Our family's stay in Shanghai, China

Welcome to Korea

In my (Dave’s) experience, Korea is a place that most Americans know little about, even less so than China.  Until I first visited Korea about 15 years ago, I would have been lucky to find it on a map.  Korea is rarely in the US news except for the North Korean missile program, and the old TV program MASH is probably the only other thing to come to mind.

As you likely realize, whenever someone says that they are visiting Korea, it automatically means South Korea.  North Korea is one of the most closed countries on earth, arguably the single most.

I have traveled to Korea several times over the years, including during our time in China (Seoul is just a 2 hour flight from Shanghai).  I made another quick trip (from the US) just before Christmas, and given how little known it is, I thought would be worth sharing.

Geographically, South Korea is almost exactly the same size as Indiana, but is hilly and has a population of nearly 50 million- 8 times that of Indiana.  Land is put to good use everywhere, with fields in every available space growing crops such as rice, and many small factories.

South Korea is a well developed democratic country, in many ways similar to Japan or Taiwan, with cities that are neat and clean, and good infrastructure, all of it years ahead of mainland China.  Korean society is also like Japan in its formality.  Even after several meetings together, customers from large companies such as Hyundai still called me “Mr. Schweikert”, never using my first name. 

Korea’s transportation system is excellent.  I traveled from Seoul to the southern city of Daegu via high speed train (about 2 hours to traverse the entire north-south length of the country), and on a spur of the moment, decided to take the subway to my hotel instead of a taxi.  Both trains and subways were simple to navigate, and I easily found my way.  Highways are modern and, aside from signage, you would have a hard time telling the difference from a US interstate.

Waiting for my train back to Seoul: no "Happy Holidays" here!  Unique in Asia, Christianity is South Korea's largest religion, with more believers than Buddhism.

Waiting for my train back to Seoul: no “Happy Holidays” here! Unique in Asia, Christianity is South Korea’s largest religion, with more believers than Buddhism.

South Koreans are without question the hardest workers I have ever met, with the typical workday from 8am to 10pm.  On my December trip, I had a full day of meetings including a visit to our plant, followed by dinner with the plant manager.  After a conference call with the US, I finally left about 945pm to head back to my hotel, nearly asleep on my feet.  As I left the office, a few people were just starting to depart.  I was exhausted after what I considered a long, hard day.  To everyone at the office, it was just another routine day!

View from the high speed train (my favorite way to travel in any country)- with hills everywhere in Korea

View from the high speed train (my favorite way to travel in any country)- with hills everywhere in Korea

As in China, Koreans say their name in reverse from Westerners: family name then given name.  The phrases “first name” and “last name” are meaningless.  But to simplify for Westerners, they do not take an “English name” as is done in China.  Instead, Koreans use their initials.  For example, someone named Lee Jae Hyun (where “Lee” is their family name), when dealing with Westerners, might use the name Michael Lee if he were Chinese and JH Lee if he were Korean.

The most common dining experience in Korea is Korean BBQ.  Everyone sits on mats on the floor at low tables, and cooks thin strips of beef over charcoal.  Then you wrap the beef with spices such as garlic into what looks like a tree leaf- which tastes a bit like mint- and the whole thing is eaten in one bite.  It is extremely tasty, and you can have several of these at dinner.  

Kimchi- served at every meal in Korea- has a bad reputation among westerners, and I also usually avoid it.  There are many varieties, though it most commonly is like an especially pungent and spicy sauerkraut (fermented cabbage).  But I am told that kimchi is better translated as “side dish”.  On my last trip, one of the kimchi versions was a large and tangy variety of radish. 

Just like China, there are definitely unappetizing dishes in Korea: a fermented fish is one of the worst things I have ever smelled in a restaurant.  For the most part though, eating is different but not a problem for Western travelers, just avoid the “special meat” (trust me).

Talk of Korea inevitably leads to discussion of North vs. South.  The history of the 2 Koreas and the war is quite brief.  All of Korea was one country until it was split in 2 following WWII, similar to Germany, with the North under control of the Soviet Union and the South under control of the Allies.  In 1950, the North Korean founder and leader Kim Il-Sung invaded the south (as you may know, the leadership of North Korea passed from Kim Il-Sung to his son and recently to his grandson).    

