Jetlag and Reverse Culture Shock: Back in the U.S.A.

Travelling the Silicon RoadWell, it’s been a week since I’ve returned to the United States from my month in China, and I finally seem to be back on a Western hemisphere rhythm. For several days following my return home to West Virginia, after a few days in the office on the left coast, I could not stay up past 8 p.m. I would try and try to stay awake, but to no avail, promptly waking up 3:15 a.m. or so.

But that’s the rather mundane aspect of my experience; after a month in China some of the things that I would normally take for granted seem strange. Like being in a crowd of people and understanding what everyone is saying. Or not being petrified when I’m driving. After a month of planes, trains and taxis, hell, it feels weird just to drive period.

And I think I’ve been ruined for Western food. I don’t know whether I just got used to eating real Chinese food frequently, or my stomach shrunk, or my intestinal flora and fauna adapted so much to the East that it doesn’t recognize the food of the West. But everything I ingest now seems to hit me like a ton of bricks. It’s like being in a constant carbohydrate coma and in any event — for the umpteenth time, I know, I know — I do miss the food in Chengdu.

But then I’ve traveled abroad for a month at a time before, so I expected a bit of reverse culture shock. But that last time was a month spent in Europe, as opposed to Asia, so it feels magnified, this time. But I don’t think one can spend a month abroad anywhere, and not feel at least a little strange upon coming home. I’m not the same person now that I was when I flew to Beijing on Oct. 8 (it seems a lot longer than 5 weeks ago), and home doesn’t seem quite the same, either. The world is a little smaller, and my perspective is just a bit broader, I suppose. I would hope so, anyway.

It was certainly very strange to go from the hubbub of Chinese cities, finishing up the trip with a weekend in Hong Kong (thank God I never made my way to Hong Kong in my 20s; I would have ended up dissolute and destitute by now, or worse, without a doubt), only to spend two days in San Jose then back home to Appalachia. I live outside a small town of about 3,000 in southern West Virginia, deep in the Appalachian mountains, and now that the whitewater rafting season is over for the year, it’s pretty quiet; in fact most of my local friends are connected with the whitewater tourist industry and they’ve all left until next year.

It’s quite the 180-degree contrast to China, and a bit of a relief in some ways. I was ready for some solitude after the close-knit quarters and seething masses of humanity that are Chinese cities, and it’s nice to breathe air that I can’t see, and smells like … well … smells like air.

But on the other hand, I confess that on the plane ride home from my first trip in China, I was already figuring out when I could take my next trip to China. As I mentioned before, the only other country I/ve traveled to that has affected me thusly was Ireland.

I encountered a saying about China while conducting background research prior to the trip; I’ve tried over the ensuing six weeks to track down the original quote, to no avail. But it goes something like this: travel to China for a week, and you’ll be able to write a book. Travel to China for a month, and you’ll be able to write an article. Travel to China for a year, and you won’t want to write anything at all.

I’ve pondered the meaning of that; many people assume it is a reference to the complexity of Chinese culture; the more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know, as you begin to grasp the realities and complexities of a culture that is thousands of years old. I think to a certain extent that is indeed true.

But for me, personally, I took it to mean that the more time one spent in China, the more one would become enamored of the culture — the more one became absorbed in China, the more one came to know it, the less one would feel compelled to write about it and go home.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying I want to go native; but I certainly have begun to understand China’s allure — beyond its burgeoning free market.

Electronic News Travels to ChinaBut now the time has come, now that I’ve returned, to try and address the original questions: is China for real? Does it live up to the hype it receives in the semiconductor industry in the West? And if so, is it a threat? Or will it be in the future.

Well, I’ll be attempting to put the answers to those questions in more detail in the coming weeks here on the Silicon Road, but in a word: Yes, yes, yes/no and perhaps, respectively. But that’s enough for now.

Editor’s Note: As explained at length elsewhere on this site, this is a blog entry of mine that originally appeared on the now-defunct Electronic News’ website, which is long gone. While its former sister pub Electronic Design News (EDN) currently holds the copyright to all Electronic News copy (to the best of my knowledge), as far as I know, this blog content isn’t hosted anywhere else on the Internet, hence my reproduction here.


