08 November 2007

Assignment to Guigang

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This was my first time to China. I was assigned here last August (2007) with Roy for a month. Guigang is a small city at Guangxi province, southern China. We owned 5 ports along the Pearl River, which bought from the government last year. We merged the 5 ports into 3 Companies. 1 Company focus on containers and bulk, the other two focus on coal and bulk. Frankly, none of us can speak Chinese fluently, in fact, our mandarin is very poor. This has made the adventure even more amusing.

“Wo men mi lu” (we were lost)
From Jakarta, we took a plane to transit at Guangzhou then continue flight to Nanning. The flight to Nanning is 11.30 at night, so we have time to get out of the airport and take a short tour by ourselves to the city of Guangzhou. Our destination is Beijing Lu, a street that sell many cheap and fun stuff. But, due to poor mandarin, we can’t managed to get there. Only got to Guangzhou International Hotel and Bin Bin Plaza. After taking early dinner at 4 PM and taking pictures, we decide to go back to airport, since we are totally strangers here, and we don’t want to take any risk of cannot back to airport on time. This first day, can be considered a brave adventure. Having zero knowledge of Guangzhou and very poor mandarin, we can take bus to center of city and finally managed ourselves to get back to airport, also by bus. We don’t even know where to take a bus and how to stop the bus or a taxi. Lucky, we found a ticket box for airport bus in the corner of Bin Bin Plaza. Later, we know that every 15 minutes, there is a bus (Airport Express) to airport. Really good service. With RMB 21 each, we can get back to airport safely. Wink.

Arrived at Nanning already 1 in the morning, our plane delayed half an hour. Ah Jie (pronounced Ah Ci), the driver who has already waiting for us, is the first Chinese people I met and introduced my self. We can’t help but sleep over the ride. Approximately 2 hours from Nanning airport to Guigang. 3 AM, Ah Jie took us to eat Mi Fan, Chinese noodle. I have to say ‘chinese’ before the word ‘noodle’, because it different from Indonesian noodle that usually in yellow color; Mi Fan, and all noodle in China is white, since it made from rice. In Indonesia, close to kwetiaw, only with different shape. That night (or in fact, morning) we stayed at Guigang international hotel; the ‘motel’ that people from office booked for us had been full that night. They booked for us for 11 PM, but since we didn’t show up until 12, they gave the room to others. Guigang has a lot of motel like this kind which mostly serve short-time guests. Short time quests, you know what I mean.

Guigang, tidy city
I’m so tired, but cannot easily sleep, until 5 AM. Wake up very late at 12, looking out the window and … wow… awesome view. Guigang turn up not like what I thought. This is what they called ‘small’ city in China. I was indeed surprised. Not long, Mario (an Indonesian, Javanese, who work and stay here with his wife, Vivi) came to pick us up. After having lunch at the hotel’s restaurant, we were taken to Youyi bin guan.

Youyi bin guan is a bin guan, a motel in Chinese. It’s more like ‘ruko’ which renovated in to a motel. Like China-Town Inn in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The hotel is indeed clean and comfort. The toilet is clean and has seated-toilet, which later I found out, is very rare in China. Even in the shopping mall, the toilet is dirty and normal to have an unpleasant smell. Youyi bin guan is OK, the ‘lau ban’ (boss/owner) and the employees welcome us well, we have no complain about the service. The small motel like this has free internet service. I write an e-mail to Natz everyday, also upload the photos I’ve taken so she can view me from Jakarta. In China, internet is very cheap compare to Indonesia, but has a tide control from government. I cannot open certain sites here, like multiply or yahoo-flickr.

That afternoon, Mario took us to a short tour in Guigang and visit a while to one of the company’s office. My first impression of the city is clean, very clean and tidy. And totally different from my idea of small city. This is no small city compare to Indonesia. Physically, the town, can say, better than Surabaya. Tall building everywhere, since Chinese used to stay at apartment. No houses residence here, even Pak Gik (my boss) stay at penthouse on top of the apartment. The road is wide, with each vehicle track separated. Cars and motorcycle in the main road while bicycle and electric bike have their own track. In other word, the city is tidy. Threes and flowers, wide space between road an a building and many public area bring comfort for eyes to watch.