Within the first couple weeks, the North Koreans overran Seoul (which is in the northwest of South Korea, only about 30 miles from the border) and pushed to the very south, around Busan (formerly called Pusan).  The US and 16 other UN countries frantically brought reinforcements, and within a couple of months had completely reversed momentum, and drove the North Koreans back all the way to the Chinese border. 

Map showing how close North Korea came to completely conquering the South in 1950

Map showing how North Korea nearly conquered the South in 1950

For a short period of time, Koreans were euphoric that their country would be reunified after 5 years of separation.  Then the Chinese attacked in numerous human waves and drove the South Korean, US, and UN forces back south.  After only a few months, the border ended right where it had started, with the 2 Koreas divided by the 38th Parallel, and hundreds of thousands of people killed.

Recreation at the Korea War Museum of refugees fleeing the invaders from the North in 1950

Re-creation at the Korean War Museum of refugees fleeing the invaders from the North in 1950

2 ½ more years of periodic fighting did little to change the boundaries.  Finally a cease-fire was negotiated, which remains in place today.  Technically, North and South Korea have been in a state of war for over 60 years.

The Korean War Museum included many American planes, including this massive B52 too large for a single photo.

The Korean War Museum included many American planes, including this massive B-52 too large for a single photo.

One of the most unique aspects of South Korea in my experience is that it is the most welcoming of the American military of anywhere that I have ever visited.  Despite the war having occurred over 2 generations ago, most South Koreans seem very cognizant that if not for the presence of the US military- about 30,000 troops remain stationed there- North Korea would take over the Korean peninsula. 

South Korean gunboat riddled with holes from a 2002 sea battle with North Korea that killed about a dozen sailors who are honored for their defense of freedom.

South Korean gunboat riddled with holes from a 2002 sea battle with North Korea that killed about a dozen sailors- who are honored for their defense of freedom.

On one of my first trips to Korea in the late 1990’s, I visited the DMZ, and it is an amazing experience.  The military is not just for show.  It is a real life Mexican stand-off, with guns pointed across the DMZ (a cleared swath of land about a mile across).  A popular tourist attraction, we also went down into one of the 4 tunnels that were discovered in the 1970’s and 80’s, which North Korea dug in preparation for an invasion.

Changes in Rules of Engagement following 2002 battle- gets right to the point

Change in Rules of Engagement following 2002 battle- gets right to the point

 If you have never visited Asia, it is tempting to lump major countries such as China (Taiwan and the mainland), Japan, and the Koreas together, but they are each individual, unique places.  South Korea is definitely worthy of a visit if you ever spend time in Asia.  While the society is formal, people are friendly and welcoming, and it is a scenic and enjoyable country to see.  Just don’t get into a contest of who is a harder worker!

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I’m not sure if anyone is still following this since our family returned from China (is anyone out there?)  But since Dave continues to travel to China, there are always new things to share.

On my most recent trip in late September, I had planned to visit a potential customer in Taiwan, including a weekend day.  That trip was cancelled but I may write a post in the future.  I have been to Taiwan a few times but always short trips of one or two nights.  Taiwan is a unique part of China with a shared history, but is very different from the mainland and I’d like to share some of it.

With my Taiwan visit cancelled, and everyone off work for China’s mid-Autumn Festival and National Days (which recognizes the founding of the People’s Republic of China), I had 2 days to fill at the end of my trip.  

When I knew that we would live in China, I made a list of places to visit.  We checked off every destination on our family list but I was left with 2 more- down to 1 after my trip to Yellow Mountain, or Mount Huangshan.  Mt. Huangshan, southwest of Shanghai in Anhui Province, is China’s most famous natural site and is a frequent subject of artwork, often shrouded in mist and clouds.  It is the first place that my colleagues recommended we visit, not the Great Wall or other more famous places (to Westerners), and somewhere all of them had been themselves.

With the holidays starting, all trains were booked, leaving me with one choice- take a bus or not go.  Although buses are far and away my least favorite form of transportation- slow and no facilities being my biggest complaints- I’m always up to trying something once.  But give me a train any day.  I headed off for what I expected to be a 6-7 hour bus ride from Shanghai.  But free tolls for the holidays on the Chinese freeways caused some of the worst traffic I have ever seen.  The tolls are prohibitive (taking into account income differences, a 500 mile drive costs the typical family the equivalent of $300 just in tolls). 