Original Comments

at 11/22/2005 12:31:00 PM, Brian said:

I have thoroughly enjoyed this series and thanks for the many informative and entertaining articles. Yes, American food is heavy, in fact I bet you will even feel slower. Perhaps the fast moving Chinese culture is partly contributed to the food. Wait till you eat “Americanized” Chinese food, its just not; well, China, Chinese food.

at 11/22/2005 1:32:48 PM, Dr. Hayao Nakahara said:

I myself just came home after seven weeks in China from Beijing to Shanghai, then to Guangzhou and finally to Kunming (Yunang Province). I do this trip a few times a year and every time I come home to New York, I have jetlag of various severity. This time, when I returned home on November 9, it took me one week before my body recovered “NY bio-rythm”. I hate to come home when I think about my jetlag, but when it is over, I am so glad to be home, and then, I start thinking when I go back to China. I completely agree your sentiment. H. Nakahara New York

at 11/22/2005 5:13:05 PM, Eric Fremd said:

Your blog has brought me back to China in my mind…I have absolutely enjoyed the experience of getting back to China by reading this series. This year was my first trip to China- My very first trip I stayed 1 month working at our factory and training in Shenzhen…I was able again to return twice more for a 2.5 week business trip then a quick 10 day trip visiting my new Chinese girl friend…I am looking forward to returning next month…Hopefully I will bring a little piece of China back with me next year…Thanks again for a great series! Sincerely, Eric Fremd

at 11/23/2005 7:58:20 AM, Ron Carson said:

Thanks Jeff for this interesting series. Having had the pleasure of traveling to Hong Kong and China about a half-dozen times over the last 3 years I had a yearning to make plans for my next visit. I have only visited “Westernized China” and look forward to visiting more rural areas on a future trip. Thanks again for the journey.

at 11/23/2005 9:52:43 AM, Ralph Kenton said:

Jeff, thanks for your series of excellent articles on China. They were most useful in preparing for my lectures and business trip, which concluded just yesterday. Although I have no jet lag, it was great to once again consume some American ice cream, a commodity that was very scarce in Shanghai!

Eating there was quite an adventure, especially when pondering delicacies such as “Duck Lower Jaw with Secret Sauce” or “Stewed Beef Fat with Fungus” One observation: The buildings and facilities were definitely world class, although many of their basic service processes still offered room for improvement, especially when it comes to speed, comfort and efficiency. It was nevertheless a great experience, and I’m definitely looking forward to my next trip there.

at 11/28/2005 6:00:46 PM, Henry Sommers said:

Interesting stuff, but what does it really mean? Their education is similar, their dedication more focused,their costs way below ours and so what do we need to fear? Is the political or economic threat real? do we face an unknown force? Are we suckered into a sales hype that is not all what it appears.

Should we stay home and look at our own resources or must we give technology and jobs away so freely?

Thank You and Good Night

Travelling the Silicon Road

HONG KONG — Boy oh boy, what a place to end a month-long Chinese sojourn. I arrived here this afternoon; the sun is setting on my last night in China.

But then Hong Kong isn’t really China, in the same sense that San Francisco isn’t really the United States. It’s in the United States, but it isn’t an American city. Just like no country can really claim its bustling port cities as their own, it’s clear even after just a few hours that Hong Kong is a unique place. Hong Kong isn’t Chinese, it’s Hong Kong.

There is every flavor of human being here; a true international city if there ever was one. And it’s a shame I will only be spending about 24 hours here. Of course, one could get into a lot of trouble in a place like this in only 24 hours, and normally I would be more than willing.

But it is a rather bemused and bittersweet feeling I have at the moment. Like I said previously, I feel like the task of unraveling this fascinating, wonderful land has only just begun. It’s true that I’ve had enough business travel to last me awhile, and after wandering the streets of Hong Kong for a few hours, I can’t help but long for the solitude and wide open space that will greet me when I return home later next week.

And Lord so help me, I think I would consider murder in cold blood if I thought it would get me a decent burrito a few hours sooner.

Nevertheless, all things considered, if I had the opportunity and the world were a different place, I’d stay. For how long, I don’t know. As long as I want to, I suppose. If Reed Business were to offer me a correspondent position in China, and they said I could live where I want to, I’d take it in heart beat. If they said I had to live in Beijing or Shanghai, I’d have to think about it for awhile — not very long, likely — and the answer would probably be yes.

I’m not saying I want to spend the rest of my life here — there is that whole free speech thing, I have issues with — but then I can’t say that about anywhere, really. Not even Ireland, which is the only other foreign place to tug at my heart strings like China has. But for a time. …

Anyway, I was a day late arriving in Hong Kong, where I was scheduled to spend the weekend before returning back to the States, with only a day to spare on my visa. Why did I skip an extra day in Hong Kong to remain an extra day in Shenzhen?

Well, Dear Gentle Readers, you don’t get to hear that part of the story. Suffice it to say, my soul longs to return to Gulang Yu or Beijing, and I have no doubt left my stomach in Chengdu, probably for all-time (although I haven’t been to Italy or Thailand — yet). But just when I thought I was going to escape a month in China relatively unscathed, it turns out that I’ll be leaving a little piece of my heart in Shenzhen. A tiny piece, but a piece nonetheless.

