and in the next several blog posts you will see how his feelings change. He is much more like his mother than me in this adventure. Our goal is to see some of the more interesting places that we have come across in our process of trying to live here in China.

We picked Sam up from the Qingdao airport on the afternoon of December 19th. He gets to our apartment about the time that I get off work. He is tired and glad to be off of the planes and out of airports. We go to dinner at the Expert Village “American” restaurant. The food is good and we enjoy each other’s company. We go back to the apartment and sit around and talk until it is time for bed.

The driver arrives at our apartment on December 20th about 9:00am. An early day for LaDawna but we have to be back in Haiyang to go to dinner at one of the restaurants. We live about 1 hour and 45 minutes from Yantai. I want to just kind of wander through some of the locations that I have been to in Yantai, some that LaDawna hasn’t been to. We have to call Cindy Li to give Hyrum directions to one location that I went to with her and Jerry McMahon when we were completing our Importing paperwork. The location as I know is called “Bar Street”. It is located near the waterfront and has a number of general shops and some music stores. Since Sam is a musician I want him to see what a music store looks like here, it will make him appreciate the music stores that he has become accustomed to in the USA. We arrive and we walk through the area. We wander into a shop and it has some neat little china tea sets, I am talking small, the tea cups are about the size of end of your little finger, it comes with a table and chairs, teapot, and tray. We buy several for our little ones. This is the perfect tea set for playing tea with Barbie. We find another little shop that has a carved teak elephant cow and calf. It is a must have and get place into our bags, it costs about $25 USD. We wander into and out of the music stores, none of them are heated and the average temperature inside is close to 50F. Sam tells us that the guitars are not really that good, but the average price for the ones we are seeing is about $550 RMB, roughly $80 USD. I note that the street is not very busy and that a number of shops that were open in October are closed and there is no merchandise in them.

We go to get lunch since we are not really in the mood for Chinese food we go to the KFC that is near the Wal-Mart. We decide that Sam also needs to have a Wal-Mart experience, since the Chinese Wal-Mart isn’t your American Wal-Mart. The KFC is busy, as usual. We stand in a line that is 5 deep and 6 wide, just an average Tuesday lunch line. There are no places to sit down, a pretty standard problem in any KFC or McDs that we have here in China. We are also the center of attention, I have become almost oblivious to having people staring at me and taking pictures of me, my 6’3” son is not so oblivious. He is keenly aware of all the people staring at him. We are getting more stares than normal; it isn’t often that Sam has been the center of attention. We get many stares as we are standing head and shoulders above everyone that is in the line, LaDawna just kind of blends in, dye her hair black and she would get lost in the crowd. Sam wonders how many people in the 100 or so people in the restaurant actually speak English? I look around and estimate that the crowd is mostly late teens and 20-somethings and that would give a high probability that they speak way more English than we speak Chinese. We finally find a spot to sit; I smile as the cell phone cameras keep busy the entire meal.

We wander down to Wal-Mart (it is actually 3 stories tall with only the 3rd floor at ground level) and doing a little shopping, we can’t pass up the opportunity to shop for foods that we like when we are at stores that have them. The thing that sticks out in my mind from Sam’s experience are the smells and the complete differences in what products are there in the store; we make our purchases and exit the store. We have enough time to go over to the “fake goods” mall. It is the closest experience I have found so far to the Shenzhen shopping experience close to where we live. Sam has indicated that he would like to get two things if we can find them, a belt and a little mask that looks a lot like a doctor’s mask but that has a design on it. If it exists in China this location should have something that looks like it. We wander through the market stalls; we can’t find what he is looking for even though we find several hundred just not the right design. LaDawna does find a pair of winter boots that she likes and we negotiate a price, probably more than what a Chinese would pay for them but we are still happy getting a pair of winter boots for less than $15 USD. We stop in and look at the movies and TV shows, we know that they are pirated versions but we are always willing to get English speaking programming when we find it; and the only way we have seen it in this country so far has been by the street vendors.

We make it back to the car and tell Hyrum we are going home. We head out of Yantai. We have about 2.5 hours to be back into Haiyang. I have noticed in the several times that I have driven to Yantai that there is a marble/granite carving business on the way. I ask Hyrum to stop so that we can look around, I am hoping that someone will come out to the yard and talk with me about pricing. I am interesting in several pieces that I want to take back to the US. I want some of the lions that are so prevalent at the businesses here and they have a couple of very nice horses that would look nice at Dad’s place. We can’t find anyone that speaks English and have to leave to get to dinner. I will have to return with one of the Admins so that we can get some pricing for these things.