The bus ride lasted over 10 hours, simply due to constant stop and go traffic.  I was the only Westerner on the bus, and sat next to a young guy traveling with who appeared to be his wife and mother-in-law.  I never assume that Chinese speak any English and we barely spoke on the trip (and he obviously did not know whether I spoke English, French, German, or some other language).

Due to the late arrival, I skipped other sightseeing I had planned for the afternoon.  I arranged a taxi and left my hotel before 5am the next morning.  Arriving at Mt. Huangshan around 6, I quickly realized that I should have started at least an hour earlier.  It was mobbed and I had difficulty finding where to get a ticket among crowds like you would see at a concert or sporting event.

Suddenly I felt a tap on my arm, it was the same guy I had sat next to on the bus from Shanghai!    He his family all laughed at the coincidence, and I discovered speak decent English.  They immediately helped me find where to get a ticket, then waved me over to join them in line.

Sam and family

On a hair-raising shuttle bus ride (flying around hairpin curves) up to the cable car that would take us partway up the mountain, we chatted, and I learned his “English name” is Sam.  I could not remember or repeat his actual Chinese name.  At the cable car, we parted ways as I got my entrance ticket.  Then I got to wait in line for 2 hours to get on.  How quickly I forget that waiting in line is simply part of life in China, especially at tourist sites, and especially on holidays.

Riding the Yupin cable car up Mt. Huangshan

But the traffic and crowd delays were worth it. A beautiful, sunny autumn day enchanced the gorgeous scenery.  I climbed the highest peak in the park, Lotus Peak, where quite literally I was grabbing the steps in front of me to climb up.  If you are afraid of heights- and I most certainly am- this is not the place to be.  But I overcame my heart pounding terror and climbed to the top for an incredible view of the mountains.

Looking up at the stairs to Lotus Peak- the tallest peak on Mt. Huangshan

notice the narrow walkway on the side of the mountain

Although there were none of the clouds or mist that Mt. Huangshan is famous for, it was still an unbelievable visit.  The thousands of visitors certainly hampered things a bit, but people were extremely friendly as I tried to interpret maps and confusing- or missing- directional signs.  The pictures below simply do not do justice to this place.  The higher peaks make you feel like you are on top of the world, looking out at the surrounding mountains.  In mist and clouds, it must be surreal.

Thousands of people climbing the stairs and paths on Mt. Huangshan; I hiked to the meteorological observatory in the background

The top of Mt. Huangshan felt like the top of the world (click on the photo for a better view of the panoramic)

As if the earlier coincidence was not enough, after a couple hours of hiking, I came up behind a young couple that I recognized as Sam and his family.  “We meet again” I said, and they turned around and of course burst out smiling and laughing.  We hiked together for a while and I think it was one of the better personal connections that I have made in China!

Lotus Peak- look closely to see people standing on top

one of many interesting rock formations

a lonely pine tree on top of a rock formation

Even with the awesome scenery, making personal connections was the theme of this trip. Partway through the day, I saw a young western couple studying a map. We briefly traded thoughts, I took their picture, and again we headed off our separate ways. A half hour later, I found myself hiking behind them. Déjà vu! We ended up spending the next hour or so going down Mount Huangshan together and even shared a taxi back to the city of Tunxi, where they were staying and I had to catch my bus back to Shanghai. Jeff and Laura are both Americans who teach 6th grade at one of the international schools in Shanghai, and were enjoyable to share a small bit of the visit to Mount Huangshan. They had stayed in a hotel on top of the mountain- there are several- which provide the opportunity to see the sunset and sunrise- and that is certainly a reason to return.

back breaking loads carried by porters- the only way to get supplies up the mountain

more peaks and one of the hotels on top of the mountain

Although I only spent about 6 hours hiking on Mount Huangshan, it definitely goes down with the likes of Yellowstone, Mount Blanc and the Alps, and Chimney Rock Park on my list of most exhilarating mountains visited.

Old Street in Tunxi- which had a European feel with shops and outdoor cafes

If you’re wondering about the last entry on my China “must see” places, it is Tibet. But Tibet’s remote western location would require a week to visit and a significantly larger budget, so time will tell if I ever make it there. And if go to Tibet, Nepal and the Himalayas are practically in the neighborhood, so how could I possibly skip the world’s tallest mountain range, a bucket list item if there ever was one. . .

