…an architect's travels and adventures

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There’s shopping… and then there’s SHOPPING!

Let me start by saying, I LOVE haggling. I could buy a fin off a whale for killer price if the whale would stay above water long enough. I have been to many street markets in Spain, Costa Rica, the Bahamas, Mexico, and South Africa,  and everyone has been a new bargaining style and different products (well the same products at each location but I’ll get to that in a minute).

For those of you who haven’t encountered this let me just give a bit of background. There’s shopping: a mall or street filled with individual retailers whose prices are mostly set. Maybe you will find something on sale but there are two things you don’t have to worry about: getting taken for a ride by the establishment on the price, and the quality.

China’s markets are a strange mix between street market and western mall. The first thing that is similar is that they are indoors, however they are still in stall-like partitions — smaller stores which usually specialize in one or two types of item. The main strange thing is that in China, the goods are recognizable. In many other countries, they are no-name brands or goods that are more like souvenirs or cultural items: african drums, spanish cloth or soccer jerseys, stone carvings, etc.  In China, it’s Gucci, Prada, Ecco, Louis Vuitton and Chanel that greet you at the door.  But not in beautiful glass cases, in backpacks, rolling suitcases, trash bags (have you ever seen a trash bag full of Rolex’s?).  So I have decided to put up a list of what I feel all of these fakes should be purchased for (these are local prices, not there’s-a-sucker-born-every-minute prices).

So, now that we’ve done the intro, I’ll give you the prices for some more common items and what I have payed or would pay. The quality comments will be based on my personal taste (passable quality for me may be the best quality you can get at these stalls).

I list them like this:

ITEM — Offer price in CNY (RMB) — My price in CNY — My price in USD

Shoes (Leather, Passable Quality) — 600 RMB — 50-150 RMB — $8-24

Jeans (Diesel, Levis, etc) — 300-500 RMB — 50-100 RMB — $8-16

Belts (Leather, Passable Quality) — 260 RMB — 50 RMB — $8  (This is the lowest price I have seen, but I don’t think they are worth it.)

Socks — 15 RMB — 5 RMB — $0.80

Watches (Good Quality Fakes) — 400-600 RMB — 80-100 RMB — $13-16 (no more than 120 RMB, that’s $20, don’t be an idiot).

Watches (Shit Fakes) — 250-400 RMB — What’s wrong with this picture is that you are even asking about it… 5 RMB, it’ll last two weeks.

Tie, Cufflink, and Pocket Square (medium quality) — 100 RMB — 30-50 RMB — $5-8

Sunglasses (“Oakley’s”) — 250-500 RMB — 25-40 RMB — $4-7

Tailored Suit (Poor Quality) — 700-900 RMB — 500-600 RMB — $85-100

Custom Bespoke Suit (Excellent Quality) — 1300-1500 RMB — 900 RMB — $150

So there are a few prices for you newcomers or curious folks. And on a similar note, I was introduced to a tailor here while we were walking around and I stopped to admire his work. These suits were beautiful: 85-100% wool, silk lining, trim, operable cuff buttons, great stitching, nice selection and good english.  I asked about pricing, and after haggling down from 1100 RMB to a clean 900 RMB, I told him I’d think about it.  Two weeks later, I have been back twice: once to order the suit and once for the halfway fitting. I can’t wait!  The suit is gorgeous navy with light blue pinstripes.  The interior lining is a royal purple satin, I got working buttons on the sleeves, matching trousers (obviously), and I can’t wait till I pick it up in a week.

After haggling for a bunch of stuff for my friends — one place I bought a bunch of iPhone cases for $1.50 after I told the woman “Wo jiao, Ding Jie” (My name is Ding Jie). She lost and an went from 50 RMB a piece to 10 and 15 RMB — we hopped the subway home.  But not before reveling in my victory with a huge Big Mac!

That’s all for now, sorry there aren’t any shopping pictures, they hate when you photograph all of their copyright violations.  So instead, here are some photos from the beach and an old town called Da Peng that we visited over the weekend.

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Travel Safe and Often.

Jake

http://www.jakerudin.com

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Ping pong… I am not good.

So, quick post while I think of some more interesting updates.  As of 12:35pm yesterday, I am the fastest ping pong player in the world: meaning I lost two games in a row at our work tournament that nobody even got to see me play.  To be fair, the guy was pretty good. But also to be more fair, I am not Chinese.