And for those of you that know Shenzhen, get your minds out of the gutter, it’s not what you think; I’m not talking about any of Shenzhen’s legendary working girls. No, Ali … she is anything but that.

I even thought about staying tonight in Shenzhen and getting up early and going straight to the Hong Kong airport. But I figured that, even though I have no interviews or appointments in Hong Kong, it was still part of my job to come here and experience it. And it’s a good thing I did, because it took hours to travel the 30 some kilometers from downtown Shenzhen to downtown Hong Kong.

This brings us all the way back around full circle to the subject at hand, finding out the truth of China.

But that will have to wait until next week. After all, it is Saturday night, and I am in Hong Kong. I’m not that bemused.

Electronic News Travels to ChinaWhat, you thought this was it? Oh no, the voyage down the Silicon Road will continue long after I’ve returned to the States. There are more stories to write about China, and more blog topics, like the long list of people I want to thank.

Why for heaven’s sake, we haven’t even gotten yet to what I know many Westerners want to know about: public restrooms and pit toilets. How could you think we were done?

Stay tuned.


Editor’s Note: As explained at length elsewhere on this site, this is a blog entry of mine that originally appeared on the now-defunct Electronic News’ website, which is long gone. While its former sister pub Electronic Design News (EDN) currently holds the copyright to all Electronic News copy (to the best of my knowledge), as far as I know, this blog content isn’t hosted anywhere else on the Internet, hence my reproduction here.

Original Comments

at 11/7/2005 7:36:42 AM, PeteF said:

I’ve enjoyed this series very much. As a student of Chinese history I envy your opportunity to visit there. And I must compliment you; you were not an ugly american. You are a real traveler. I’m going to be looking forward to more of your work. The writing is quick, entertaining and insightful. You done good boy!

at 11/7/2005 12:37:29 PM, Wayne V said:

Jeff, just a short note to tell you how much I have enjoyed your reports from China. Definitely first hand and first rate! Have a safe trip home and I look forward to hearing more about your trip! Wayne V

at 11/7/2005 2:09:45 PM, Jim from Rhinebeck said:

I’ve read bits and pieces of your blog; have enjoyed, and agree with, your perspectives. I’ve been to Shanghai on and off, for 10 years, to attend Semicon China trade shows. It’s amzing to see Shanghai’s transformation in that time, when the Pearl tower was the only really tall structure in the city scape. Now, Shanghai boasts a skyscraper a day and a 430 km/hr ride on the mag-lev.

Jeff, if only you could have seen the bicycle traffic in 1995! So much of that traffic has moved to the subway. This past March was my first endeaver to see other cities in China; Beijing, Xian, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. Seemingly endless examples of cultural, social, and political juxtaposition. My Beijing business associate (friend/guide/translator) survived the Cultural Revolution, and is now quite proud to own his own home and car.

China, for all its complexities and contradictions, is modernizing at an unfathomable rate. It’s a 21st century version of the California gold-rush. Enough of the profound. Time and Newsweek covered the profundities in detail. Simply put, China is a great place to visit. An when you’re done, you’ll be wishing Chinese foot massage parlors in the US.

at 11/7/2005 2:13:04 PM, Phil Harris said:

Having recently returned from a 2 week stay in Beijing, I found the people friendly, warm, and very helpful. My coworkers were enthusiastic and recognized that I brought information on well established western procedures. It was also an opportunity for me to learn that business in China has some similarities and differences. I hope to make this trip again shortly and look forward to it except for the plane ride. That leaves a lot to be desired. Thanks for your perspective. Phil

at 11/7/2005 2:14:43 PM, C.C.Poon said:

All the tour articles make very interesting reading. Worth many times over the money spent (by whoever)on the trip. I look forward to reading the other articles yet to come. Many thanks for writing them, Jeff.

at 11/11/2005 8:49:12 AM, Pete Flynn said:

Jeff, I want to let you know that this series has been great. I’ve enjoyed every post and even most of the comments by other readers. Even the dopey ones.Since I work for a company that sells lots of “stuff” to the Chinese electronics industry, their success means I keep working. I see the global integration of China ultimately resulting in more freedom for the Chinese people and a reduction in tensions. I will look forward to more of your articles.

Grasping at Straws … er, Spicy Noodles

Travelling the Silicon RoadCHENGDU, China — It is with a somewhat heavy heart — and a very depressed palate — that I find myself in the Chengdu airport waiting to catch a flight to Shenzhen.

There are a number of reasons for this; I’m acutely aware that my trip is more than three-quarters over; in less than a week I’ll be back in the States. And yet I feel like I’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of China, much less gain an acute understanding.