Top 10+ Positive Things about living in China

Now that we have returned from China and are settling back into a routine again, this will probably be our final China blog post, unless Dave experiences something notable to share as he continues his periodic travels to China.  Our time in China (and beyond) was filled with amazing experiences, many undoubtedly will be once in a lifetime events.  This is a family list, but David created it so the order is his.  Each of us would certainly have put different things at the top.

16.  Being able to look people in the eye without straining my neck (David’s).  With the average Chinese man standing just 5’5″ (5 inches shorter than the average American man), it was unusual to have to look up at someone.

15.  Australia and New Zealand.  Being closer made the trip possible.  The experiences of koalas, kangaroos, kookaburras, Tasmanian Devils, the Great Barrier Reef, rainforests, fjords, Sydney, Tasmania, historical sites, and endless breathtaking scenery, nature, and clean air made for 2½ of the most amazing weeks of our lives.  If this were a list of favorite destinations, it could easily be #1.

Holding a koala- what an experience!

Dave’s favorite- Milford Sound in New Zealand

14.  Relaxed mornings.  In the US, I (Dave) nearly always leave home with my family still sleeping.  In China, at 830am I am often the first person in the office.  My workday in China usually starts at home around 5am with overnight email from the US, but the later office start time allows for a cup of coffee and seeing my girls before heading to the office.  Although the days are longer, with the last email or conference call not ending until 10pm or later, my daily China schedule is a far more relaxed way to start the day.

13.  River views.  Although we thought about renting an old lane house in Shanghai, we decided that a more unique (for us) experience would be a high-rise apartment building.  We are glad we did, with views of the Huangpu River and the Shanghai skyline, it is likely the only time in our lives that we will live in such a place.

Our living room view in Shanghai

12.  Personal service.  Low labor costs help, from a personal driver to maid service to living in an apartment that would sell for over $1 million, living in China may be challenging at times, but the reality is that as expats we have lived a much higher lifestyle in Shanghai than we are accustomed to.

11.  Deliveries to your door.  Our favorite service is Sherpa’s- less than $3 to bring a hot takeout meal from the restaurant of your choice in under an hour.  Train tickets, bottled water, and anything else you might need are easily arranged.  Couriers and delivery drivers might be the most common occupation in Shanghai with thousands upon thousands of them, all driving little scooters.

10.  Affordable tailored clothes.  Something that we once viewed as high-end and as likely for us to own as a Ferrari, but now we all have at least a couple of tailored items.  Dave started with tailored shirts in Hong Kong.  The price (about the same as what we pay for good quality off-the-rack in the US) was well worth it for higher quality fabric and a perfect fit that both looks and feels great.

9.  Innumerable historic sites.

Yuyuan Pagoda- 1000 years old but little known outside China

The Yuyuan Pagoda (leaning pagoda) at Tiger Hill in Suzhou; a thousand year old structure that should be as famous as the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and perhaps will be one day, as China’s tourist sites become more developed.  Buddhist Temple Architecture, beautiful, ornate places with quiet gardens.  Old city neighborhoods with residents living much the same as they have for 100 years.  There are many, many similar examples throughout the country.

The amazing Terra Cotta Army (Emperor Qin’s tomb), one of Jenna’s favorite places in China

the water village of Xitang- one of many around Shanghai

8.  Separated bicycle lanes.  In Chinese cities, like many countries, there are often barriers and even landscaping to protect bicyclists from cars.  The US could learn a lesson: busy streets for cars, separated paved lanes for bikes, and sidewalks for- you guessed it- walking.

7.  Trains.  We’ve ridden the world’s 2 fastest trains: the Maglev in Shanghai (268mph!) and the high speed line between Shanghai and Beijing.  190mph for 5 hours with just 2 stops was a fantastic and scenic journey.  Just as in Europe and Japan, the speed, comfort, and convenience of traveling by train is definitely something that we wish we could do more of in the U.S.

6.  Walking to the neighborhood grocery store and fruit vendors.  While we can walk to many places such as the coffee shop and hardware store in Noblesville, we wish we had a small grocery store on the square.