That afternoon, we have dinner with Mario and Dewi (another Indonesian, also Javanese, single) at the restaurant at the shopping mall. Later I know that this is the only mall in Guigang. The mall named Meng Zhi Dao (The island of dream). People here also called it ‘the park’ because it located just next to the park. Surrounding the park is Hotel International Guigang. Meng Xhi Dao, and Mayor’s office. We came to this mall quite often, since this is the nearest place go by walk. Although not that near, it took 20 minutes walk. And imagine the sweat when we walk at noon in the Southern Chinese summer. We’ve been eaten at this restaurant a several time with different people, but I never catch the name. Also have been to Dicos (also in the mall), kind of fried chicken and another restaurant serving international food at the second floor, which once I order fine fried rice with pineapple. The fried rice is placed inside the empty pineapple shell. Inspired me to cook the same for Natz. Near the mall, there is a bread store where we used to bought our breakfast since the bin guan did not served any breakfast. There, I met a kind salesgirl named her self Ally, who keen to introduce her self to me. She said she want to learn English from me.

Work and work, loosing passport, and still having fun
The next day and the day after, is busy days. We only given 3 weeks to audit the 3 companies and a week of reporting. So, we must work in the high speed. We allocate the first week to company located at Mao Er san (mountain of Kitty Cat). We were accompany by 2 translators (Anne and Karen). Here, we ate at canteen and everyday they serve pork. In Guigang, sun sink out very late, at 7 or 7.30 PM. We usually work until that hour because we often don’t realize the time, when the sun still shinning bright. Unlike Indonesia which already dark at 6 or 6.30 PM. Our obstacle working here beside the language is that the local people is not very helpful and cooperative. The resistance was high and they push away any idea of improvement. They just do usual stuff and don’t want to accept any responsibility. No sense of work at all. Manager level also have this kind of attitude. Pathetic.

Early the first week, something disaster happened. Roy missing his passport ! Just the 2nd day from we started work, the 3rd day from we arrived in Guigang. How can this happen? No body knows for sure. The Passport just missing, gone, disappeared. He realized the passport missing in the morning, usually he put it in the pocket. That morning, when we ready to go from hotel and want to put the passport in the pocket, it gone. The last time we (me, Anne and Karen) saw the passport is when Roy showing it to the girls. The girls laugh at it and make fun of Roy for a while and then, they assured they put it on the table. Some say, by kidding of course, Karen (one of the translator) took it because she wants Roy to stay longer in Guigang. No body knows. That day, Mao Er management has do anything to search, even bringing my passport for everyone to see, whether they see or found something similar than it, afraid they might not understand if we simple say passport. No body (admit) to found. It could be dropped on the way to restaurant or bread store or anywhere. So, Karen with a driver, accompany Roy, to search the town, going to the place that we stop by the other day, hoping that someone might found it and –if we lucky- that someone might kept it instead of throw it away not knowing what is it. We not that lucky. And it’s gonna be a long assignment both for me and Roy. He will have to get a new passport and visa from KBRI which located in Guangzhou. And me, my work will be twice heavier, the fact that Roy will be leaving office very often in order to take care of his missing passport.

About the missing passport ‘adventure’, only Roy himself can specifically told. I just know that he gone to Guigang immigration and police station several times. Phone call and e-mail to KBRI (Indonesian Embassy) in Guangzhou over and over again. Then finally going to the KBRI in Guangzhou (accompanied by Mario) for 2 days, and coming back with not a new passport but only a SPLP (Surat Perjalanan Laksana Passport – Letter acting as Passport) and haven’t got a new visa, which, all people in Guigang said, “very easy to issued in Guigang”. It came out, not that easy, in fact, it’s quite difficult and complicated by the Guigang authority.

Afraid that we will not able to complete the job, we still work at the first week-end. But of course we can wake up a little late and work from the hotel. That Saturday morning, I woke up at 8 AM to take a walk near the hotel to see the morning living of the local. That morning, At the open space dedicated to public just behind the business spot, I saw children playing rollerblade and the older watch them while sitting and talking over tea or coffee. So many public place in here, that the people can comfortably do the fun stuff like what I saw that morning. Later, we’re going to office to continue work, with Dewi accompany us. That afternoon, we ask driver to take us to the place where we can print photo. He took us to a place where there is a beautiful lotus garden. Amazingly we can managed to get the store guy understand what we want to print, by body language and drawing. While waiting for the photo being printed, I took some nice photos you’ll never find the same in the middle of Jakarta’s busy road.