Not that I expected to develop an innate understanding of an ancient culture in a matter of weeks, but I feel like I’ve only just begun my task, and soon it will be over — but not finished.

Plus, I’ve had to say goodbye to Zhike, my interpreter, who has been an invaluable asset these past three weeks — not to mention a new but nevertheless trusted and valued friend. I would not have guessed that I could grow so fond of someone that is twelve years younger than me and from a different culture so quickly.

I find myself not really wanting to leave Chengdu, either. Its food has been fantastic, some of the best I’ve eaten ever; I could happily eat genuine Sichuan food once a day for the rest of my life. Plus the women here in Chengdu seem to be nearly as spicy as the food. Maybe too spicy, says Zhike, both about the food and the girls, but on that score I have to disagree with my new-found friend.

But beyond the spice the Sichuan lifestyle seems more in tune with my own lifestyle — Xiamen tugged at my heart strings, and Beijing stimulated my mind, and I firmly believe that home is wherever I put my head down at night. But Chengdu almost feels like it could indeed be home for awhile.

I think this also has to do with the fact that after three weeks straight of business class hotels, cabs and conference rooms, interviews and airplanes, we actually got out in the countryside this past weekend, and I saw aspects of China that many Western business travels don’t see. You’ll read more about that later on, I promise.

But the green mountains outside Chengdu reminded me of my new home in West Virginia, and it didn ‘ make me homesick, exactly — part of me really would like to remain here in China for awhile — but it reminded me just how tired I am of business travel and hotels, and all the attendant hassle. Someday I will return here for a month, maybe longer, perhaps, with nothing but time and a backpack.

Most important of all though, I find myself with mixed emotions because I feel like I’m getting close to understanding something important about Chinese culture, but I’m not sure yet what that quite is. I’ve gone from thinking Chinese culture is really different, to thinking that’s it’s not that different, to realizing that below the surface it is very different from my own culture. And I feel like I’m getting close to being able to grasp that difference and understand it, but I haven’t got there yet.

And I’m not talking about the mundane differences, like the way traffic works here or what there is too eat, or the status of China’s economic and technological development. I guess I’m talking about what makes me a Westerner, specifically American, and what makes the Chinese … well, Chinese. Of course if I could articulate what I’m trying to grasp, I would have grasped it.

It suddenly strikes me that these words sound familiar.

Electronic News Travels to ChinaAnyway, I had a long talk with Zhike today, about why certain things are the way they are in China — not because I’m annoyed that they aren’t like in the States, or any silly thing like that, but because I feel like there’s something I’m missing, something I can’t understand, and I’m not sure what it is yet. I fear that I’ll be on a plane back to the States before I can grasp that epiphany.

Ah well, my plane is boarding soon. The mundane duties of life intrude. …


P.S. Actually, the data function on my cell phone’s smart card wasn’t working for some reason when I was at the Chengdu airport earlier, so this was technically filed from Shenzhen at 2 a.m. the next day, but that’s neither here nor there.

Editor’s Note: As explained at length elsewhere on this site, this is a blog entry of mine that originally appeared on the now-defunct Electronic News’ website, which is long gone. While its former sister pub Electronic Design News (EDN) currently holds the copyright to all Electronic News copy (to the best of my knowledge), as far as I know, this blog content isn’t hosted anywhere else on the Internet, hence my reproduction here.

Original Comments

at 10/31/2005 12:02:21 PM, yours truly, reader said:

I found you are a passionate person. When I read your article, tear running in my eyes. I am not sure why I got that feeling..

at 11/1/2005 1:51:13 PM, Sonia Harrison said:

Jeff, I have to say that I’ve really enjoyed reading your Blog the last few weeks. Thanks for letting me visit China with you–even if only through your stories.

at 11/1/2005 3:31:45 PM, Jim H. said:

It’s been fun reading about your journey, both geographically and mentally. I see parallels to my experience with marrying into a Chinese family after growing up in a typical midwestern family. I too went from thinking that they were really different from us, to thinking that they are the same but just talk a different language, to realizing that there are some differences that I will never comprehend and there are things that they will never comprehend about me.

One difference I see is the American desire to be self-sufficient, to be able to repair things oneself, to be able to take care of oneself, to even survive in the wild if one needed to (our recreation of camping). The Chinese see a virtue in relying on ones family and reciprocating by helping ones family. The first is useful if you are in a frontier environment (which we no longer are), the latter is useful if you are in a fully settled country of a billion people.