5.  Walls.

We saved one of the best for last- the incredible Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China is the country’s top tourist destination and for good reason.  It is an astounding engineering achievement and was one of our favorite trips.  But in Xi’an, after visiting the Terra Cotta Warriors that were every bit as impressive as expected, we were surprised by the city wall.  The Xi’an city wall is vastly larger and more impressive than the more famous walled cities of Europe.

The massive city wall in Xi’An- visible in satellite images

4.  History.  It is not uncommon to visit somewhere in China and find buildings and historical references dating back 2 or 3 thousand years.  Even Europe cannot compare where history is usually measured in hundreds of years, not thousands, and the historic sites in the US would be considered practically new.  The girls have visited 18 different UNESCO World Heritage Sites- a third of them during their time in China, all historical.

3.  Hong Kong.

Hong Kong Island and the iconic Star Ferry (taken from another Star Ferry)

Dave has traveled around the world and considers Hong Kong among his favorite cities.  We liked it so much that despite our limited time, we managed a second visit, the only place we visited more than once.  Its legacy as a British colony makes it both more Western and more developed, and the skyline and Victoria Harbour are amazing sights, both day and night.  Views from The Peak are arguably the best city views in the world, making for some of the most expensive real estate on earth.

Victoria Harbour and Hong Kong, from The Peak- is there a better city view anywhere on earth?

2.  Pandas.  Gentle, lovable, and highly endangered creatures that live in just 2 provinces in western China.  The efforts of the Giant Panda Research Center are helping to save this species.  The day that we spent there will provide lifelong memories for all of us.

We could almost reach out and touch this lovable giant at the Giant Panda Research Center in Chengdu, Sichuan

1.  Cultural immersion.  While vacations and business trips provide great ways to see the world, there is no better way to truly understand a culture than to live in it, which is the main reason we (well- mostly Dave) sought this experience.  Apartment hunting, grocery shopping, interacting with a wide variety of average citizens, finding leisure activities, living everyday life, and the time to casually explore Shanghai has given us- especially the girls- a depth of experience not otherwise possible.  There are many other countries and cities that we would have preferred to live as expats, but we will all benefit from our time in this country that is becoming such a huge influence on the world in the 21st century.

As our time in China ends, we naturally have thought about our time here, what we have liked and what we haven’t.  So we started to list some.  We’ll start with the experiences and challenges that we are looking forward to being done with.  In a few days, we’ll end on a positive note, with a post of what we have been fortunate to experience.

10 wasn’t enough so here are:

The Top 12 Things We Will Not Miss About China

12.  Squat toilets.  And having to bring our own tp to public restrooms.

11.  No air-conditioning.  Although most public buildings are heated and cooled, the systems are unreliable and thermostats are set well beyond what we consider comfortable.  The office that Dave works in is often over 80F in the summer, and public places like trains stations can be miserable with so many people compounding the problem.  Getting accustomed to being sticky and hot is part of working in China.  Winter is better but similarly out of our normal comfort zone.  Indoor temperatures in the low 60s are not unusual.

10.  Unreliable and censored Internet service.  It’s not just Facebook and Youtube that are blocked in China.  We had to purchase a private vpn service to allow Carol Ann to reach some of the sites she uses for her job, even the WordPress blog site that you are reading this on is blocked, and Google maps is often inaccessible.  The Chinese government’s internet censorship is a complex and huge bureaucracy, employing thousands of people.  Sharing a one-line vpn was a hassle.

9.  Lack of manners.  It seems contradictory, but rudeness does not exist in China.  Pushing, shoving, shouting, cutting in front on the sidewalk, in line, or the highway- all are not considered rude here.  They are just how people move about and get what they need to.

8.  Language.  We are very conscious that we are visitors here, but the tonal language is extremely difficult to learn and our vocabulary is minimal, even after several months of Mandarin lessons.  The huge variety of complex written characters adds to the difficulty.  Everyday things like telling the hair stylist how long to cut our hair or asking our driver to make a quick stop at Starbucks or the grocery store are excruciatingly difficult.  Some of Shanghai is bilingual- such as road signs- but that disappears quickly in areas less frequented by Westerners.

