Going West by Mark Powers

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Summer in Beijing 2009

Mark's Frisbee Trick
Wow, this feels strange, to write a post in English! I have been writing in Chinese so much I almost forgot what its like to write in my native language. Unfortunately because Blogger.com was blocked since June, it has been difficult to find ways to get posts onto this website. Since then I focused on the Chinese website because A) it gets more viewers and B) I use a different system to write posts with the Chinese blog which is more convenient where I am.

Since my last post I have moved to Shuangjing, not far from downtown Beijing. I like this area quite a bit because it feels more international and cosmopolitan. There are nice restaurants and shopping. Traffic, particularly public transportation, is also more convenient than where I stayed before in Lishuiqiao.

Since March I have done a lot of sightseeing around Beijing with my Chinese friend. We have had such a good time I have stayed much longer in China than I imagined. I have also live in a nice apartment with a good view of downtown. For the price, and few thousand Yuan, which amounts to a few hundred US dollars, I can't imagine living in such a nice apartment in the US. Honestly, to live in the capital city, near downtown, in an apartment with a spacious living room, bedroom and nice kitchen and have a nice view of downtown and only pay few hundred dollars a month would be nearly impossible in the US.

For exercise, I usually do a little workout in the morning I have been doing for years. And nearly every evening before sundown my friend and I play Frisbee near the apartment. My friend has really improved since the first day we played. A lot of Chinese people pass us on the street as we play and seem very curious and interested in Frisbee as its not a sport or activity played at all in China. Matter of fact, we had to buy the Frisbee online because none of the stores around here sold them.

There are some international stores nearby and those have really helped me. I can buy things like cereal which I like to eat and even some taco sauce and pepper-jack cheese so I can make Mexican tacos, which I made for my friend. Life has been pretty nice this summer. However, I do need to start working regularly again soon. I prepared my resume and need to remember how to get myself into the job market. I have decided long-term that I want to be a website designer or media mogul, but a decent job would be good for the short-term.


Sunday, May 10, 2009

6 weeks and counting in Beijing

So I have been in China for a little over a month and a half, most of that time in the northern edge of Beijing, an area called Lishuiqiao. It feels more like the wild west in this part of Beijing. The streets are wide and dusty, the traffic chaotic, people everywhere going to and fro. That is a distinct feature of the eastern half of China where 90% of the Chinese population is located, it feels like there are people everywhere. You can't hardly go anywhere without seeing someone else.

It feels like a frontier town because everything is this area is relatively newly built, but not necessarily more modern or nicer. Its seems like people rushed to build up on the outskirts of town like a fevered gold rush during the boom around the Olympics. The contrasts of a modern shopping mall nearby surrounded new 30 story high rises, followed by tiny little brick housing left over from 30 years ago where some people line up to buy hot water.

Anyway, there have been some things that have struck me over the past few weeks, good and not so good, so I will be sharing them here. Here are some examples:

For example, Beijing transportation has improved. The subway and monorail system has gotten so much better in Beijing than before. I live near a very convenient station and it is much easier to get around town than my last stay when I often had to take the bus. The fair is still about the same, only 2 RMB per ride, that is about 25 cents. Still very cheap. Taking the bus is even cheaper.

However, I was shocked to see a new phenomena on the streets of China. There wer children literally, in the streets working. They would walk between lanes of traffic, going from window to window, passing out fliers or putting little cards into doors. Drivers hardly slowed down to avoid them.

I was dumbstruck to see this. I asked, how could people pay children to do such things, how could a society permit it? But I understand when some people are so poor, safety and education may not be above survival and eating. As everyone here tells me its not uncommon and that China is a developing country. When I see people struggle to survive here, it makes me treasure even more the opportunities for education and work so available and accessable in the US.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

My Chinese website

My English blog doesn't get even a tenth of the attention or viewers my Chinese blog does today. I remember a few years ago the reaction people had when I just had an English blog about my life in China. A Chinese girl asked to see my blog and I gave her the web address. She said it looked nice but everything was in English and she felt it was too tiring to try and read it. Which left me sorely disappointed. 

