October 28, 2010

Beijing Auto Show 2010

The largest auto show in the world takes place in the far reaches of Beijing, about 2 hours away from the city center. Nevertheless, throngs of spectators still flocked to see the attractive models on display at the Beijing International Automotive Exhibition. After they were done, they turned their attentions towards the cars. Having a vehicle is a status symbol in China, although with 4.5 million cars in Beijing alone, it is not a particularly exclusive one.

I walked around for a couple of hours, paying particular attention to the concept cars and those being unveiled to the public for the first time. The numbers were staggering - 800,000 visitors, 1000 vehicles, and 100 international debuts. Not only were all the foreign brands out in full force, but dozens of Chinese manufacturers were also present. The local automakers are yet to make an impact on the global automotive scene, but they still dominate the low budget segment of the Chinese market.

I was ushered into BMW's VIP suite after I explained to the beautiful hostess who I was. A stone faced guard moved aside on her signal and I strode up the stairs. Several exclusive models were on display. I smiled at them before continuing on to the dining area. I sipped a coffee, watching the crowds milling about below. I then enjoyed a sumptuous lunch along with other members of the glitterati who had been granted entrance to the VIP area. After the meal, I rejoined the masses to hurriedly visit the booths of the remaining vendors. It was the last day of the motor show and the workers started to drive the cars out of the exhibition hall well before closing time.


"A car for every purse and purpose." ~ Alfred P. Sloan

October 25, 2010


Amidst the modernity of a fast developing nation, it is always possible to find fascinating traces of the past. 100 kilometers from Beijing lie a series of ancient caves carved out of the cliff side at Guyaju. The original inhabitants of the largest cliff dwellings discovered in China lived here over a thousand years ago. Not much is known about the cave dwellers, with both their origins and disappearance from the region still a mystery. Archaeologists have made guesses on which cave was a temple, which belonged to the village chieftain, which was a stable for horses, and which was a storeroom based on clues such as size, location, and shape of the specific cave.

Although the rock is soft, life was hard for the residents of Guyaju. Not only the walls of their homes, but their tables, beds, and tools were all made of stone. Carefully climbing the steps etched into the cliff, I examined a small sample of the over 120 caves in the complex. From atop I could see the odd modern day reconstruction of a town from the American West down below. This development, ostensibly to allow wealthy Chinese to have vacation homes where they could imagine they are living in 19th century America, is called Jackson Hole.


"Here we stand in the middle of this new world with our primitive brain, attuned to the simple cave life, with terrific forces at our disposal, which we are clever enough to release, but whose consequences we cannot comprehend." ~ Albert Szent-Gyorgyi 

October 18, 2010


When today's tech savvy toddlers were posed the question "What do you want to be when you grow up?" one of the most frequently heard answers was "Technical Project Manager". I live that dream.

My job as a Technical Project Manager (TPM) at Interone allows me to work in a creative environment, alongside art directors, designers, copywriters, and developers in the online division of the advertising agency. What exactly do I do as a TPM?
  • I oversee the technical design, development, and launch of multilingual websites in multiple countries simultaneously, always having to be aware of the statuses of dozens of projects at once
  • I supervise the technical staff, which includes developers (who write code) and content editors (who upload content to the  website), by explaining to them what tasks have to be completed and when, providing guidance on how to accomplish these tasks, checking that they have all the materials they need, and helping them when they are in a bind
  • I evaluate business requirements and alternate solutions, provide cost estimates, and schedule resources
  • I coordinate with third party vendors and service providers
  • I identify, report, and fix bugs
  • I star in the occasional movie
  • I interview potential candidates and perform other day to day managerial tasks
It is a multidisciplinary job that requires not only top notch technical skills, attention to detail, devastatingly gorgeous facial features, and a sharp intellect, but a 360 degree understanding of what needs to be done in the minds of various stakeholders and the ability to bring it all together into a combined product that can be launched under tight deadlines.