Once we get home we swing by Gary Crook’s place to pick up an acoustic guitar, Sam has been recruited to play guitar for our Christmas Party. He is going to accompany the Joint Startup Team Choir in our rendition of some Christmas Carols. He needs to practice some before he has to play tomorrow night.

We have dinner at the Aloft hotel buffet. It is one of the better dinner locations in Haiyang and we have enjoyed eating there in the past. We enjoy the meal. We leave early. We have a big day tomorrow.

Well, not too surprisingly to me we have worn LaDawna right out. She is not in the mood to go with us to Qingdao on December 21st. I have to go to Qingdao to get a suit made for the Spring Festival Party that will occur in January. The Joint Startup Team has decided that we are going to put on a performance and we will be lip-synching The Blues Brothers. I have been selected as the most likely to pass off as Elwood Blues, so I am now in need of a black suit. The last black suit I had was one that I got while I was on my mission in the California Arcadia Mission, way back in 1983 – 1984, funny thing the Blues Brothers we actually still performing then. Anyway, I convince Sam that he should come with me. I would really like him to commit to getting some of his mission clothes. I am certain that we can get him suites custom made over here for less than he can buy them off the rack at Mr. MACs.

We leave about 9:00am; we go to the recommended location for doing custom tailoring. It is recommended by the Site Project Manager’s wife. They have lived here in China for four years and most of that was in Qingdao. The way to find the chosen tailor is cryptic at best; we are going to be lucky to find this place. I am fortunate to have been with LaDawna on one of her little adventures when we picked up some custom made sheets so I have a point of reference to start from. The directions are complex, we know it is on the second floor, the best hint we have is that we are looking for a poster of a guy in a suit taped to the door post of the shop. It is supposed to be the only one that has the picture.

We get to the shopping center. It is starting to show signs that a big sale and celebration is going to be had here over the next few days. We find the building and walk through the air barrier that is hanging in the entry way. We are in the tailor’s building, no doubt, no it is just a matter of finding the one that was recommended to us. We pass by the 6 or 7 shops between the doorway and stairs, custom made undergarments, including area control garments, shirts, shorts, dresses, might even have curtains in these shops alone. We climb the stairs towards the 2nd floor; the shops just about crowd us off the stairs. We make it to the top of the stairs and the shops are crammed into every spare inch of space. We of course misunderstand the directions and miss our turn. We are now wondering the building. The tailors have set their own space and have bolts of cloth everywhere. I mean everywhere. After we have walked past at least 100 shops we finally find a shop with the only marker that lets us know we have found our destination, the guy in a suit poster.

We enter and communicate in our best dumbed down English that we would like to be fitted for a suit. I have been accused by my Son of dumbing down my English when I speak to non-English speakers in this country. I have to admit that my English tends to become the most basic blocks of the spoken language when I am trying to speak to them. I guess it is an unconscious attempt at trying to be understood. Keep it simple, nouns and verbs, the rest of it is fluff that they won’t probably know anyway so don’t make the sentence too complicated. I am at least successful in communicating that I am going to get a suit. I know because she brings me a stack of suit magazines to look at and see what I want.

Now, I haven’t shopped for a suit since the 1980s, seriously. I have been able to either wear the same suits or have gotten some really good hand-me-downs for the past 25 years. I really haven’t needed a suit expect for Sundays and the trips to the Temple and being in “style” hasn’t really been anything I needed to worry about. I am not a clothes horse by any stretch of the imagination, I wear what is in the closet and even then I am not too picky about it. If it fits I will wear it. I am a little worried about being on this clothes purchasing expedition without my wife. What was I thinking; can I really buy clothes without her? I am a little concerned about this whole thing, until I realize, I am buying a suit that is supposed to look like it is from the 1980s or earlier. I am after all imitating the Blues Brothers. I am supposed to be Elwood Blues, how tough can this really be anyway. I will order what I like and I am pretty sure it will be fine.

I go for the standard two button jacket and get a two pant set to go with it, I mean why not. I select a nice cashmere in black. The tailor takes my measurements and we seal the deal, my cost – $1100 RMB (about $175 USD). It will be ready to pick up in 5 days. I am pretty sure that a similar suit off the rack in Men’s Wearhouse or Mr. MAC’s in cashmere would be several times that price (Based on some guessing at what the suit would be in the US on websites it looks like a similar product at those locations is well over $800 USD). I wish we knew what Sam needed for his mission I am sure that we could outfit him with the suits and pants he needs for that for much less than we could anywhere else.

