Shenzhen View Pano

I can’t help but wonder how the other half of the world perceives a person like myself. I was asking this very question on Friday while I performed my near-sacred morning ritual at the hotel buffet. For anyone who knows me, it is almost universally understood that I enjoy my opportunities to overeat and consume large quantities of coffee. This very fact makes me a true sucker for any hotel buffet, especially the “fancy” ones, which are quite the common occurrence when I travel for work.

Well, my introspective query came soon after sitting down with my first plate of food. I had never really seen what maple syrup looked like mid-flight before, but as soon as my fork broke free from the mystery cosmic force in the center of one of the triangles of french toast on my plate, I was provided front row seats to that very sight. I swear the syrup quadrupled in volume as it rocketed towards my half-shielded crotch, and somehow spread out into a giant ASL version of “screw you” before making contact with the lower left quadrant of my polo shirt and the entire uncovered section of my jeans. This picture perfect display of sticky, sugary staining power was like a heat seeking missile, fired with the most sophisticated targeting algorithm ever devised to hunt down portions of clothing unprotected by napkins.

My morning feast had barely begun and I had already made a fool of myself before even my second cup of coffee. As I sat and considered my options, I also wondered how many  people had stood witness to this display of food acrobatics. Without so much as a glance to give my pondering mind an answer, I snatched up the hunk of syrup-drenched french toast sitting in my lap and wolfed it down like some kind of feral, starving animal. Sometimes I can amaze even myself at my own propensity for not giving a damn.

I took a few satisfying gulps of coffee and signaled the attendants for a refill. I would not let my syrup-glazed clothes deter me from enjoying my favorite morning routine. I then spent a few moments attempting to use my heavily-starched cloth napkin to remove the evidence from my outfit, but it proved to be a pathetically futile attempt. There was no mistaking that the large, awkward white guy in the corner was covered in filth and unable to hide it. Regardless, my next trip to the buffet was no less fruitful due to my self-induced soiling, nor did I pay attention to any of the sideways glances being offered by the surrounding patrons and wait staff.

Raising ShenzhenBy the time I finished my breakfast and had my fill of coffee, the syrup on my shirt and pants was just about crunchy. I was waiting on a coworker to pick me up for work, and I had a few minutes to retreat to my room in order to rectify my sloppy situation. I quickly doused a wash cloth in water and saturated the stained garments while simultaneously scrubbing away the sugary goodness that was left behind by my rebel breakfast. I then proceeded to extract the hotel hair dryer from its velvety womb beneath the sink and almost burn my engorged belly as the watered-down syrup solution evaporated out of my clothing.

With a successful stain extraction complete, I headed down to the lobby to begin my journey to work. The TE manager who picked me up drove a Toyota. We exchanged short question and answer volleys about recent world events, like the protests currently going on in China over the small chain of islands in the Eastern China sea that were being disputed-over between Japan and my current host country. He confirmed my suspicions over whether he was afraid of his car being vandalized by an angry mob of protesters, but assured me that the demonstrations in Shenzhen had died down and that we had little to worry about.

There are two notable buildings in Shenzhen that the majority of IBM’s employees occupy: KJY is where the management and “fancy-pants” engineering teams frequent, while the building known as ISH3 in the Futian district is where the physical manufacturing is performed and therefore where the supporting teams tend to spend their days. He needed to attend a few meetings at the former building, while I was required to report to the latter. Luckily, there is a regularly scheduled bus that travels between the two buildings, and we were fortunate enough to encounter a familiar employee that was walking towards the bus stop as we arrived at KJY.

The employee, who we will call Jack, led me to the bus stop and attempted to converse with me as we waited for our transport. After a few very confusing exchanges, the bus arrived, and we both boarded. We sat down next to each other and spent a good fifteen minutes waiting for the bus to depart at its scheduled time. As the bus pulled out onto the road, Jack’s phone rang. He began shouting and saying things very quickly before shoving his way past me and running off of the bus. Somebody behind me informed me that Jack was supposed to be in a meeting and needed to go setup shop in the building that we were in the process of leaving behind. The remainder of the day was much less entertaining.