That night, we took Anne to dinner. We want to take Karen also, but due to sudden invitation, she cannot come with us. She have to cook for her family. Speaking about her family, her parent have 3 children and they have to pay RMB 3000 for each excess of child. China is implementing tight policy about one family one child. They have to pay to government for their children’s life, RMB 3000 each, price at that time, don’t know how much now. That night, after dinner, felling not very well, Roy went back to the hotel. Me and Anne going to the market, to find me a pair of sandal. My sandal brought from Jakarta is very not comfortable, rather hurt my legs. I bought a pair that really comfortable and soft, with a cheap price, only RMB 12. Later that night, we went to bakery shop to buy our breakfast. That’s where Ally, the salesgirl, made friend with me, gave me her number and asked for mine, which she never call.

The next day (Sunday), we woke up a bit late. That day, due to strange dream last night, Roy asked me to accompany him to find photo store, to take a new photo. He dreamed about his current photo (printed last night) cannot accept by Guigang immigration cause they required the most recent one. That afternoon, under the thick rain, we go and luckily found one in the corner. Very small shop and very not eye-catching. After talk in a a-e-a-e Chinese for a while, finally, the owner know what we want. Click click, the photo instantly made. After done, we stop by in the small fruit store to buy some apple. We wanted to buy orange, but, unlike Indonesia, here, orange has it own season. Also, with a-e-a-e Chinese, we managed ourselves to buy as we want. Later that afternoon, Mario pick us up to went to the port, to witness the lift-up of the sinking ship in front of our port. Yes, there were an accident happen right before we came. An in one and a half month, we cannot load/unload in that particular spot. This has raised the anger of the mayor of Guigang, because such accident never happen before. Bad reputation for us.

Speaking about a-e-a-e Chinese, we once went to a restaurant and walk out again immediately since the restaurant don’t have menu with pictures on it. The other time in other restaurant, when we though we finally can order something different than shown in the pictures, they served us beef with chili, whereas, we order beef with green beans.

The 2nd week, we’re moving to 2nd company located at Lumberyard. In the speed of flash, we accomplished the work only 2 days. Fantastic. People there were very helpful, thanks to Pak Ansel, who is originally Philippine but able to speak bahasa Indonesia quite fluently. One night, they took us to eat special seafood porridge, which very very delicious. It served with the big clay hardened bowl, as big as half meter high and half meter diameter. Very excited to eat since we were only given very small bowl, you have to add the porridge to your bowl a several times before you get enough, and every time you add you must stand up. Very delicious, till all sweat coming out, the crab, the shrimp and the sea shell taste very good in the smooth mushy rice porridge. Ohya, the first night after audit Lumberyard, Pak Ansel took us eat at KFC. The chicken taste the same, only here, you cannot asked for chili easily like in Indonesia. Chinese don’t like chili, in fact they don’t like too much spice. The food mostly taste insipid, always seems to less taste. When we feel the food is OK, and similar to Indonesian taste, they complain that the food is too salty, too spicy, too biting etc.

On the same week, after complete the work, we move to the last company to audit, at Lobowan. Here where we met Chong. A funky Singaporean CFO and very fun to work with. Actually, our audit schedule is matching his resignation. We came 4 weeks before his last day, so we can have discussion with him before hand over our recommendation to the new guy. During our audit here, is Zhong Li, the accountant who help us a lot. Speaking a very little of English, she can understand and manage all the file and work we requested her. In other words, she’s getting the things done for us. She told us that she’s getting married this November, and she’s so keen to show us her pre-wedding photos. We’re quite stunned seeing her photos, far much prettier compare to the real person. The magic of photography. Here, many translators helps us, including Xiao Wei (Celina), Xiao Tan (Elaine), another Xiao Tan from Liuzhou, Veronica, and Ah Mei.

Finally, after working hard, another Saturday come. This time, we’re not planning to work, but of course, drafting report is not consider “work” compare to so many busy days the day before. We went to supermarket at Meng Zhi Dao in the morning to buy some snacks and other gift to take home. Also we bought an instant noodle only to try the taste. It came out not so bad, taste good, but again, unlike Indonesian instant noodle that more spicy of course. I bought ear mushroom to my father in law, he seems like it very much and ask for the same if next time I assigned to China.

On the way home, we were teased to try a ride with tricycle pedicab, ride by a’i a’i (old aunt). Here, mostly rough-work were done by women. Women here are super compared to men. Men were pathetically lazy and less responsible for their family. Here are some pictures showing ‘super’ women in Guigang.