7.  Noise.  We obviously can’t have the same expectations in a city of 23 million that we do in our home town of 50,000, but there is never a moment of peace.  From jackhammers and quite literally 24/7 construction sounds to fireworks and firecrackers at any hour of day or night to constantly honking horns, we long for a quiet day.  Not even the parks are quiet places of refuge.

6.  Not seeing stars at night.  The combination of city lights, smog, and hazy skies that are common in most Chinese cities prevents seeing stars at night.  We relished the views during our trip to Australia where the lack of population and clean air provided incredible views of thousands of stars.

5.  Chaotic and dangerous roads.  Cars weave and wind on the road, with lane markers being irrelevant and the daily deadly dance with taxis- they actually do seem to speed up and aim for pedestrians- is an experience we will definitely not miss.  The girls and I often played a “game” where we would guess how many points a driver would get if they hit westerners, American, blonde American, or multiples at the same time.

4.  Smoking.  As Carol Ann likes to say, Americans may be killing ourselves with heart disease and diabetes through our poor diets and lack of exercise, but the Chinese are going to collectively die from lung cancer.  There is a pending health epidemic of massive proportions with the hundreds of millions of smokers.  It is everywhere, and no smoking signs are routinely ignored.  When the country’s largest tobacco company is state-owned, making billions of dollars a year in profits, it’s hard to see the situation changing anytime soon.

3.  Food.  Most Chinese food is different but not unappealing- though there are exceptions (chicken feet is the classic example).  With less meat and more vegetables, it is much healthier than western diets.  But the ability to recognize and know what we are eating is something we will relish back in the US.  We also must constantly be careful to avoid any food that may have been washed with contaminated water.  Especially with Jenna’s nut allergy, traveling is a struggle.  When we do find something familiar, it is usually unhealthy fast food.  We yearn for our first backyard cookout of burgers and hot dogs on the grill with a fresh salad and yummy watermelon.

2.  Pollution and sanitation.  From garbage and sewage in the streets to open air meat markets without refrigeration to luxurious 5-star hotels without clean drinking water to some of the worst air pollution in the world to other less mentionables (trust us when we say you don’t want to know), the sights, smells- and the risk of illness- can be overwhelming.

1.  Freedom.  The Chinese people go about their daily lives on the surface and appear to be like any other country.   Yet, the internet is censored.  They do not control their destiny in careers or family-planning.  They do not vote for their leaders.  And, most importantly they have no freedom to worship God in the way that they choose.  There is nothing more precious than freedom.  China is far more open than in the past, but the single party government still has total control of power.  Even with all of our imperfections, we are incredibly blessed to have the fundamental freedoms bestowed upon us as Americans.

For those of you we have not seen or emailed, the girls and I are home!  We arrived back in Noblesville on July 18th after about 24 hours of travel, hotel room to our front porch.  We have been tired, adjusting, jet lagged and reacquainting ourselves with home.  Here are a few photos of our last days in Shanghai.  The girls and I toured and shopped in between packing boxes and suitcases.

We will have a few blogs coming in the next few weeks on our overall experience and things we will and will not miss about China.    Thanks for your thoughts, prayers, packages and emails while we were in China.  It was a neat experience, challenging, frustrating, interesting and amazing.

Laura and Jenna enjoy popcorn before the acrobatic show.

Traffic waiting to turn left does not always yield to oncoming traffic going straight. At this intersection, it was particularly bad pretty often. Our van and a bus on the right were trying to go straight. I snapped this photo as we passed the crosswalk on the opposite side of the intersection. The turning cars kept turning sharper and sharper, crossing the oncoming lanes of traffic before they even reached the intersection.

A homemade dumpster built on the sidewalk outside a building under renovation.

Remnants of firecrackers on the sidewalk near our apartment.  This was not an unusual sight.  They are used often to celebrate things like weddings or business openings.

The sidewalk barbershop near our apartment. He was apparently giving his client a shave. A small bowl of water was sitting on top of the bucket.

One of Jenna’s favorite places to play was on the floor in front of her large window. She often sat in the window sill to color or read. It was a great place to spread out her horses and fencing.

A restored church building just off the Bund. Built in the late 1800s, it burned in the early 2000s and was recently restored. Many of the church buildings from the late 1800s are no longer used as churches.

A beautiful wood revolving door on the Astor Hotel, a hotel from the mid-1800s and still used as a hotel with much of the interior restored. Ulysses S Grant once stayed in this hotel.