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And why I look fat in the first photo is a mystery.  I have eaten almost nothing these past few weeks because the cafeteria food is still wretched.  But the noodles are ok.  Yay non-descript noodles!!!

 

Still can’t wait to figure out my last week’s trip here.  I’m currently thinking, Shenzhen to Shanghai to Beijing and back. 

More to come.

Travel safe and often,

Jake

http://www.jakerudin.com

They Call Me Ding.

Today, I was given a Chinese name by my new friends.  It was a great honor for me and I feel very happy that the people here care enough to pick a name for me.  During badminton, my friends who I play with came to me and asked if I would like to hear the name that they had for me.  Of course I said yes, and here it is: 丁杰

It is written in English as Ding Jie.  The name is wonderful in several ways: the first way is that the first character – Ding – looks like a “J.”  The second way is that it is incredibly easy to write for a foreigner. The third way is that it actually means – flatteringly – someone who is outstanding.  And as Rachel pointed out, it fits well into my English name: Jake RuDing. haha.

Now, here are a few notes from the week to fill out the post. : )

Don’t eat prawn with tomato!  Morons!  And don’t cook tomato with water, or drink water and champagne!  Imbeciles! But most importantly, never, and I mean never, cook your dog with garlic!

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It’s simple really.  Chinese have very good rules for food. 

Work can be tiring for sure.  Sometimes we need to sneak in a midday nap.

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But overall, the days have been very good here.  I’m excited by the new cafeteria refrigerator with coke and red bull.  I can’t wait!  

 

More news to come when it gets here.

 

Travel safe and often.

Jake

http://www.jakerudin.com

Work Hard, Play Communist, Then Work Even Harder (part 2)

Now for the tale of my communist retreat.  Allow me to start with a little background info: at my dinner-extravaganza with the big boss, we were invited to go mountain climbing. Anyone who knows me will know that I immediately jumped at the chance to do something like this in a foreign country. What I was later informed was that this journey was an invitation to celebrate the birth of the China Communist Party by traveling to a place called Jinggangshan by train and experiencing what I like to call Mao-tourism. This is my recollection of the weekends events.

Friday evening we left work early to head to the train station.  I packed my laptop bag with everything I needed, so it was a very light load.  When I arrived outside the building there were two coach buses waiting.  Every member of the communist party in our company was going, around 80+ people.  We were being treated as good as always: sitting in the front rows, whole row to myself, water and food provided to me.  Mostly I napped.  I find that China makes me sleepy.  Maybe it’s just the fact that I don’t sleep well 9 months of the year… Then we arrived at the train station.  Shenzhen station is right next to the Luohu Commercial City (the market from the week before) and is crazy packed with people because of this communist weekend festival.

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When it was time to board, a hoard of people packed into a line, the edges of which were so perfectly tight that you couldn’t have fit one more person into the fray.  When we had filtered through security and gotten our tickets punched by the attendants, we headed toward our car.  Little did I know that iBR had it’s own car rented out.  Each of us were given our own bed for the 13 hour ride (a blessing considering the bench-seat-esque alternative).

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The ride was beautiful.  Sunset, mountains, and the Chinese countryside were just a few of the highlights.  The smell of rotten mango, incredibly loud and indistinguishable busts of “ayeah” “wo’xer”, and the popping of my ears as the train dove deep within the mountains were a few of the less than ideal moments. At 6am we pulled into the station at Jinggangshan. Exhausted but fully excited, we steeped out into the mountain landscape, then immediately onto another coach.  Please note: the stereotype of Asian tours is anything but false. The tour guide with the flag standing in front and announcing through a waistband-speaker with microphone, the buses, the peace-sign photos, and the loud yelling are every bit a true as you can imagine. After checking in at the 5-star hotel (clarification: 5-star means 5-Chinese stars — a conversion rate of about 50%) and having the first cup of real coffee of my whole china experience, we headed to the top of the mountain.  Remember how I said that we were invited mountain climbing…well every bit of the climbing was done in the bus.  However, that does not mean that the trip was uneventful.  This was my first interaction with other communist vacationers.

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Need I say more.

This is the traditional communist army outfit.  After stopping at this check-in, we continued upward to the mountaintop.  The views were incredible.

