I spent most of the morning doing a sort of team building with the permanent workforce and the expats, setting some expectations for how things will be in the future. Not particularly interesting work, but something that needs to be done in order to leave this place with a capable group. It was about as tedious as it sounds, but we were all looking forward to the second part of the day – barbeque and volleyball on the beach. So at noon we wrapped it up and headed down to the cars for the short drive to the ocean.
One of my guys had done a little research and enlisted his driver and housekeeper to pull together some food and entertainment. We had a nicely sized half a cabana with tables and chairs. A group of Chinese celebrating a birthday shared the other half. It was interesting to hear them sing “Happy Birthday” in Hanyu. Some grills were set up and when we arrived the first of the food was ready – pork pieces on bamboo skewers, my first opportunity for street food albeit in a slightly controlled situation. It took a while for the party awkwardness to abate but eventually everyone sat down and munched on the meat and talked about things of mutual interest – cameras, software – a genuine cross-cultural geek-fest. Hot on the heels of the pork were some very spicy chicken wings followed by some beef skewers and then little round cornbread pancakes swabbed in Chile sauce. These turned out to be my favorite.
A volleyball game kicked off and it took a while before everyone got over the fact that rules were not going to apply. It was fun to get out there in the sand and knock the ball around and to enjoy people trying their best to play a game with which they had little skill but plenty of passion. The general excuse for every epic flub became “the wind.”
Having had enough of that I grabbed a chair and watched the container ships slowly making their way in and out of the port. One of the guys I was talking to observed the cooks had a skewer of chicken heads on the grill so I went over to take a picture. The chef obligingly picked them up and held them out so that I could get a decent shot.
Towards supper time we all wandered off, some of us heading to an expat happy hour at the home of one of our fellow countrypersons. That turned out to be an interesting mix – I spent a good deal of time talking horses with the father of one of our co-workers who was in town visiting. Turns out he has a part time job up in Montana working for a Vet friend collecting drug testing samples at regional horse shows. We chatted up Appaloosas, Paso Fino, Paint and endurance horses and laughed about the idiocy of drugging horses. I moved on and a friend replaced me moving the conversation along to cattle which I am sure made this guy’s night. It is a small world not only in terms of discovering people who know people you know, but also in meeting people in oddball places that have similar interests.
As that party began to run down talk of dinner at a local Sichuan place came up, but for me the night was over – I’d had my fill of the excellent finger food and heading out a 9PM for a dinner was not interesting to me. I packed it in, expressed my gratitude and headed out for the walk.
Mid-evening in Chinese cities is always interesting. I picked a main street for the walk as the scenery is always interesting. The restaurants are bright and busy and in between them people are stopping to eat skewers at little stands with the charcoal fired grills going full speed. You see so many people out eating that you wonder if they ever eat at home. As I made my along the street I was passed by a group of 10 or 12 young men roller-blading alongside the cars. These guys brought to mind the youngsters I had seen earlier in the day riding four or five tandem bikes in a tight squadron amidst the morning traffic.
Along this particular route cars are generally parked up on the broad sidewalk, making you choose between walking on the curb or weaving in and out along the front of the restaurants. Tonight I chose the curb, but walking along I noticed two middle-aged western women wending the other route. The problem with that path is that sooner or later some car blocks your progress entirely; forcing you to go back down to the street and sure enough they eventually had to make a sharp left. In doing so, the better looking of the two cut me off rudely, realizing at the last instant that she had done so. She said “I’m sorry” and I replied that he move had not inconvenienced me. Her friend said “Ooh – English!” to which I replied in Chinese, “Yes, I speak it.” This completely threw her off kilter and she gave me an odd look before returning to her conversation with her friend, thus rendering me invisible. I had a good chuckle, just another one of those moments that can only occur in places like this.
I eventually made it back to the hotel and up to my room after running the gantlet of “good evenings” and head bows from the hotel staff.
It was a nice day, I didn’t get to spend and time in my apartment setting things up and I paid the price of volleyball on the sand by creating a knee that requires a heavy aspirin dose, but all in all it was worth it. A little sand, a sea breeze, some sun and some fun with friends. Tomorrow in the early morning it’s off to a market to see if I can find some things to hang on the walls of my new place.