The Chinese also cannot comprehend why anyone would ever want to be alone, and I cannot comprehend why they always want to be in large noisy groups. Of course these are generalizations, not all Americans or Chinese fit these stereotypes. I will be interested to see what you come up with.

at 11/1/2005 4:45:32 PM, Jane said:

Shenzhen is a very young city. The average age of the population is only 27. A lovely place you sure will have a good time there.

at 11/3/2005 10:23:44 PM, Jeff Chappell said: Thank you all for the kind comments. Jim H: you are dead-on in that observation about self-sufficiency. This is the only place I’ve been where people seemed shocked and bewildered that I would want to carry my own luggage. I didn’t understand why at first. … It was a foreign concept for Zhike and other new friends that if I needed or wanted help, I would ask for it; otherwise I did not want it or need it — that I appreciated the show of respect and friendship, but was quite capable of managing on my own.

I fear I’ve inadvertently insulted hotel bell staff from one end of China to the other. And I confess, as much as I have truly loved China, I think I’m ready for some quiet solitude in the middle of nowhere 🙂

at 11/4/2005 2:10:38 PM, Bill in Mpls said:

Having spent a very short time in Korea, I also searched for some way to explain differences in culture from my own. I see in the Koreans a sense of ethnicity over nationality which is almost opposite of our upbringing. Their history (their “people’s” history) – what they all have in common – goes so far back beyond whatever the current government is that they identify more with their family and neighbors than any larger-scale institution. Our history in the U.S. is focused on what we have in common – our government, local, and national institutions. We don’t have a common ethnicity or history with most of our neighbors. Thanks for the blog.

The Best Laid Plans: Part II

Travelling the Silicon Road
XIAMEN, China — Well, we hit the first serious snafu of the journey last night trying to leave Xiamen for Chengdu. Serious enough that as I write this, it is a little before noon of the next day, and I’m still in Xiamen.

There is one nice thing about being in a foreign country: you can swear out loud a blue streak of every English curse word and phrase you can think of at the Air China employee in front of you, smiling and nodding the head the whole time as she complicates your life, and she is none the wiser.

Although I did shock a few people in line behind me, who understood at least part of what I said, and the thought occurred to me that I wasn’t being a very good ambassador of the West at that moment.

But when it looks like your luggage is going to go to Chengdu without you — and that’s the only flight to Chengdu — and you are beginning to wonder if you and your interpreter are going to spend the night in a gulag, well, diplomacy goes out the window in favor of satisfying, albeit not very helpful, four-letter words and colorful phrases.

The problem stemmed from the fact that the American Express travel service Reed Business uses issued the plane tickets for my interpreter, a Chinese citizen, and me. Naturally, the tickets along with Tony’s name (Tony is his chosen English name), Che Zihke, were printed in English.

So when we got to the ticket counter about 20 minutes before boarding time, the woman at the Air China counter suddenly asks to see Tony’s passport. Tony has never traveled outside China; up until we flew from Shenyang to Shanghai a week and a half ago, he had never even traveled by plane, and has no passport, just his Chinese ID card, which naturally is in Chinese.

To make a long story short, the crux of the matter was that Air China employees refused to honor the ticket because Tony had no identification with his name spelled in English. Never mind that another domestic airline had honored Tony’s Shenyang/Shanghai ticket with no problems.

At one point, Tony disappeared after a lengthy discussion in Chinese with the lovely ticket counter employee, who proceeded to check me in without a word — she merely glanced at my passport and didn’t even check my visa — and tagged my luggage for the flight and sent it on the conveyor into the mysterious depths of the airport.

Then Tony reappears at a dead run, sweating and cursing in Chinese, switching to English to tell me that there is a “serious problem” and that “they are being very strict.” Keep in mind, I’m from the post 9/11 United “terror alert orange” States, and one of those people that once made a smart-ass joke during a random search at a U.S. airport and subsequently found himself having a little chat with the very non-humorous U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation’s finest.

Plus, I’m an American national in a communist country, so all sorts of unpleasant thoughts are running through my head upon hearing “serious problem” and “very strict.” Fortunately all this meant was that Air China was hassling us about the ticket, there were no law enforcement types involved.

So after retrieving my luggage — at one point of course, they said they couldn’t find it — we set out to fix the problem; I wasn’t about to leave poor Tony to fend for himself, he’s not used to travel of this sort at all, much less Air China’s shenanigans.

This was all complicated by the fact that 1) my corporate American Express card wouldn’t work on the system at the airport, and 2) my U.S. cell phone, which works in other parts of China, doesn’t work here, and my Chinese cell phone doesn’t have international access. And you can’t just walk up to a public phone and bust out a credit card and start dialing here in China, you have to buy a smart card. Needless to say, by the time I had everything all straightened out, I was less than enamored with some aspects of China.