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This location is famous for a battle fought by the communists in the 1930s, back when the party was only 700 people.  We then went to go see the Five Dragon Falls, a series of waterfalls that cascade over 600 feet down a single line.

Again the views were quiet spectacular.

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And thank god there was a cable car to get back to the top, because the stairs were absolutely horrendous and I don’t think it would have been much fun on the way up.

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Then we went out for an amazing dinner.  The food tasted so good and the best part is that you get to try everything.  There are 15 dishes or so served on a huge lazy-susan and you simply take some of everything as you please and place it in your bowl.  The fish was especially good, but it did cause a bit of a problem.  My friend Anthony got a very nasty bone stuck in his throat.  After trying everything we could think of – drinking a bottle of vinegar to soften the bone, eating big clumps of food, etc. – we went to find a clinic to pull it out for him.  The first place we stopped (one room dirty clinic with one bed) said no, so we tried another, then we tried the hospital.  There was only one person in this 20 bed hospital, and she said the doctor was at dinner. So we waited.  the doctor came back, put out his cigarette, rinsed his hands (in the dirty sink water) and sat Anthony down in a single chair with a single lamp (this lamp couldn’t have been as bright as my smartphone screen) and grabbed the longest forceps he could find.  At this point my instincts took over and I grabbed my camera. This is what ensued.

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As a side note, this is one of my favorite photos of mine.

After several tries, there was no getting out the bone.  Only several days later did the bone come loose after numerous other solutions – including bananas, vitamin c, bread – were attempted.

The next day was less eventful, we walked around the museum and the big boss told me all about why Mao was such a great man and how brave everyone was, then she told me that “when I come back to work for iBR after school” she would love for me to teach people what I know about all kinds of different ways of looking at problems because I am “such a fast learner.”

The trip ended with another amazing meal and a long long train ride.

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It was good to get home and take a shower.

Back to work for another week.

In the mean while, travel safe.

Jake

http://www.jakerudin.com

Work Hard, Play Communist, Then Work Even Harder (part 1)

These past two weeks have been full of new Chinese adventures.  As I write this I am on my iPhone traveling from Jinggangshan back to Shenzhen.

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But, let us start from where I last left off. Let me see…oh yes, work.  These last few weeks of work have been rather uneventful, the projects have consisted of a facade charette for a factory in Longhua, which I am pleased to say was well received by my boss,

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And the other project is a rather vague assignment to design a village on the outskirts of Shenzhen that is completely “green” and self-sustaining but also educational for visitors.  I’m taking much of my inspiration for that project from my past trip to the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales.

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The work week mostly consists of working on my portfolio during the main hours punctuated by 6 or so hours of intense production just before the deadline (which is usually announced no more than 6 hours before).

The real adventure happens on the weekends.  Last weekend was a three day weekend because of the very important Dragon Boat Festival.  The description I received of this most esteemed event from my Chinese colleagues was that “the event celebrates the drowning of a very famous Chinese general in a river many many years ago.” To learn more about this fabulous holiday, please see google.com.  Friday we were taken to a very special dinner by the founder of iBR, my boss’s boss’s boss.  The restaurant was absolutely amazing: a Japanese hibachi-style table which quickly became populated with the most decadent foods in the following order: salmon sashimi, prawns, steak, oyster, whole mackerel, clams, prawns again, beef sashimi, giant clam, steamed egg, cow tongue, and lastly – an Asian staple – tiramisu. Not to mention the bottles of Japanese gin and rice wine.

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Saturday was an interesting flop of a day, a friend and I intended to travel to the beautiful botanical gardens of Shenzhen which lie East of the city in a much poorer area of town called Tai’an. The day in my mind would have gone something like this: get off the subway in the cool summer breeze of the beautiful city, step across the road where cars actually gave a shit if they ran you over, into the beautiful art museum, then take a short walk to the gardens and visit the Buddhist temple.  Simple right? Not the case my friends.  In actuality the day went more like this: come out of the subway into the “feels like 103” sun, tried to cross the busiest street-of-death where the red light means nothing to crazy-late-for-workers, wander aimlessly for an hour and stumble into the “art museum” of three rooms sparsely populated with absolute crap, try to find the gardens and end up walking 4 miles to no avail with only “American flavor” Lays for lunch, finally heading home after passing through the creepiest back alley carnival ever.  But we did find a few beautiful alcoves in the city with pagodas or shrines.  And that made it all worth it.

