On Friday the 11th, our HP site held the annual company party to celebrate the Chinese New Year. One of the events for the evening was a Red Carpet Fashion Show. Each woman who wanted to participate needed to find a dress and a guy to escort her down the red carpet. A few women on my team wanted to partake in the activities but when it came down to it, only two of them ended up in the show. The others bailed out because they could not find the right dress or the right shoes.
On Friday morning the employee buses started to arrive and excitement filled the office air as everybody waited to see what kind of outfits people were going to wear. A few of us guys showed up in our shirts and ties, but everybody was waiting to see what the women were going to put on. The women started to show up but none of them were wearing their dresses. I asked my runway partner, Kathy, where her dress was, and she told me she was wearing it. This puzzled me because all I could see were her jeans and a long winter jacket. It turns out that she had the dress on under her coat and wore the jeans to cover up the fact she was wearing it.
Finally one of the women came out in her dress. She wore a traditional Chinese dress with the slits that go “all the way up the sides”. All of the local employees rushed over to check her out. Cameras were going off, and there was a lot of discussion going on about what she was wearing. I figure that wearing a dress in the office is a huge deal since most of the time we are in our “nerd attire”. The other women took notice and started to put on their dresses. As each dress came out the “ooh’s and ahhh’s” got louder and louder. It is easy to see how this would have never happened in a Boise work environment.
At noon we boarded the company buses and headed off to a hotel that was 1.5 hours from the city. On the way the bus drivers got lost and we ended up pulling a couple U-turns in the middle of a busy highway. We finally arrived at the hotel and sat ourselves in the Grand Ballroom.
For the evening I put on my blue suit, pink shirt and pink tie. I also brought along my sunglasses because we always get compliments how “cool” we look when we wear them outside of work. I am under the impression that most Chinese think sunglasses are just for looking cool and not for eye protection. When I put them on all of my coworkers started to cheer and take pictures. Pretty soon everybody wanted to wear the sunglasses in their photos.
A very funny thing happened when Mickey, Minni, Donald, and Daisy showed up for a visit. The costumes looked pretty funny because they were a cheap imitation of the real thing. I am not sure why they were there, but I have a hunch it had something to do with the “year of the mouse.”
After 30 minutes the MC for the evening told everybody who was in the fashion show to step outside of the ballroom. I was really not sure how everything was supposed to work out, but I have learned in China you just roll with it, and things will usually sort themselves out. My red carpet partner and I stood near the end of the line. After a while the admin from our lab came up and told us we would be in group three. I asked where group three was and she really did not know. In another ten minutes we were asked to move behind another couple that was ready to go onto the carpet. Then at the last minute we were asked to go toward the back again.
Once we hit the red carpet, I put on the glasses and tried to look cool while escorting my coworker down the carpet. One thing I learned was that in China it is not customary for a man to hold his arm out to escort a woman. My coworker told me how it was a “western” thing but she thought it was fun to try it.
After the fashion show ended, the the variety show started. As usual, there was a large spectrum of entertainment. We saw our coworkers do MTV style hip hop dancing, men dressed as women, Chinese classical instruments, a woman sing “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”, etc… Most of it was meant to be lighthearted and humorous. A few guys from Boise got up and did a great rendition of the Beach Boys “I Get Around.” Unfortunately most of the Chinese had never heard of the Beach Boys so they were not too excited about it. Since most of the evening was in Mandarin, it felt like one big inside joke that I would never understand.
A couple hours went on and I began to notice my fellow Boise workers had stepped away from the table. I went outside the ballroom to find them and ran into them sitting at the hotel bar drinking beers. It seems that there are only so many skits, operas, and dancing you can take before you need to rest your senses. We downed a couple beers and waited for the dinner to show up.
The dinner finally arrived. It was the usual Chinese meal. Shrimp and vegetables in oil, vegetables in oil, chicken in some sauce, steamed fish, mushrooms, and other food I could not recognize that was also in oil. The waiters also brought out bottles of REEB brand beer (yes that is beer spelled backwards). It is the tradition to do a lot of toasting at these annual events. Each table toasts each other, the big bosses toast everybody, and then all of your local engineers want to come and “drink with you.” We have been told it is offensive to them if you turn them down for a drink. And it is very upsetting for somebody to lose face.
So trying to save everybody’s “face” at the party means that the next day you will probably wake up with a headache.
The next day I went out sailing at the lake while Alecia went with one of the managers from HP to a water town. I only got to sail for 15 minutes because the wind was extremely heavy and it started to beat up my sails pretty good. I ended up in the snack shack watching videos of sailing in Thailand. In the evening I joined up with Alecia for dinner with her friends from work.
The next day I headed back out to the lake for my first match race. For those of you who don’t know, match racing with sailboats is a head to head competition. A course is set up and only two boats go at a time. As they say in match racing, “there is no second place.” You are either the winner or the loser.
I was very excited to try out this racing format. The winds were heavy again but this time I had 3 crew on my boat. Alan (from Canada), Jean Louie (from France) and Patrik (from Germany) all hopped on Calypso for a rather eventful ride.
The first race I was matched up against a guy from England who had a lot of match racing experience. I tried to make a move on him at the start, but we messed up our gybe and he was bearing down on us in no time. He was able to take control of the race rather quickly. When the starting time came, he was well ahead of us and it continued that way until the end.
I was really excited for the second race. I was matched up with a boat skippered by a from Australia. We got our boats behind the starting line and started to chase each other. I was able to get on the back of his boat and thought I had a good start position, until he took off early for the start. Each of us supposedly had a synchronized watch to start the race. As it turned out, some of our watches got out of synch. Anyways, we went over the start line and chased off after him. By then the other pair of racing boats was screaming downwind at us. I saw a boat in my path and I had the right away. It looked like he was not going to move to give me room, so I made a quick turn to avoid a collision. Unfortunately I caught my crew off guard, and the wind caught our main sail and capsized the boat.
After owning the boat for almost 6 months I had never capsized it. Patrik and I always pushed the boat hard to see how far it would go. We were pretty secure in our beliefs that it would be really hard to capsize. So as the boat was going over we both jumped to the rail to keep it from going down, but it was too late. Luckily our boat has some air tight compartments and it did not start to sink (like our previous experience with a club boat). Patrik stepped on the mast and tried to get on the centerboard to right the boat. He slipped and fell into the water. This is the point at which I tell you it was probably 35 degrees fahrenheit out and the water was probably in the 40’s. Patrik immediately started to have some difficulty breathing, I jumped to the centerboard and the rescue boat came over and got Patrik out of the water. Our other crew member, Alan, had jumped into the water to get the mast out of the mud. Both Alan and I were wearing full 5-mm wetsuits so it was cold, but tolerable.
I stood on the centerboard and the rescue boat hooked a line to one off my shrouds. It slowly backed up as Calypso started to right itself. My goal was to jump into the boat and avoid going for a swim. This did not happen. I ended up in the water and made it back to my swim ladder and was able to get back into the boat.
Alan and I sailed it back to the harbor, pulled it out of the water and cleaned it up. Patrik was able to get some dry clothes on and finally get warm.
We learned a few things that day:
1) Life jackets save lives.
2) Wetsuits also save lives.
3) Rescue boats save lives.
4) The mighty Calypso does have her limits.
There is another fleet race this Sunday so I hope to keep the boat upright.
- Zhen Qi Guai – Very Strange In a couple of my International Business classes, when they brought up culture they said that one of the ways...