By the time we checked back into the hotel we had checked out of three hours before, and we had bought Tony a ticket at the ticketing office at the hotel, where American Express cards work just fine, he asked me what we were going to do that evening, now that we had time on our hands.

Well, one of the upsides of the ordeal was that we got booked into the hotel at the normal rate, but they had overbooked the normal rooms, so we got placed in high-falutin’ VIP suites at the top of the hotel, complete with high-tech toilets that have eight buttons and a list of instructions (you’ll read more about this in a later entry, I promise, along with the high-tech shower). Included in the Crowne Plaza VIP room package is free happy-hour drinks — music to a stressed-out journalist’s ears.

“Tony,” I said, bearing those happy-hour drinks in mind while clapping him on the back, “after our stressful and complicated experiences this afternoon, I think it’s time for a drink. Remember, alcohol solves none of life’s problems, but a little lubrication makes swallowing those problems a whole lot easier.”

This explains why this was filed at noon Wednesday, local time, and not Tuesday night.

Electronic News Travels to ChinaJeff’s China Travel Tip of the Day: This tip is applicable to any trip, not just China. Want to make your luggage and most of your clothes smell minty fresh? Just don’t screw the cap onto your mouthwash bottle very tight and stow it in your luggage before you get on a plane. By the time you reach your destination, voila!

Jeff’s Subsidiary China Travel Tip of the Day: Gentleman, whatever you do in China, don’t lose your razor. Chinese disposable razors were not meant for laowai beards, at least not those of laowai of Anglo-Saxon descent.

Jeff’s Subsidiary China Travel Tip of the Day, no. 2: If you get put up in a fancy suite, don’t experiment with the high-tech toilet with eight-buttons while actually sitting on it. Unless you like surprises. 😉

Editor’s Note: As explained at length elsewhere on this site, this is a news story written by me that originally appeared on the now-defunct Electronic News’ website, which is long gone. It’s former sister pub Electronic Design News (EDN) currently holds the copyright to all Electronic News copy (to the best of my knowledge). You can still see a copy of this story at EDN.

Original Comments

at 10/26/2005 1:34:40 PM, David SCHUERMANN said:

Jeff, HaHa…I experimented with one of those toilets in Japan, there should be a warning that if you don’t know anything about it, dont push any buttons while sitting on it!!!!! Yes, there will be a surprise (and if you don’t allow time for the water to warm is a cold surprise!!)!!! My travel tip….put your shaving cream in a plastic bag….my clothes smelled of shave cream when I got to the room…what a mess!

at 10/27/2005 2:25:41 AM, Joan said:

On Jeff’s Subsidiary China Travel Tip of the Day No.1 – yes, it’s true! Quite a few of customers from our private tour guide service complained on this problem. Very interesting observation.

at 10/27/2005 1:11:59 PM, Victor S… said:

A good air travel trip is that zip-lock bags are your friend. Good for shave cream, hair spray, mouthwash, shampoo and anything elsem you’d rather not soak your clothes in.

at 10/28/2005 7:41:11 AM, George Smiley said:

Part of the excitement in traveling, Old Boy, is to expect the unexpected. The anger and making the scene would not get you anywhere in heavy bureaucratic and non-consumer emphasis society. The mess up was caused initially by AmExp. Blame either the AmExp and Reed, as well as yourself for not catching the problem before hand.

The clerk in the ticket counter had his/er duty to fulfill to weed out the discrepancy in case some radical boarded the plan with bomb or incendiary material (happened more than once) to endanger national property, security and passenger. (Yes. That’s their thinking priority!) Your bad manner and temper would only strengthen the image firmly rooted in their mind of arrogant and self-imposing representative of Western Imperialism, and making your fellow travelers and expatriates harder to absorb the local culture and being accepted!

From your writing, I guessed you never had the chance to venture into local market with local delicacy. Should you insist on Big Mac and KFC, as well as some buffet for “affluent” people, I’d advise you to stay in the States and not venturing out to “Gook” countries! Should you decide to cut short your trip and return to the States, I’d advise you to get hold a copy of “Ugly American” by William Lederer. After all these years&..!

at 10/28/2005 9:57:21 AM, Jeff Chappell said: Hi Jim/George Smiley … Tell me, did you not bother to read the rest of my blog entries, and react off-the-cuff? Or are you that clueless? Read all my entries on my trip to China, before you judge me. You automatically assume because I had one rough spot in my trip, and chose to make light of it, that I’m some arrogant, narrow-minded racist bastard, when if you had actually bothered to take the time to read the stuff I’ve written and take it as a whole, you’d find the truth lies elsewhere.