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So that was Saturday in a nutshell.

Sunday was much more fun because there is nothing I love more than haggling.  Maybe it is the Jew in me, but getting a great deal on a pile of jade just tickles my fancy. We were in one of the most famous markets in southern China, the Louhu Commercial City.  The day was wonderful for the simple fact the markets are one of the easiest ways to understand a culture.  In South Africa, Spain, Costa Rica, Tanzania, an all over the world, this is where a great deal of the true spirit of the country is shown.

Part 2 is soon to follow.

For now, travel safe and travel often.

Jake

www.jakerudin.com

Eight Days and Eight Nights…Lucky Me {Part 2}

Weekend Glorious Weekend! 

 

Karaoke (kæriːˈoʊkiː) a form of interactive entertainment or video game in which amateur singers sing along with recorded music.

 

In the states, I have been to sing karaoke.  The many people watching while they suck back a beer or gnaw on a tub of wings can make the situation more than a little awkward. The people are almost never good and there is really no escaping that one person who sings way too many songs.

 

In China… Amazing!  The karaoke place is comprised of very nice individual rooms for groups of about 4-10 people.  The food is a buffet that you get food from and bring it back to your room.  The people we sang with, friends of someone from work, were amazing!  I mean really good.  They took turns, had a wide variety of songs in over 4 languages, no judgement… this is communism at it’s finest. I haven’t ever had so much fun at a Karaoke bar. 

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To cap off that excellent friday night, there was lots of food and very nice people to get to meet. We spent another two hours — after three hours of karaoke — eating at a barbecue place with the most amazing food.  We had to fight to be able to pay the bill which is a very common thing in China.  It is not uncommon to see a physical fight over who gets to pay the bill, and because we are guests here nobody will let us pay for anything.  So, we really had to fight it out.  But America always wins! 

 

Saturday was a bit weird. We had a work obligation at 3pm so I slept in and went to the grocery store in the morning.  Then that was pretty much all I had time for before “Crazy English”!  Here’s the story about crazy english:

 

This is an english club the company just started for chinese people to learn to speak english. The intentions were good, but it turned out to be very weird. There was a speaker who came in and gave a 1.5 hour motivational speech, teaching only a few completely useless sentences, like “Crazy, stands for, the human spirit, transcending yourself.”  Pronunciation was terrible.  Craziness quickly became “Cray Sneeze” and human spirit was commonly referred to as the “hum in spritz.” Now, this is not meant to be in anyway mean.  However, it was also very strange in a “late-night-evangelical-motivational-jesus-loves-you” kinda way.  

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This photo will also explain that some of the motivation behind the speech may be that they do indeed plan to take over the world.

 

However, then we started gong up there and helping with some of the pronunciation and I was asked to play an english song on guitar (“Imagine” by John Lennon) and it was a lot of fun. 

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Anthony playing host to the English Club.

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Fred reading “crazy english” to a bunch of little kids.

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Me bringing Lennon to China.

 

Even though the experience was riveting, we immediately went out for drinks after…

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Sunday was very relaxing and lots of fun.  We went into the city around lunch, a friend came to iBR and we drove to the downtown library, ate at a crazy lunch place where everything was like being in a cave, toured downtown — a place called OCT Bay and OCT Loft, which are a mini-city on a lake and a artist community respectively — and then came home to rest up for a new week.

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The Cultural Center downtown

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OCT Bay

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Dinner at OCT Loft

 

Luckily, this week is only a four-day week.  There is a holiday on Friday to celebrate (I kid you not) the drowning of a very famous Chinese general in a river.  Yay!  So, as of right now, I would love to travel and see a bit more of China.  Planning planning planning.  But I love to travel and I think it’s my best chance.  Wish me luck!

 

 

 

Travel safe!

 

Jake

 

www.jakerudin.com

Eight Days and Eight Nights…Lucky Me {Part 1}

So I know I’ve been a bad blogger not updating my site and all, but now it has been a lucky 8 days and 8 nights.  Eight is a very lucky number in China because it sounds like the word for money. (As a side note, one Chinese airline company purchased the phone number +28 8888 8888 for US$300,000 because it is so lucky.) 

 

We will call this portion of the post “A Day in the life of a Chinese Worker.”

