The Wandering Continues...

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Last Working day in 2007

Finally I made it through...

Friday was my last day at the office for 2007. I woke up in the morning feeling excited that I will soon be off for the long-waited holiday but also sad knowing that I have to say goodbye to a colleague who will go back to Germany. I hate farewell, especially to those people I feel most comfortable to interact with.

I found this as a big disadvantage of being an expat, it took you sometimes to make friends but by the time you've finally made one, it is already the time to say goodbye again and move on with your life. It sucks.

We had a big farewell dinner from the company last night. Some of us stayed longer for a drink at Cloud 9 Bar at Jinmao Building. We chatted till morning and looked back to the time that we have spent in China and all the achievements and the frustrations that we've shared together. I will definetely miss the time we worked and fighted together for our result. He is one of the people that I respect in my life and I have the pleasure to have worked together with him.

And now, I can actually prepare for my trip! We are flying by 9 am on Sunday morning.

Happy Holidays to all of you and I hope you have a great one too!

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

One more week to go!!! Yay!!!

At about this time next Sunday, we will be on the plane flying somewhere on top of the Pacific ocean en route to Los Angeles to catch a plane to Mazatlan, Mexico.

I have checked with Jorge’s nephew, he’ll be in Mazatlan by 20th December and will stay there until the new year.

We will be staying in Mazatlan until 2nd January and after that we will catch a plane to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Our German friend who used to stay in Buenos Aires for quite a long time has given us an address for a delicious steak house right in the downtown. Asado, they are the best in the world!

After Buenos Aires, we will catch a plane again to Iguazu Falls, right in the border of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay to see for the first time the famous Garganta del Diablo (the Devil’s throat). From Iguazu, we will cross the border to Brazil and make our way to Rio de Janeiro where we have a hotel reservation waiting in the beach of Ipanema. Yay!!!!! Can’t get more excited than I am right now! Beach, sand and caipirinha..I can smell them already!!! I feel like packing for the trip now!! We actually have bought new pairs of trekking shoes for the trip to Iguazu.

We’ll be back in Shanghai on 13th January 2008 and believe me, you don’t want to see my calendar in January! It discourages me to come back!

Anyway, before we can finally have our Christmas holiday, I will first have to fly to Changchun (8.20 flight tomorrow morning) and hopefully I can come back on time on Wednesday night. I’ve checked the weather forecast in Changchun, it will be -10 degree on day time and -18 degree at night. They’ve expected scattered snow shower on Tuesday and Wednesday which, in Changchun, can translate into flight delay, if not cancellation. Wish me luck, guys!!!

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Friday, December 14, 2007


Remember when you watch the old Chinese kungfu film and you can see that the king always carry a seal to legalize all important papers. In China they carry this tradition until today. All important papers in China have to have a stamp on top of it and the stamps has actually more legal binding than a normal signature.

Each company normally has 4 different kinds of stamps (called as “Chop” in China) and each chop has different purposes and hierarchy;

•Company chop: The Company chop is often in round in shape with the registered name of a company engraved on the bottom of the seal. Each company must have only one Company chop and the engraved seal must be approved by the Public Security Bureau (PSB). Once the company is successfully registered with the Administration of Industry and Commerce (AIC), a qualified chop-maker (approved by the PSB) must be engaged to produce the Company Chop.

The Company Chop is the most important and powerful chop held by corporation. It provides legal execution for all documents and is at least required when any important documents are signed, issued or to be changed. For example, any changes to corporate documents, opening of a bank account, issuing a certificate for an employee, or altering the name or business scope of the company all require the Company Chop to be legally binding.

•Financial chop: Financial chop is predominately used for issuing a check and processing transactions with a bank.

•Human Resource chop: The Human Resources chop is used where the company signs a labour contract with any of its staff. Many government bodies also require this chop to be stamped on official company documents such as employment proof letters for employee registration purposes.

•Contract chop Contract chop is only used for the purpose of stamping contracts, particularly for trading contracts.

Moreover, there is also specific regulation about who keeps the chop and how to execute a chop. If you really want to know, you can read it here.

As my general manager and his deputy are both in Germany for two weeks, I was informed that I am actually the third in line to inherit the company chop during their absence. And I have to keep them in a locked drawer that nobody but me can have access to it.

Well, I guess this is the time to re-do my work contract and chop them, huh?


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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

To those who wants to convert money in China

I know that Chinese government applied strict rule on foreign currency circulation in China and I know that we don’t have a floating USD/RMB exchange rate but the government set the exchange rate. I can also see it when I made the operative planning for the company, the USD/RMB exchange rate has been very stable in the last 7 years and RMB is even appreciating against the USD in the last 2 years.

But never have I realized how difficult it is for a foreigner to convert their RMB into foreign currency!

I am referring to the foreigner who are currently working in China and receiving partial or full salaries in China.

Today I wanted to convert some money to USD for my Christmas holiday. I thought that I just have to go to the bank, bring my passport and my plane ticket, fill out a form and everything will be done quick and simple.

First, I had difficulties to get the correct form as the customer service in Bank of China doesn’t really speak English. After some body language, she handed me out a form to fill out. I waited in queue until my number was called and I went to the teller to tell her my wish and she gave me a surprise answer.

Apparently, there is a regulation to convert money more than USD 500 or equivalent. I will have to supply the following:

1.My monthly salary slip stating the fact that I receive salary for the service I provided in China and I am paying my income tax in China
2.Working permit (original and photocopy)
3.A statement from the Human Resources department in my company to issue a salary certification, legalized with the company stamp (I will blog about it later)
4.Passport and copy of residence permit
5.My official working contract

And..I can only convert to the maximum of my salary paid in China, means I cannot combine with others to save time on the procedures.