At night, we ask Dewi to accompany us to Bu Xing Jie, a night market, to buy Chinese handphone. Henny Tanjung from Jakarta office ask us to buy it for her. Chinese handphone is very cheap, touch screen, mp3, mp4, global map, 2 MB camera and video recording + external memory 256 MB, only RMB 800 (less than Rp 1 million). The clothes also cheap. I bought a pair of T-shirt and pants with only RMB 49, I get the fine and comfort one. Cheaper than that also available, but less comfort to wear, although the model is quite fashionable. Then we go home and get rest, tomorrow we’re going to Nanning, jalan jalan.

Nanning, capital city of GuangXi province
We go there with Dewi and Xiao Lin (new employee – coming from Liuzhou, to replace Dewi, Dewi is coming back to HQ in Indonesia). Xiao Lin (a man), took his degree in Nanning 5 years ago, so he quite familiar with this town. Took approximately 2 hours from Guigang to Nanning. First, we stop by and visit Nanning International Convention and Exhibition Center, known as ASEAN Center, since it is use for exhibition for ASEAN Country, the gate of ASEAN country to China. The building is not yet fully completed and not yet open for public. So, we can only take picture outside the building.

From there, we went to electronic stores center, like Glodok in Indonesia, accompany Dewi to buy a digital camera. Electronics really cheap here. I bought my self a Sony memory stick 2 GB for my Sony Ericsson, only cost me RMB 170 (about Rp 200,000), while in Jakarta, the cheapest (with unknown brand) could cost Rp 350,000. After getting new Olympus digital camera, at 1 PM, all hungry, we went to find something good to eat. ‘Where can we get a good lunch here’ I asked Xiao Lin. ‘Good lunch mmmmhh’ he think for a while, then made a phone call to his friend, and we headed to a restaurant called “Little Sheep”, quite popular in China, special serving lamb in a shabu shabu bowl, with regular Chinese soup and chili soup. Not mistaken. Really really a good lunch. Best I ever had in China. All sweat, hot and spicy. Wiuh wiuh.

Next stop, is Bu Xing Jie, Nanning Bu Xing Jie different from in Guigang, more tidy, bigger, more comfortable, and open from morning. Later I know, that Bu Xing Jie means a market that only allowed people walking, car and other vehicle is not allowed. So, Bu Xing Jie is not a market name, it could be everywhere, not only in Guigang or Nanning. Here, things are, again as usual, cheap ! I bought 2 funky Korean skirt for Natz with the price only RMB 80, a trouser for only RMB 29, a lady shirt only RMB 39, a fine sleep wear RMB 25 and 3 pairs of earrings for only RMB 33 !

Before going back to Guigang, we stop by at the lake to enjoy the sun set afternoon at Nanning. The lake is for recreation, small boat, duck boat, fishing or just a relax walk is things you can do here. We spend the whole afternoon until the sun goes down, then headed back to Guigang. Arrived at Guigang at nearly 9 o’clock, we stop by to have Mi Fan before back to hotel. One FUN day, compared to other full of busywork day.

Back to work, but still having fun
Back to work, not that hard at Lobowan, not as hard as Mao Er and Lumberyard, because we already know what to do and getting familiar of certain things, including the language and certain terms. Mao Er, Lumberyard and Lobowan are basically not much different. After work-hour we can still going out to have fun with CFO and the gang. Is him that introduced me to the Chinese drinking habit. Chinese people likes to drink, they like to play card too, and the one who loose has to drink, sometimes have to finished until the bottom of glass. This is what I remember about Chinese way of having fun: bottles of drinks, card, boiled snail, little roasted shrimp, and ginger chicken. And they do it at night, for supper. They even tough me how to play certain game with cards, how to effectively taking out the snail from the shell. I find it fun, really fun.

At the week end, Friday night, we go out with our translators (Anne, Celina, and Xiao Tan). They accompany us to Bu Xing Jie, because Roy and me still want to find something to us and our wife. At the restaurant, before going to Bu Xing Jie, come friend of Anne, Xiao Cao, accompany by her father, Lao Jiu (old nine). This little Xiao Cao (only 16) is eager to meet us, to learn and speak English, which her English, for us, is very good, nearly excellent. Later that night, her father come to Bu Xing Jie to pick us up and invite us to Anne’s apartment to have supper. Again, we were served with drink, chicken and snail. Chatting with Xiao Cao, we found out that she named her self Joblyn, as her English name. Hearing that name, Roy suddenly said, “No, you cannot named Joblyn, not good” We suggest a few name for her, finally she agreed with me, I named her “Candy”. “Tang Guo” she explained to her fellow Chinese who don’t understand English. Candy is Tang Guo in Chinese.