I am sure there are some Chinese who enjoy reading in English, but I learned something very important from that girl's reaction. First, Chinese people are quite interested in foreigners, but reading English can tiresome for them. I can completely understand this and have the same feelings about reading in Chinese. I am interested, but reading a Chinese newspaper article or blog can quickly drain a lot of mental energy.  

I wanted to reach a Chinese audience with my websites, so I decided the best way to do it was to try and write a blog in Chinese. I took my first shot with a website called Xiaoxitian "Little Western Heaven" which was the name of the community I lived in, in Beijing. I created a nice background, added pictures, and did my best to explain a little about my life and the community.

The reaction from Chinese readers was not what I expected, but positive. I was concerned my poor writing would be a big turn off. But on the contrary, Chinese didn't seem to mind my Chinese writing, and seemed anxious to help me improve. Additionally, they said they really liked my unique perspective and thought my writing was funny and cute (maybe cute in the sense that my writing was more like a child's than an adult). Anyway, the reaction was very positive. However, one big problem at that time was the long load-up time in China of web pages from web servers in the US. Normally, a website should load up within a few seconds, but from servers in the US, load-up times in China could take 30 seconds or more, which made people give up rather than wait. I fortunately overcame this problem by finding a local web host in China, and www.getpowers.net was born. The Chinese you see there actually says De-dao Li-liang, which means "Get Powers" in Chinese. Below that it says, "A blog written in Chinese by a foreign friend" 

There were more twists and turn to the story, and the website still needed (and still needs) a lot of work. But average daily viewership has hit a few dozen a day in China, which I truly believe could just be the beginning. 

There are plenty of videos, music, and one-time articles made by foreigners using Chinese, but I have scoured the web for other blogs written in Chinese by foreigners and there are very very few. Most have either stopped or write rarely. I was surprised to discover the prime minister of Australia (a former diplomat to China) speaks perfect Chinese, he's quite amazing. 

My goal is to keep writing and promoting my website. I just love how the web can leverage one man's work to reach so many 24 hours a day. I think that is the big attraction of the Internet for me. The ability of one person to reach so many in time and space, to be so accessible, to reach such a broad audience, so quickly. 

When I realized a few years ago while living in China how often I would be asked the same questions, and found myself repeating the same answers again and again, I knew there was interest, but not enough of me. I only have a limited time in a day, a limited amount of voice to talk with before I go hoarse, a limited amount of energy, and a need to make money somehow. The Internet leverages your time and energy a seemingly infinite amount. 

我在食堂So my dream of a web-based business was born. Of course its still in development, but I have hope that with continued work, good things will happen. Since I have returned to China, I have been able to promote my site further and write more content relevant to Chinese, and have seen a boost in the number of viewers and hits. Time will tell how things go. If you are interested to read what I write about on my Chinese blog, but can't read Chinese, there is a Google Translate tool on the webpage that allows you to change it to English instantly. 


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Back in Beijing

Well, its back to Beijing. I had some trouble at the Singapore airport though on the way. They typically allow 50 Kilograms on long-haul flights, like LA to Tokyo, and I considered Singapore to Beijing the same. But I found out at the airport, all flights within in Asia are considered short-haul and only allow 20kg. So I had to negotiate with airline and basically beg them for a break. Otherwise I would have been 30kg overweight with my check-in luggage and pay more money than the cost of my ticket! I wasn't about to throw away my skateboard and guitar to get the weight down. I eventually got them down to just 10kg and paid that instead. I had to find a Internet Cafe and find my old e-ticket that proved I flew in from the US 6 months ago and that I would be returning to the US, which allows for more weight. What a pain in the butt.

Arriving in Beijing I got to see the new airport terminal they had built for the Olympic games. It was a massive glass and steel structure, very clean, well-designed and modern. Its nicer than the old terminal by far, but it takes a while to get around because its so big.