 

Monday was my very first work day (one week ago) and what I saw was quite different from what I am used to in the states.  The company I work at, iBR (Shenzhen Institute for Building Research) is a big building on the outer parts of the city. The first thing we do is wake up around 7am, get ready for the day and head to breakfast in the cafeteria on the 12th floor. The main components of breakfast are hot soy milk, bread, and noodles (which I consider to be a form of bread). The bread types are as follows: steamed buns with beef or pork or cabbage, sweet buns, dumplings, friend bread strands (reminiscent of a churro), and plain old rolls.

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For a few days this is very appealing, but after a while I’m sure you can understand my longing for a bowl of captain crunch or a nice stack of pancakes.

 

Then we get to work. 8:30am start on the nose.  Everyone is at their desks on time, no one is talking (except the loud American interns), and that is how most of the day goes.  Somehow people just know what to do. At 10:00 sharp, there is what I can only describe as a communist food and stretch break.  Music comes over the loud speakers (I will attempt to attach a short clip for your enjoyment) and a women say in chinese “Come on, let’s excercise.  One, two, three, four…” After grabbing their watermelon slices, edamame, bread product, or whatever else is for snack — they also always drink this sloppy soup which is made with grain and preserved egg, literally it accompanies every meal like a drink — the employees then engage in a set of hilarious looking stretches to the beat of the music.

Then, back to work until lunch.  Lunch is the only thing that I can say I truly love about the work day.  Yes, my job is fun, but lunch!  …oh sweet lunch.  First, lunch is 2 hours.  The typical worker takes about fifteen minutes to inhale their food, then pulls out a cot from under their bed and takes a nap until 2pm. 

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Perfection.  The food also is pretty good.  Variations of lamb, duck, beef, chicken, fish are served along side a pretty substantial variety of vegetables and noodles including lotus root, leek, bok choy, pumpkin, yam, eggplant, rice noodles, wheat noodles, and more.  And I would venture to say that half the 10 or so choices are quite good. So pick your 3 options carefully when you choose food.

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Then after the nap, a lazy two more hours until another jarring rendition of “communist stretch time” alights for the speakers. Then the final two hour push to end at 6:00.

 

That, my friends, is what a work day is like in China (imagine this all in Chinese though).

The rest of the week from 9am-6pm is pretty easy to describe, just read the directions above, rinse, and repeat.

 

However, after 6pm, there is a lot to experience.  Shenzhen is a young city (average person is about 28 years old) and things stay open very late.  Here are a few of the things you can do in your after-hours Chinese life: 

 

Tuesday: Drive twenty minutes to the heart of the city, park in a dark alley, navigate through a wet exterior stair, into the cinderblock forest, up four stories and open the double-doors to a massive badminton court with 9 different setups.  I kid you not that this place was 95 degrees F.  Being here without playing would give you a workout, but when you are diving back and forth to try and keep up with you 50-year-old boss… I easily lost 5 pounds. It was awesome.

 

Wednesday: Celebrate a friend’s birthday! We went to eat at this great restaurant.  The food is served uncooked and there are three huge cooking pots on the table.  They cook it all right there in front of you . It’s called “hot pot,” and it is very similar to meat fondue. Incredible. Prawns, noodles, beefs, cucumber, white gourd…people here know how to eat.  The best part, you never feel “fat” when you are done.  Then we went for a foot massage.  8 people, each in their own comfy recliner with their own personal masseuse, an hour of soaking feet, shoulder massage, and foot rub costs a mere US$5. And you can’t beat that price to hear someone say about your tan Canadian friend that “That black guy has really white teeth!”

 

Thursday: Soccer!!!  So, I will go ahead and toot my horn here: I am pretty good at soccer.  In China though, I am tall, quick and willing to charge at someone… I am the king here. The field isn’t far from work, which tells you that it is directly in the depths of the city and that it isn’t made of grass.  In a brochure you might read: “This lovely late 20th century field is made from only the finest turf-topped concrete slab.  The goals are 100% recycled material, allowing for any number of field configurations.  When visiting the fields be sure to kick the ball over the 2-meter-high fence so you get the full enjoyment of finding a ball in this inner-city jungle.”

 

 

More updates on the weekend’s adventures to come.  Thanks for reading. 

 

Travel safe!

Jake

www.jakerudin.com

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