Since we were already in the tailor section of the city I decided that I wanted a “smoking jacket”, really more of a Chinese jacket that I could wear to parties when it was appropriate to dress up but where I don’t want to wear a suit or tie. We have seen a number of traditional Chinese jackets and I decide to order one of these. We wander around a couple of stores and then settle on one. I select the one that looks like it has the greatest selection of silk fabrics that would be appropriate for a man. Sam and I see a lot of fabrics and patterns before I finally select one that I like. We then decide on the jacket. I opt for the 7 button with a Lenin collar.  It will be ready in 4 days and costs me about $700 RMB (about $110 USD).

We decide to look around for a watch, a pair of shoes, and a jacket for Sam. We didn’t bring a coat for him to China and he didn’t need one in Hawaii, so he has been wearing one of my coats. He thinks my taste in clothes is wrong, but the Carhart is warm so he doesn’t complain much. My winter clothes have never been meant to be stylish; they are supposed to be functional. We wander until we find a leather jacket that has a Lenin collar and is a dark brown, it looks the best but he really wants a black one. We get the price down from the asking price of $690 RMB to about $365 RMB ($58 USD). We walk away because we think we can actually find a black one. We wander and search for the better part of 3 hours and find black ones but not exactly like what he wants. Well, that’s not exactly true; we do find some that are exactly like he wants but the price on those jackets are in the $5,000 RMB range. Thankfully he understands that is really about $800 USD and he knows better than to think that is an appropriate price for a jacket. We go back to the first location and as our luck would have it they have changed the sales person covering that section. We have to start the negotiation again. The best we get the price to is $380 RMB (so wandering around cost us $3 USD). I am sure that if we had the expensive jacket next to this one we could find a difference but we think we got a pretty good deal on this one.

We stop and get some food at McDonalds, we are again the subject a many stares, some not so sneaky pictures, and some general conversation. I forget what it is like to be a teenage boy as it doesn’t bother me but Sam is keenly aware of it all. We have looked at watches until I am certain that the watch he wants doesn’t exist. We find a shoe store and wander. We find a pair that he would like to try. I have warned him that he is going to have a problem, he has big feet. We realize that the shoe sizes in China are not on the little tag for the shoes he is wearing and there is no shoe scale in the store. We have to guess on the size of his shoe. The sales lady is as helpful as she can be considering that she doesn’t speak 5 words of English. We finally get a shoe that fits a 325. We have a winner, I suspect that they probably don’t sell too many in that size in this country. The shoes cost $220 RMB (about $35 USD). Sam believes that they are the most comfortable shoes he has ever worn. I hope they wear well, they have a very flexible sole and I worry that they will wear out quickly. It would be nice to find a shoe that he likes, that wears well, and is comfortable. It is a nice looking shoe and could easily be a dress shoe that would work as a tracting shoe.

We finish up the day with some Christmas presents for LaDawna. For me I have shopped more today than I care to in a month of shopping. I am ready to go home. We depart for home we have a party to attend. We haven’t given Sam any time to practice for the Christmas Party. He is also not feeling well and does not want to go. The party is with all of the management team from the owner’s organization. We are excited about making fools of ourselves singing Christmas carols. We are about in the middle of the program. We have heavy snacks and drinking. It ends up being quite a party. We wish Sam could be here. There are some other acts by other organizations that make me feel better about our “lame” Christmas carols. We get a little help from a guy on the Shaw Construction team (in another “life” before building nuclear power plants he was a Nashville performer, so a little professional stagemanship goes along way) who helps us ham up the performance and it turns out better than we expected. Thanks Mr. Griswald.

We are happy to get past the amateur acts and to the professionals. We have a “face changer” and a magician. This is the first time we have seen the face changer act, in a word – awesome. The faces are actually painted silk/elastic masks that are similar to the Chinese opera masks that are sold everywhere. The actor/performer makes a sudden head movement and the mask instantly changes to a new mask, my guess is that the current mask is retracted to the head dress but there is really no way of knowing as it happens instantaneously. The same performer was also the magician. Pretty talented guy, he has only been performing professionally for 5 years.

We head back to the apartment and tell Sam about the party that he missed. He isn’t too concerned as he has been on the XBox360 the entire time we were gone. In many ways I am glad that these games make me physically sick, I don’t waste any time on them, and I don’t really miss out on other opportunities because I am not playing them. I think that the accoustic neuroma thing has a lot to do with not being able to sit and watch the game without getting headaches and motion sickness. We have another big day ahead of us tomorrow.

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