I find it interesting that I only have gotten these types of comments from Westerners, LOL. Cracks me up. Tell me, have you ever even been here? BTW, you can ask Air China yourself, the issue was the fact that the ticket was in English, his ID was in Chinese. We saw a Malaysian traveler have the same issue at the Air China ticket counter the very next day. As I mentioned, if you had bothered to read the whole post, other domestic carriers don’t have a problem with this …

at 10/28/2005 1:14:14 PM, Mjackman said:

Jeff, As a journalist who did a similar electronic junket for a scheme called “almostEverest” I want to say I appreciate what you’re doing and I wish you the best of luck! Great job so far! – Michael Jackman Writer/Morehead State Public Radio essayist/Lecturer (English) at Indiana University Southeast

The Old Journalist and the Sea

Travelling the Silicon RoadXIAMEN, China — One thing always happens to me on every extensive trip — and sometimes the quick ones — to places I haven’t been before: I find some spot to which I’m instantly ready to move.

On this month-long trip, that moment, the first one, anyway, came in Xiamen.

Now if there is one thing I’ve learned about traveling and moving relatively frequently, being a somewhat restless soul, it’s that falling in love with people and places share the same pitfalls — and I’ve been known to fall at the drop of a hat. Just because you fall in love with a person/place initially, the relationship may not have what it takes to keep you happy in the long term. Just because you had fun on vacation, or the place you arrive at/person you meet is unexpectedly charming and beautiful, doesn’t mean you will like living there/with them.

Sedona, Ariz., taught me that, in more ways that one. But that’s another two or three stories for some other time.

Xiamen, in its own way, is just as Chinese as the other cities I’ve been to so far: Beijing, Shenyang and Shanghai. It has an important place in Chinese history, plays a current role in its nascent technology industry, has a thriving university culture, and was a key part of its Western colonial era. Like seemingly every other urban area in China, there is a ridiculous amount of construction, and traffic scares the living bejesus out of me.

And yet Xiamen is something different. It’s China, yes, but it certainly doesn’t fit the stereotype.

I could say that about the other three cities I’ve been too in China, of course. But Xiamen really is not what Westerners frequently associate with China, at least not the ones I know, and as such, is a pleasant surprise. This coastal island city that sits across from Taiwan, amidst other surrounding islands, at first glance reminds one of either Southern California or South Florida, or perhaps the Gulf Coast of the United States.

There are the palm trees and the sand, the balmy near-tropical climate (welcome after Shenyang’s chilly autumn days), and clean air (welcome after Beijing’s and Shanghai’s dreadful smog). And then there are the fishing boats and seaside shops — not only can you pick your own lobster here, but your own crab, fish, shrimp and sea life that I couldn’t begin to identify. Then there are all manner of places designed to separate cash from tourists, from upscale, trendy clothiers to vendors of cheap flashy trinkets, and all of them seemingly inundated with trendy, well-dressed hipster kids.

And my interpreter and I agree; Xiamen girls seem to be the prettiest of our travels so far in China. All afternoon I kept singing that annoying Beach Boys tune in my head, only I would change the words to “Wish they all could be Xiamen, China girls … ”

The Great American Novel Awaits on Gulangyu Islet

But really I think Xiamen is more akin to the south of France, perhaps, or somewhere else on the Mediterranean, given the European architecture scattered throughout the city, particularly the closer one gets to the water.

In fact, there is a neighboring island, Gulangyu Islet, that seems more akin to some South Pacific volcanic island, or perhaps the Caribbean, rather than coastal mainland China; it’s narrow, windy streets (cars are apparently not allowed and certainly not needed) and historical architecture reflect the many European powers that made attempts to colonize this port city in the past — some successful, some not.

And in temperament, Xiamen definitely seems to be more laid back; the pace of life is slower here. Rush hour traffic is nothing like Shanghai or Beijing, but then it’s a small Chinese city, if indeed it can be said there is such a thing, with only 1.24 million people here.

Particularly on Gulangyu Islet, life is lived at a leisurely, island pace.

Even though the sea to the south is clogged with cargo and tanker traffic — there is an oil refinery on a nearby island — on Gulangyu, musicians play traditional instruments in public squares, their instrument cases open for the yuan of appreciative passersby. Since there are no automobiles here, everything from garbage to construction supplies to the day’s catch is hauled in big wheelbarrows around the island. Tourists stroll the narrow boulevards, and the shop keepers hawk their wares, and the three island policemen tool around in electric carts.

Everywhere you look is colonial-era architecture, some of it well maintained, others crumbling with age. These buildings are interspersed with new ones that sometimes mesh well with the old neighborhoods around them, such as the Xiamen University college dedicated to the arts, and some new apartment buildings that hopelessly clash with their older and more dignified neighbors.