As I don’t feel like supplying my private data to a bank teller, I decided to just go there in some visits. After all, the bank is only located on the first floor of my office building.

PS: For tourists, you can change money at the money changer but remember to keep the receipt of the change. You can convert your money back to the original currency with proof of the receipt.

* RMB is Chinese Yuan Remimbi

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Friday, December 07, 2007

It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

It's the most wonderful time of the year
with the kids jingle belling
and everyone telling you "Be a good cheer"
It's the most wonderful time of the year
It's the hap-happiest season of all
with those holiday greetings and gay happy meetings
when friends come to call
It's the hap-happiest season of all

I tend to be overly sensitive during the christmas time. Happens to me every year and it will pass when the season is over.

This year, I miss a lot the christmas season in Germany. This is the time of the year when we normally go to the christmas market to buy our advent wreath and drinking gluehwein in cold and sometimes snowy December weather.

My favourite place was to hang out nearby the ice skating ring so I can enjoy a glass or two of gluehwein while listening to the christmas carols and the people chattering happily. I would also enjoy the smell of fresh pines and fresh baked cinnamon cookies in the air, llistening to the joyous laughter of children, the jingling bell and watching the people busy fullfiling their christmas shopping list.

In China, things are completely different. I bet not a lot of people know about Christmas. In fact almost all companies will work on Christmas day, including mine. Some malls will try to put up Christmas tree (of course made of plastic-look-alike-pines) and play Christmas songs, but still you are missing the true atmosphere.

So we decided to decorate our apartment with four green and red candles as replacement for advent wreath as I won't accept plastic made wreath and I am not allowed to mail order the original from Germany either. Jorge has put out the christmas lighting in our balcony last week and he bought also some poinsetias home.

We have also some christmas shopping list for his family in Mexico. We played Christmas songs whenever we are at home. We tried to do as much as possible to feel like christmas.

And last night, St. Nikolaus came to my desk and left a chocolate in there. Just what I need!

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Sunday, December 02, 2007

The world's 50 most expensive big cities

During my browsing activities in the internet today, I came across an interesting articles about the world's 50 most expensive city provided by Mercer Consulting based on the cost of living index.

Moscow maintains its position to be the world's most expensive city for two years in a row, even more expensive than London. Seoul follows in the third rank, more expensive than Tokyo (I would have thought it is the other way around), follows by major European cities.

Then, also to my surprise, Shanghai emerges in number 26, sharing the same place with Madrid, which, according to Mercer's survey, is far beyond Munich and Frankfurt, Germany's most expensive cities, who are currently sitting in rank 39 and 40 respectively.

Complete list can be read here

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Ganbei - a chinese drinking culture

I was invited to a friend’s farewell dinner last Friday. The dinner was fantastic but the drinking after that was not really enjoyable.

In China, there is a drinking culture called “Ganbei” (干杯) which in Chinese literally means “empty the glass”. This is not considered as a drinking competition but more as Chinese ways to honor the guess of the night. If somebody offers you a “Ganbei”, you are expected to at least say the same “Ganbei” to honor him back and thus empty your glass as well. After some Ganbei, your head will start becoming fuzzy and you can expect that you’ll wake up with terrible headache on the next day.

As a foreigner in China, you can expect to receive at least 2-3 Ganbei during a dinner. I have also realized that a lot of Chinese actually prefer to discuss important business transactions over good dinner rather than to have proper meetings at the office.

Therefore, in order to understand the rule better, I have been concentrating today to find the do’s and don’ts about Ganbei and find the following tips off the internet:

1. Rule number one has to be – don’t be tricked into drinking more than you feel comfortable with. A Chinese friend may try to drink a lot more than he is able to consume so as not to lose face in front of you. Usually (and I put emphasis on this word) they will watch you closely to begin with to determine the pace you want to set.

2. There are two main types of alcohol consumed at meals in China – Baijiu 白酒 (strong spirits often made from rice) and Pijiu 啤酒 (beer). Baijiu can be anything from 38% to 60%+ proof so it is advisable to stick to beer unless you are a strong drinker. If someone toasts you with baijiu it is very impolite for you to then drink with beer, likewise it would be strange for you to drink baijiu if someone toasts you with beer.

3. If your drinking partner who moves to clink glasses with you is superior to you in some way (be it age or position in a company etc.), it is deemed polite for you to clink his/her glass with the rim of yours below theirs.

4. Another important though often overlooked form of drinking etiquette is for you to maintain eye contact with the person you are toasting while you are drinking – though this can be slightly awkward at times.

5. After a glass has been drained Chinese people will often extend the empty glass to you so that you can see that they have in fact finished their drink.

6. It is essential during a meal that you personally toast the person who is paying and sputter out a few words of appreciation. People will be offended if you don’t do this. The person who is paying will usually be the person who invited you out. However if in doubt, watch closely and wait until the bill is paid, it is quite acceptable for you to then toast that person.

7. If there are old people dining with you, be sure to also toast them each at least once.

Most important from all the rules above, If you wish to proceed more slowly with your drink, you can say "suiyi" instead. It means ”as you wish”- giving you the opportunity to leave some drink in your glass for the next toast. This is definitely the word I have to remember for my next dinner invitation!

PS: I have tried Baiju, I can only recommend you to take a small sip just to decide whether you like it or not before you committed to empty the glass. I personally think it tastes really bad.

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