Friday, July 28, 2006

hurry up and wait, part 237 (repost)

Another repost from the China trip.


So I'm here in Beijing...and the software is here in Beijing...and the hardware field support is here in Beijing...but only one of the two parts we need to swap in is actually in our control here, and the field manager is talking about just driving out to the airport and physically pulling it out of the grasp of the Chinese customs officials, who are currently not giving it to us yet. They're going to let the part into the country, sure, but they don't feel like letting it go somewhere useful.

I'm just starting to collect observations about China, and still kind of jetlagged, but the following have developed so far:
- If you can avoid it, do not fly Air China. They put a lot of space and time into describing what to do in the event of a forced landing, which is good in that they expect people to be able to walk away from them, but bad in the fact that they must be expecting them to be a semi-regular occurrance. It's not Aeroflot, but it's far from reassuring, especially when the plane is skimming the treetops coming into Beijing at a near-stall.
- If Europeans drive like F1 drivers, the Chinese drive like motorcycle racers, whether they're in a van, a car with an actual engine, or just on a bicycle. I would never attempt to punch through a hole a car length and a half long between two trucks, but Bob did this like five times on the way out of the airport last night.
- The air quality sucks in this country. It's like the interior at a German metal club, but that's the outside air; inside, when they can filter the soot particles out, it's a little better. Despite the auto emissions, wood fires are probably the major culprit; we saw about five light trucks laden with firewood on the highway, and the demand from all of the people in this region must be insane.
- It's possible to reconcile economic inequity with communism. I was thinking about this walking through my fucking gigantic hotel room last night (there will be pictures of this later), and it goes as follows: to each according to their needs, from each according to their abilities. As the foreign engineer flown in over a huge distance on little notice, to a country where I don't speak the language, I "need" a certain level of comfort to make the trip feel less demanding and preserve harmony in the enterprise. And I'm getting flown here in the first place because I can make a critical contribution (okay, because someone thinks I can make a critical contribution in the case that we analyzed the problem wrong) to the success of that enterprise. Ofcourse, this all falls apart when you consider the size of the room, and the fact that no single software engineer, who came into the country accompanied only by his suitcase and who will spend his time almost entirely working or sleeping, really needs as much space as is being provided here.
This came up solely because I was kind of shocked at the accommodations on this trip. I am not really used to getting more than the bare minimum when in the field on business, and working the exchange rates, this palace in Beijing grades out as only a little more expensive than the closet I had in Leuven. I only have it for another two days, but if I cross my fingers hard enough, maybe we'll finish the entire upgrade cycle before then....if we ever get the parts.

Northern Chinese cuisine = good stuff, at least as far as what Steve referred to as probably the best restaurant in the area goes. The setup was traditional, from communal plates on a lazy-susan, so I didn't have to worry about knowing what to get, let alone order it in Chinese. Good flavor balance, the hot stuff wasn't as nuclear as some of the other regional cuisines, and the incidence of seafood-based stuff was way down from what you see in the south. A lot of mushrooms, but very good variety on those, and a lot of the time a mushroom will pick up flavor from other things that it's cooked with rather than dominating. This is the first real Chinese food I've had since coming back from Michigan; American Chinese food is its own sub-branch, the stuff in Germany was kind of weirdly done, and my own lame efforts don't really count. It'll be a long time before I can pull off even one of the dishes that were on the table for lunch today...even presuming that I can stay in the US long enough to actually get my kitchen set up and stocked.

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