"A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves." - Lao Tzu

October 15, 2010

Mist and Mirage - Kaiping Daiolou

The last place I visited during my epic 40 day trek through the Middle Kingdom was Kaiping. The county is famed for its distinctive watchtowers, known as diaolou. Rising magnificently from fields of green, the diaolou fuse Western and Chinese architectural styles. Originally constructed to keep bandits away during a time of rampant poverty, 1800 of the approximately 3000 structures remain standing today. Many are shuttered and not open to the public, while some still function as active living quarters for locals. Although Kaiping has a population of 700,000 people, it is estimated that another 700,000 Kaipingers are scattered throughout the globe. On a rainy day, I wandered through the cobblestone paths from one diaolou to the other in the village of Zili, accompanied only by a group of clucking roosters. I also visited the nearby Li Gardens and the town of Chikan, both of which also had similar fusion architecture.

After the practice of slavery was largely outlawed in the colonies of the Western powers, the colonialists still needed a source of low cost labour for construction, mining, gold-digging, and other economic pursuits. Their eyes turned to Canton in the 1800's, and Kaiping in particular, for here there was an untapped resoirvor of workers willing to accept any offer for a chance to work abroad. The worker would often get passage to North America or Australasia, and painstakingly work off the debt owed for the ticket in exchange. Many never made it back alive to see their families, others came back much worse off than before, but a few made fortunes in these far off places. These wealthy overseas Chinese then brought back Western ideas and money to fund the construction of these unique structures in Kaiping.


"Americans are very rich people. They want the Chinaman to come and will make him welcome. There will be big pay, large houses, and food and clothing of the finest description. You can write your friends or send them money at any time, and we will be responsible for its safe delivery. It is a nice country, without mandarins or soldiers. All alike; big man no larger than little man. There are a great many Chinamen there now, and it will not be a strange country. Never fear, and you will be lucky. Money is in great plenty and to spare in America." - advertisement for recruiting workers in Kaiping

October 13, 2010

Beast Inside

After years of getting the cold shoulder from both Hollywood and Bollywood, my talent was finally recognized in the People's Republic of China. I acted in a short film called Beast Inside. Along with my fellow thespians, I was picked up in a van and taken to an abandoned warehouse where the movie would be filmed. My principal scene was the first to be shot. It would set the tone for the rest of the movie. After a few practice runs to see if the lighting and camera angles were correct, I changed into my costume.

Everyone held their breath as they waited to see how I would perform in my long awaited debut. Crew members ran around me, releasing smoke from canisters to create the proper effect. The director signalled that filming had commenced. Even through the haze, the spotlight shone brightly on me. I rose to the occasion, nailing my scenes after only a few takes. Everyone applauded as the director yelled "Cut!". I humbly acknowledged their praise as I walked off the set.


"A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting."
- Carlos Castaneda

October 12, 2010

Forty Days and Forty Nights

After half a year of near continuous overtime at work, I took a 40 day leave of absence to explore the faraway regions of China. I said goodbye to some friends, reunited with others, and made new ones along the way. My Irish roommate and Malaysian diplomat would both leave the country to pursue other opportunities while I was away on my trip. My friend Preston would be my travel partner for the first half of my adventure, before returning to his American homeland. We met up in Xinjiang, crossing deserts (the Taklamakan), borders (into Pakistan), streets, and anything else that we came across.

At the midpoint of my journey I would spend a few days in Chongqing with my father, who would be attending a conference there. Preston and I would continue onwards, sailing the utterly disappointing Three Gorges before going our separate ways in Wuhan. He would return to Beijing to collect his belongings before flying home to America. I would turn my gaze eastwards to Shanghai and the World Expo, before traveling south to a tiny village in Fujian province to attend a colleague's marriage.

One successful wedding and several sessions of heavy drinking later I would find myself in Xiamen, a lovely coastal town near Taiwan. Here I would reunite with my former sidekick Leo for a few days until our paths diverged again. He was headed north and I was going south. My 40 days were almost up as I reached Canton, where I divided my time between the mega-city of Guangzhou and the tiny villages of Kaiping before jetting back to Beijing. All told I traveled over 13000 kilometers during this epic journey, or approximately 1/3 of the circumference of the Earth.


Not all those who wander are lost. - J. R. R. Tolkien