One of our favorite finds in China were palm paintings done solely with various parts of your hand.

Sorry for the slight blur. I was snapping this photo from the van as this three-wheel car passed by, loaded with cardboard.

Delivery cart loaded with boxes.

Sidewalk repair shop for bicycles and mopeds. His tools and supplies are in the cabinet on the right.

Mr. Yuan with the girls. He was one of our favorite drivers and was one of the two we most often had. Very friendly and gentlemanly. Did not want the girls or I to open our door. Apologized to us if we did, as if he had not gotten there fast enough. Mr. Yuan was one of our favorite parts about China. Except for the time he pulled in front of an ambulance, he drove safely, although a little jerky with the gas pedal.

This moped carried a small child (seated in front of the driver) with what appear to be grandparents. It was pretty common to see two adults with a child on a moped, bicycle or motorcycle.

Land space is limited, so businesses build up, not out. Drive-thrus are almost unheard of partly because of the space needed for them. This McDonald’s, apparently, cooks on the upper floor and sends prepared food down to fill the orders via this vertical conveyor.

It is impossible to discuss China without piracy being one of the first topics of conversation, and is something that we have come into contact with many times during our time here.

Piracy is everywhere in China.  “Knockoffs”, “fake goods” and other euphemisms are in everyday conversation.  There are entire markets devoted to these products, often prominently featured in travel books.  In areas frequented by Westerners, you get pestered with “fake watch sir?”, “lady handbag sir?  Cheap!” and similar from the street peddlers.  At least they’re honest that it’s fake. . .  Walking down the Nanjing Road pedestrian mall, you may get asked 10 times in one block!  The going rate is about $50 for a fake Rolex.

I’ll never forget walking through a Shanghai market on my first trip to China several years ago.  At the time, Mission Impossible 3 had been in US theaters for less than a week.  Already pirated DVD’s were being sold in the market- for only a couple of dollars.

I honestly think that many Americans don’t even realize pirated goods are stolen.  Stealing of course will always be wrong, it is a timeless value that technology does not change.  Copying music, videos, and books has become so easy, that it is widespread.  The average person would not steal a CD from a store, yet, they share songs among friends.  I must confess that I have in the past copied music and computer software.  I am not proud of it, it was wrong, and I hope I never do it again intentionally.

I read many comments looking down on China for the lack of intellectual property rights.  And we should, but must also be consistent.  Just because downloading or sharing music without paying for it is cheap or convenient, it is still stealing.  Someone created the music, they own it.  They have every right to charge for the right to use what they worked so hard to create.

Even small things are pirated.  We bought an UNO card game to play in our apartment.  After using it for a while, we noticed there was no copyright or distributor information.  It is undoubtedly pirated.  This is especially ironic since UNO is distributed by a company in Indianapolis that is having financial difficulties, and here we are buying a game that they never got paid for.  The game is now in the trash.

Yahtzee card game on the left we brought from the US- it has distributor name and contact information and copyright; Uno game on the right we bought in China and later noticed it is blank except for the game logos- unmistakable signs of a forgery.

We have a DVD player in our apartment that cannot play our US DVD’s (a protection against copying).  So I asked the guys I work with, where can I buy legal DVD’s in China?  They couldn’t help me!   Piracy is so rampant in China that legal copies don’t exist.  Talk about making it hard to be honest!

For the most part, Chinese do not see piracy for what it is, it doesn’t even occur to them.  They do not view the ownership of intellectual property to be the creator of the material.  Copying and selling is viewed positively as entrepreneurial, and to be admired.  While I normally respect the cultural differences, this is one area that there simply is no gray area.  Just as what we call corruption or bribes is viewed as a sincere gift in some cultures (like we would take a customer to dinner), piracy is also viewed as part of business and the culture here.

Part of the reason for the cultural difference is the Asian emphasis on “face”, or appearances.  Chinese willingly buy inferior, poor quality products if it gives them prestige (such as designer clothes or a handbag).  It’s the label that matters, not what the product is made of.  Inevitably, many western brands are among those viewed as desirable.  It does not matter if the fake designer clothes wear out quickly, and a “no name” brand is more durable.

The prevalence of piracy is exacerbated by China’s ruthless capitalism.  In the country’s rush to catch up with the rest of the world economically, anything that can make a profit is aggressively marketed and sold.