Also, once I got through customs I was not greeted by dozens of "heiche" drivers like before. Heiche means "black car" or illegal taxi. There used to be many of these drivers who would harass you as you get into the main lobby of the terminal. They supposedly charge less than a regular taxi, but if you are not sure what you are doing or where you are going, they could really rip you off. I used them before because I didn't know any better and learned the hard way.

But this time, they were all gone, and I went to a taxi stand where the taxis actually lined up. I just had a bit of bad luck in getting a taxi with a very grumpy driver who seemed like he just wanted to get his money and go home. I had him call my friend to tell him where to drop me off, and he dropped me off somewhere in that vicinity on the street, but I didn't know where. It was an embarrassing scene. Here is this foreign guy with all this luggage just standing on the sidewalk next to a busy street full of people. There wasn't another foreigner to be seen and I felt like all eyes were on me. I could feel the curious gazes.

Since I didn't have a phone I got some people on the street to call my friends and tell them where I was. Finally they came by car and picked me up. That taxi driver was really bad, he dropped me off about a block from where I was supposed to be.

My friends treated me to a giant Huoguo, literally "Hotpot" dinner that night. They take a pot that has a steel separator in the middle. They boil water on one side and spicy stuff on the other. You order all the noodles, meat and vegetables that you like and put them in the hotpot. If you like spicy, you put them on the spicy side of the pot. Once we got into the restaurant I could really smell the powerful aromas.

I ate a day's worth of food. I even ate a kind of tofu-like duck blood which looks like little red cakes. Actually it takes fine and is supposed to be good for you. I ate more than I wanted to, but when you are being treated its just polite to eat as much as you can of what's ordered.

My friend's also lent me a room to stay in. It was cozy and I can use the Internet, so I have was I needed. I can even see the Olympic stadium, also known as the "Bird's Nest" from one of the windows. Its good to have friends in China.

The first thing I did the next day was go to the US embassy. I had only half a page left in my passport and needed to get more added. The US embassy does this for free if your passport is still valid for a few more years and you have less than a few pages left. The embassy compound is near Liangmaqiao on the east side of Beijing alongside many other embassies. There was a huge crowd of Chinese outside the building waiting for whatever reason. I was able to get straight in with my printed appointment letter and passport. They took care of me right away and was done within 30 minutes. I met some fellow Americans there, the first I had met in a long time.

I still have a lot of work to do. Extend my Chinese visa, find a apartment, find a job, etc, etc. Beijing is still cold in March, fortunately I brought a jacket with me.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Singapore - end of the line

As I can't go into details here, but due to lack of trust, I feel I can't stay with my current employer. The last couple of years have been a bad time to work in the financial industry. Sometimes I think I have a little bit of bad luck, because the last time I got into the industry was around the time the Internet bubble busted and sent stocks into a free fall. However it seems this is much worse. I fortunately should come out of this financially a little better than before, but mentally exhausted and motivation to work in the industry again spent. Going forward I will probably choose work that I enjoy than whatever pays well. If I could get this website business off the ground, that would be even better.

I feel like I am getting closer. I have figured out some technical items, learned to better promote, and getting better content. I was surprised when I created my Mixed Martial Arts website just how quickly that could get viewers. As well as the website on probability. My Chinese websites are also doing well. I feel like that is the direction I want to go in. I have always dreamed of building great websites that could make money. I am still working on it. I want the freedom, control, and ability for them to work for me 24 hours a day 7 days a week. You make a website once, it keeps working for you and doesn't stop. But maintaining it is hard work. You have to keep adding and adding to keep it relevant. That's why I am working on finding other writers.

Anyway, the end game between my employer and I has finally arrived. I had to work hard just to get what was due to me. Since the work situation has changed now, I will have to move on soon. I have an idea of where I want to go, but I am keeping my options open until I have committed to a certain direction.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Ich bin Amerikaner

"Ich bin Amerikaner" means "I am American" in German. I love to say that, it sounds so cool. I feel like Arnold Swarchenegger when I say it. From the couple of books I bought on the German language and the flash cards, I have started learning German.