The Art of Negotiation

The following morning, my breakfast ritual went off without a hitch. It was my first Saturday since arriving and I had made arrangements to go shopping with one of my coworkers. He picked me up from the hotel around 9:30 and we headed out towards an old, familiar place. Our destination was Luo Hu, and our objective was to buy spoils to rain upon my wife. On my last adventure in Luo Hu, I was able to practice my solo negotiation skills and not only obtained a few goodies for my wife, but I also acquired an amazing pair of knock-off Ray Ban sunglasses with polarized lenses. These glasses served me very well until last July when I lost them in a night of drunken adventures with my friend Dupont at my first and only NASCAR race. RIP Awesome Ray Bans.

Fatty McPoorboOn this day, if time permitted, I would avenge the loss of those old sunglasses and seek out a replacement pair. I was fortunate to have a partner in crime with me on this occasion though, because I was foolish to believe that I made out with good deals last time, and he was effortlessly proving how incorrect my assumptions were three years ago.

Negotiation is a fine art, and in Chinese it resembles some kind of drunken feud. There is a good bit of yelling mixed in with plenty of hand motions and gestures, and then the occasional smile as both participants seem to be fully aware of the delicate dance that they perform. I am occasionally clued in by my escort into the price points that are being discussed in this manner, and am truly amazed at the extremities that they move between. For one of the items that I purchased, the seller originally desired 800 RMB (~ $126 USD) but was eventually willing to let it go for a mere 110 RMB (~ $17 USD).

It’s amazing how much more willing they are to make a deal when you simply turn and walk away. I had attempted this method in my last trip here, but was never quite as effective at reducing the price as my coworker was demonstrating on this tour. After visiting countless shops attempting to make negotiations, and purchasing two gifts for my better half, I asked my handler about polarized sunglasses. He naturally had no idea what I was talking about, so I ducked into the first store that contained sunglasses and pointed out a few stickers that indicated polarized lenses. I demonstrated a quick test to prove that lenses were polarized, and we were quickly on-task.

Luckily, this very shop had an impressive selection of polarized sunglasses, and somehow I managed to clue the shopkeeper into my preference for Ray Ban knock-offs and Aviator style glasses. She pulled a box out of some unforeseen region of a locked cabinet and removed a gorgeous pair of brown polarized glasses for me. They were the perfect replacement for the trusty pair that I had lost over a year ago, and I decided immediately that I had to have them. I was able to walk out of the store, glasses in hand, for a mere $9 USD. Now with that purchase in hand, along with the other gifts for my wife, we were satisfied.

The day of shopping had left us both with hunger pangs, so we decided to go grab a bite to eat. Of course, after a day of walking around in the hot and humid southern China weather, working up a sweat in the close confines of the Luo Hu shopping district, we decided that our best bet was to sit around a small table with an open flame and a large pot of boiling liquids. Avid readers may already know that I’m talking about one of my favorite Asian eating styles, which is that of the hot pot.

Hot Pot Pre FeastIt’s hard to dispense enough praise for the delicious and entertaining hot pot, but it simply cannot be topped. Each side of the hot pot has its own unique delicious flavors, and they both increase in tastiness over the course of cooking the various meats, vegetables and fungi in their respective broths. There’s also the matter of the typically large quantity of different edibles that are ordered for each hot pot event. This day was no exception either, and in fact we ate so much food that I completely skipped dinner and still went to bed around 10 PM stuffed to the gills.

I’ve had a number of chances to eat hot pot in my various travels, but this was somehow the first time that I had the pleasure of tasting potato in the magical broth of the pot that is hot.  It seems so simple, and yet it is the absolute perfect vessel to transport the boiling liquid directly into the gullet. Needless to say, it was my favorite part of the meal, and from now on I will be certain to always insist that any hot pot smorgasbord that is offered to me contains the magical, starchy vegetable also known as Taters (boil ’em, mash ’em, stick ’em in a stew).