Saturday come. Wake up late, having lunch with Ah Mei and going back hotel to rest. 4 PM, I’m going out to try the cream bath in Guigang. Dewi accompany me to a salon. With price of RMB 18, you can get special treatment cream bath, including head and back massage. Really not bad and refreshing. Before meeting Dewi, I stop by at the park to take an afternoon photos. Good view and very tidy. Youngster playing skateboard, children ridding bike, old people walking or sitting, I saw 3 young girls also stop by to take pictures near the European style “goddess statue”. At night, the park playing attractive water spring. Many local come to see as if they never seen this before, although it plays every night.
Spooky dream
Sunday, we’re doing nothing but sleep, mostly. But that afternoon, when sleeping, I felt something strange. I dreamed a spooky dream, that I’ve been talking to two girls, but one of them not really exist, then my room was filled with unidentified ‘things’, perhaps ghost. Realized that this is dream, I fought very hard to wake up, but I can not open my eyes, I even feel ‘something’ want to keep me here, not allowed me to get out the room. When I finally woke up and told Roy about my dream, funny, he also felt the same. He even felt that somebody is sleeping on his bed. Later that night, after having diner at Meng Zhi Dao, eating pineapple fried rice, on the way walking back to hotel, we realized what our strange and spooky feeling coming from. We saw people praying and burning joss stick (hio), all around the Guigang, probably all around China, praying for the death to celebrate the Ghost day. Perhaps, the only person who not doing prayer is us. No wonder so many ‘things’ I saw in my room, although only in dream, they seem very real. Hiiiiii iiiii spooky day. But thank God, only one day, the celebration of Ghost (ceng beng in Medan dialect).

Final week
Final week is relax week. All job has been done. Not quite. Relax week but yet terrifying week. Finalized the reports is the most ‘hard work’. From Monday to Wednesday, meeting every day, with all related person. Only two of us, sometimes only me alone when Roy going out for new passport/visa, against everybody, from 3 companies. Luckily, we finally get through it and finalized a good reports.

After that, really a relax days. That Thursday, they having a farewell party for Chong, the CFO, and we’re invited. Similar to the Chinese party in Indonesia, they book a huge karaoke room, singing, dancing and of course, drinking. In fact, one of the girl ask me and Roy, separately, to dance with her. And the marketing head, Meng Xiao Lin, repeatedly asked us to drink with him, “gan bei” they said, and sometimes we have to drink more than one glass for one gan bei, “double, double” he said. That ‘crazy’ man, he don’t even get drunk or get red. This is the 2nd farewell party, the fist one is with the Accounting team, also they invite me (Roy at Guangzhou for new passport). In the other words, our last days in China is celebration coincide with the farewell of the CFO that they love so much.

Until Friday night, our last night in Guigang, our boss call us for meeting at his apartment at 21.30 to discuss our reports. We were picked up at Meng Zhi Dao by a brand new Mercedes Benz when having dinner with Mario, Vivi and Dewi (all Indonesian friend) for the last time. Meeting finished at 22.30, our boss caught yawn several times ha ha.

Home Sweet Home
The next morning, very early, we prepare to fly home. Going to Nanning with driver at 5 AM. Pak Harmani (also Indonesia fellow) coming home with us in the same day different flight. From Nanning to Guangzhou we took the same flight. But from Guangzhou to Jakarta, he took the late flight. So we go separate way in Guangzhou airport. At Nanning airport, the new pasport and visa have no problem to passed the gate since this is just a domestic flight. The problem arise when Roy passing the imigration gate at Guangzhou airport. They not easily believe us since the photo on the passport has missing part of embassy stamp. It took us an hour waiting for them to check. I don't mind at all to wait, sit beside me is two beautiful chinese female aircrew of Japan Airlines. After an hour, they let Roy go. It came out that the missing part of stamp is stick on the other side of the paper, because the photo is printed on a glossy paper. Thank God we took the early flight from Nanning, so we can anticipate things like this. In the waiting room for Garuda flight, surprisingly, we met another fellows from Indonesia (Pak Slamet and Mario) at the same flight.
Arrived at Jakarta at 10 PM, my lovely wife already awaits for me. Seeing her there after a month separated, I remember the day when I left her to fly to China. That sad and frown face has turned to a bright, happy and smiley lovely face. So did mine. Very Happy to be home.

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