I have discovered its so much easier to start reading German than Japanese or Chinese mainly because reading a new word doesn't require memorizing a whole new Chinese character. The grammar is more complicated in German though. Chinese and Japanese grammar is much easier. Its funny, because Chinese uses the same word for "He", "She", and "It", everything is a "ta". That is easy to remember. Chinese has no feminine or masculine grammatical conjugations. In German, everything has a feminine or masculine tense or formal and informal one. But at least I can start reading right away. I just need to learn how to pronounce them correctly.

I think in today's world it must be easier to learn a language. There is so much material on the Internet available to start learning and applying your language skills. For learning Chinese, my favorite website is http://www.chinesepod.com/. I can also easily read the original story of Hansel and Gretel written in German on another website.

The only thing that holds me back from learning more and faster is my own energy level. Sometimes I am just to plain too lazy to pick up the flash cards and learn something. But once I get going, I usually will enjoy it. Also, I don't want to forget one language while learning another, so its important to try and review.

Singapore TV has a Chinese channel that I watch often. But sometimes I will just read the English subtitles rather than focus on listening to what is said. I suppose that really is not helpful except for getting used to the sound and rhythm of Chinese speakers.

When watching TV in a foreign language, not only do you have to listen and pay attention to what is said, figuring out what words were said, you also have to figure out what was the meaning of what they just said. That takes concentration.

One interesting thing is I feel I have overcome the various accent differences in Chinese. For example, Americans in New York and Atlanta both speak English, but may have different accents. Chinese speakers from different areas are the same. Just like I can understand what a New Englander or Southerner from the US says in English, I feel like I can pick up what a Chinese speaker says no matter where he or she is from, as long as they use Standard Chinese words. In some parts of China they use almost completely different languages, like Cantonese in Guangdong province, or Hokkien in Fujian Province. Those same people when speaking Standard Chinese usually have an local accent. This difference, I feel I have overcome. When I first started learning Chinese, the vast variety of accents confused me. My experience going to a university to learn Standard Chinese helped me recognize what standard pronunciation is supposed to be like. Its funny when Chinese people tell me my accent is very standard, compared to Chinese people from provinces who grow up with strong local accents.

I really look forward to going to China again in the future. And maybe, someday, I will be able to make use of learning German and even go to Europe.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

New Activity

Wow, its almost 2009 already! Since moving to Singapore, I first struggled to get started, but I feel more relaxed and stable over the past month or so.

I finished reading the last book of Harry Potter. The series is 7 books long and took me a awhile to completely finish, but I enjoyed them a great deal, expecially the last 3 books as the story became more intense, darker, and more challenging for Harry.

I have purchased several books over the past few months on many topics from Chinese History to Economics to Brain Teasers to How to pick up girls. But I really enjoyed Harry Potter for the escapism, the magical world, the challenges and heroism.

Besides Harry Potter, I have been playing alot of basketball lately. I found a outdoor court, where people of many nationalities come to play. The level of play is in the range of my ability, not too hard, not too easy. It really has become part of my regular routine to go to the court in the evenings and play games of 3 on 3, 4 on 4, or full court with the guys. Its hard to believe, here we are in late December and I am playing outdoor basketball, sweating like a pig in shorts and a t-shirt, but that is Singapore for you, hot and humid.

I have become a huge fan of Mixed Martial Arts. I read news and watch the events over the Internet. I liked it enough I just recently started a new website at www.getpowers.com/mma to share news, videos and such.

Finally, I also added a new section to my PresidentSeek.com website for videos. I will add the debates, nomination speeches, inaugration speech, and other related videos so people can look back at all the excitement of the election and upcoming presidency. I look forward to building the site up to be 100% ready for the 2012 election.
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