Stairs climb through thickets of bamboo and around ancient trees, winding through hillside neighborhoods that must surely once have housed colonial administrators. From some vantage points on the island you can see the skyscrapers of Xiamen, about half a kilometer from Gulangyu. And yet when you are on this little islet they might as well be miles and years away — you can just smell the history here, mingled with the odors of cooking seafood, sea breezes and the fragrance of tropical fauna.

It is here that I could see setting down for awhile, enjoying a slow-paced, island lifestyle. The crumbling old European buildings call to a hopeless romantic like myself; it would be easy on Gulangyu to pick up where Hemingway left off, typing away in some dusty old room, while ocean sea breezes flutter the curtains at the open window, where the cries of the island’s elementary school children can be heard, mingled with the occasional foghorn.

Electronic News Travels to ChinaPerhaps someday my travels will bring me back to Gulangyu; perhaps I will take a job as a correspondent in China, and I’ll be able to settle here for awhile, until I grow restless once more.

But in the meantime, alas, I’m ensconced on the sixth floor of the generic, hygienic Crowne Plaza hotel, and tomorrow I will not be contemplating the themes of man vs. man or man and nature for a forthcoming novel, but meeting with members of China’s optoelectronics industry.

What the hell, I never really liked Hemingway anyway.

Editor’s Note: As explained at length elsewhere on this site, this is a blog entry of mine that originally appeared on the now-defunct Electronic News’ website, which is long gone. While its former sister pub Electronic Design News (EDN) currently holds the copyright to all Electronic News copy (to the best of my knowledge), as far as I know, this blog content isn’t hosted anywhere else on the Internet, hence my reproduction here.

Original Comments

at 10/25/2005 7:18:07 AM, Paul said:

Something for you to contemplate as you admire the old houses on Gulangyu; Until the Cultural Revolution most of those beautiful old builds were single family homes. Sadly, during the revolution they were carved up into 3 meter square family apartments. In this case the beauty truly is only skin deep, as the insides of these building now are mostly a mess.

at 10/25/2005 1:25:23 PM, Bob said: And just when I was looking for the idyllic place to settle down. Perhaps I’ll have to go and see but one day the missiles flying over-head to and fro Taiwan might upset this tranquil picture you paint.

at 10/25/2005 10:45:23 PM, Jeff Chappell said:

Despite the public political bluster and military bravado, I honestly think the Chinese are much too practical to get into an armed conflict with Taiwan; the island is quickly becoming an economic ally, and Chinese government officials look at its rapid development as a model for China. In fact, the recently retired leader of the Kuomintang government in Taiwan was just here in China on a state visit — he was touring the Forbidden City in Shenyang at the same time we were, a week before last.

at 10/25/2005 10:51:10 PM, Jeff Chappell said:

As for what happened to the houses on Gulangyu during the Cultural Revolution, yes, it is indeed a shame. But then it is an important aspect of history, if not a happy one. And it’s no justification, but “progress” is often the fate of many old and beautiful buildings everywhere, not just China; such is life. But then the real attraction for me to this islet is its geography, climate and its people and their culture — and the seafood — not the buildings.

at 10/26/2005 11:21:17 AM, Goose Hosage said: Jeff, road warriors such as yourself need to get more sleep. When you find yourself rambling with multiple paragraphs regarding a topic, which in fact should have been covered in a few sentences, readers really begin to wonder. “Wildly Inarticulate Ponderinngs of The Jet Lagged” perhaps would have been a better title.

at 10/27/2005 4:24:40 AM, Jeff Chappell said: LOL, Goose, dude … it’s a blog, not my entry for this year’s Pulitzer. Get over it. And I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: folks, what’s with the dis’n me, as the kids say, and not putting your real name to it? C’mon … if I’m not afraid to put my raw and un-copyedited emotional ponderings out there for all the world to see, at least have the decency to use your real name. I do, after all. And it’s not like I’m going to hunt you down or anything. I’ll just laugh and say at least I can spell “pondering.” Of course, if your name really is Goose Hosage, I look pretty stupid right about now. 😉

at 10/29/2005 11:57:28 PM, fred in seattle said:

everyone is a critic…too bad most dont have anything positive to say. Jeff, Thank you for your insight into a city I love. Maybe others with narrow views will stay at home and watch the latest reality show with their microwave dinners as we travel the world…zaijian

at 10/30/2005 11:02:20 PM, Jon said: Hi. I’m an American who has been living in Xiamen for three years and am now married with a 2 year old. This is a great place to live! And my wife and I are going to set up tours and give relocation help to people who want to come here. My life has progressed in every aspect in the 3 years here on this comfortable island in China than the last 30 years in the States. Welcome to Xiamen!