There does appear to be increasing awareness of the problem.  One of the markets we visited in Beijing had signs posted to the effect of “Please respect creativity.  No illegal DVD’s.”  But just down the street from our apartment is a store selling DVD’s- all of them pirated, being sold in full view of the public and the police.  How can we tell you might wonder?  No plastic wrap or official packaging, mis-spellings and errors on the labels (like spam emails), but the giveaway is the price.  Only a few dollars for something that we’d pay $20-25 for.  It’s easy to sell them cheaply when the only cost is a blank DVD.

A DVD store near our apartment sells nothing but pirated DVDs.

A sign posted in the fabric market detailing how it’s illegal to sell fake goods and that you can be prosecuted for it. But, as our Great Wall guide said, “In China, there is law and there is reality.”

The problem of intellectual property protection (or IP as we shorten it) is very real for more than just music, videos, software, and clothing.  My company is very cognizant of the risk in China of our patents and trade secrets (such as manufacturing knowledge that is not patented) being taken.  In my job, I have to take extra cautions to prevent disclosure of sensitive information, and even limit what information my engineering team can access.  We do not allow customers to disassemble our motors, and we limit access to our IP as much as possible.  It’s what we get paid to create as engineers- why would we allow it to be stolen?  Piracy and IP protection affects everyone, not just movie and rock stars.

I also find our engineers using pirated software- which they view positively for saving the company money.  I love the cost savings focus- but I tell them to remove it anyhow.

Until recently, even the Chinese government allowed pirated software on computers in government offices.  The increased pressure from western countries on China to eliminate pirated products is having an affect.  But it is a very slow process that will take many years, perhaps several generations, to change.  It’s not a matter of just changing what people can do, but also the mindset that does not see anything wrong.

It seems we keep seeing new, interesting, unusual, strange, surprising and just different things around China to take photos of.  Things we are not used to seeing where we live and perhaps you don’t see them either.  Some might be “China Moments” and others could just be life in a big city.  The photos and captions tell the story.

In Beijing, we watched this elderly Chinese lady pushing a wooden cart that appeared to be filled with dirty laundry down the street (not the sidewalk) as a bus zipped past her.

In the French Concession in Shanghai, we saw this Goodyear Tire Center on the 1st floor of an apartment building. Not your typical location.

As we walked around the French Concession we saw lots of laundry out drying, or, I guess I should say, hanging outside since it was a rainy day. The owner of these clothes, appropriated their umbrella to at least keep it from getting any wetter.

A Chinese version of the mini van. If you look carefully, you can see a small infant cradled in the lady’s arms. This is not uncommon. Neither are toddlers on the back or small children standing in front of the driver.

We often see bikes or mopeds with baskets of fruit like these zipping through the city or parked at corners or along the street. Their owners carry scales to weigh the fruit they sell.

A fence we saw in the French Concession. I’m not sure what the natural material is, but it looks quite sharp on the top.

Although we don’t see them often, these manually pulled carts are still used around China. This photo was taken in Suzhou and we’ve seen them near our apartment in Shanghai.

We see this guy with plants fairly often around our apartment. He will stop for an hour or two by our apartment and then move to another location. His are all live plants in pots. We also see cut flower carts near one of the grocery stores we visit. Plants and flowers are pretty cheap here, and we bought Christmas poinsettias from him.

Bicycle Parking along the sidewalks in Shanghai. It’s unusual to see a spot this empty. Some places are free. Others have an attendant who charges for bicycle, motorcycle and moped parking.

In Beijing, near the Drum and Bell Towers – We watched gallons and gallons of some type of cooking oil being delivered. The Chinese do not bake, but they use a lot of oil.

Outside a temple in Suzhou, local Chinese sold all kinds of fresh fruit. This lady had a cart she or her husband manually pulled.

Near the entrance to the Great Wall, Chinese ladies were lined up selling all sorts of items from food to souvenirs. This lady was cracking nuts along the roadway with a brick or rock. I can’t imagine how she got the dirt and rocks from the road separated from the nuts.

While walking along the dam in the park by the Great Wall in Beijing, we heard something behind us and when we turned, here came this donkey loaded down with some type of cut grass. A Chinese couple was following behind him.

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