Saturday, May 09, 2009

Back at Ford (May 2009)

Back at Ford!!

WOW! I just realized that it's been almost 9 months since I updated my blog.

A lot has happened since then. So much happened at work in Shenglong between September and April. In the end, I quit and have a new job and now live in a new city in China. I also had a long holiday in my home town, Murphysboro Illinois at Christmas. The US has a new president, my brother became Commander of the USS Tuscon submarine, and the world is in financial crisis. ... just to name a few of the changes in those 9 months.

Let me catch you up a little on my life... Since just about the only thing I did in that time was work, lets start there.....

When I last wrote, my company and project team had just moved into our new factory and all of our machines were starting to be delivered. That started the most frustrating and difficult 9 months of my life. I guess in hindsite, some of that frustration should be blamed on the economic situation in America and the fallout to the rest of the world economies. Getting things done in our factory was so difficult. It seemed that everything was a battle. Especially if it cost money.

The company had just spent a lot of money building a new factory and office building, and then customers started cancelling orders and cashflow came to a stand still. Because of the language barrier and having my head stuck into getting our equipment ready for prototype builds and capability, I didn't realize how bad things were for the company. In November they layed off about 1/4 of workforce and went to a 3 day work week. My team had to keep working though, usually 7 days a week but still only paid for 3 with the promise of time off later. It was a common way to handle the economic crisis in China. I heard many people saying their companies were doing the same thing. And many many companies went out of business completely.

There were many other things that made the job so frustrating. I won't go into the details. Needless to say, by Christmas, I was totally worn out and frustrated. Luckily I had a long holiday during Christmas to go home and see my Mom. I wanted to spend the Christmas time with her last year - long time since i was home for Christmas. Since the Chinese Spring Festival (2 week holiday) and Chinese New Year was just at the end of January this year, I was able to stay at home for about 5 weeks total. I was able to spend lots of time with my mom and other family. The weather was pretty good. We only had snow for about a week.

Even though I was supposedly on vacation, my team was still working and they still needed my help. So I had to call into conference calls early in the morning and late in the evening. I had lots of data to analyse, and lots of emails to read. It wasn't the most relaxing holiday, but it was good to be able to spend so much time with my family. It also gave me lots of time to think.

I had already decided before Christmas that I was going to quit in the new year. In March we had our first big test called PPAP where we had to make about 400 pumps using our production equipment and processes and send them to the Ford factory where the transmissions will be built. They had to be basically perfect. My plan was to quit after that PPAP build. I had started talking to some other companies in October, but told them that I would not be available until after March. Before Christmas, I was considering 3 or 4 different jobs. In the end, I decided to work for Ford again.

The main reason I decided to take the Ford job is because I really needed to change my life. I was working too much and it was affecting my health. I gained quite a bit of weight and I got almost no exercise. I had almost no free time and did nothing besides work. It was just too difficult for me being the only foreigner working in a small chinese company trying to help, and in the end trying to force them to change their way of doing business in order to meet their American customer's very high expectations.

As I said in my last post, it is impossible to do in a year what Ford has spent the last 30 years or more learning and developing. I am very proud of my team. They learned a lot in the year and a half that I worked there. They made huge improvements between our first and last prototype builds. But they still have a long way to go and I'm sorry that I couldn't stay there to help them finish the job. It was time for me to go. I really needed to change my life.

The company was shocked and disappointed that I wanted to leave, but in the end I think they all understand. The chinese always say "health is the most important thing". So in the end, they accepted that this was the best thing for my life. And they were very supportive. They paid me for all of the unpaid overtime from Nov-Feb. They helped me move to Nanjing. They had several dinner parties to say goodbye. They even gave me a "Life Time Achievement Award"!!

It was sad saying goodbye. The people on my team really are like my family. I realized that I became very chinese when I was working at that company. Even though most of the people on my team spoke good english and almost all of my work was done in english, I was still constantly surrounded by chinese people and chinese customs and chinese ways. My boss often said "you are really chinese now". I only ate chinese food. I'm an expert with chopsticks now. I take my showers at night like the chinese, I wore 5 layers of clothes all winter because the company wouldn't use the heat. Because I knew that all I was going to do during PPAP was work, I even moved to the company apartment just outside the factory gate and every morning joined the rest of the management team for morning exercises and short jog around the factory. At one point, I realized that there are lots of foreigners in Ningbo, but I didn't have a single friend in Ningbo that wasn't chinese. That was when i realized I was too chinese, too isolated from my own culture.

Anyway, I really care about my friends at Shenglong and my other friends in Ningbo. I hope that we will all stay friends forever.

So, I started my new job April 13th. I'm now the Assembly Manager for a program to make some new engines in Nanjing China. Ford already has a factory here making their 2.0L and 2.3L I4 engines and also a Mazda engine. We'll be modifying the machining and assembly lines to make some new versions of the I4 engine. It's both exciting and comfortable being back in the Ford family again. I don't actually work directly for Ford but the Joint Venture company called CFME. It's a joint venture between 3 car companies: Changan (a Chinese car manufacturer), Ford and Mazda (obviously). CFME means Changan Ford Mazda Engine.

Our team is interesting. Our leader is a chinese guy who worked in america for a long time. He and other chinese guys I've met that maybe studied in America and got their first job in America then moved back to China actually seem more comfortable speaking english than their mother tongue because they learned about making cars in english and sometimes they don't know the chinese technical words when they come back to China. When these guys try to explain something in chinese sometimes they use more english words than chinese words, so it's pretty easy for me to understand what they are saying.

The program planning director who hired me is an american guy who's married to a chinese woman. He's been here in Nanjing for about 5 years and many other places in Asia Pacific before that - my dream job!! My boss is from Mexico. His wife will move here with him. She's really nice and speaks good english. There are 2 more engineers from Michigan. One was born in Taiwan but move to the US when he was in grade school. In Taiwan as everywhere in China, they have their own language, so his mandarin is not perfect, and he also needs to learn the chinese technical words. Actually I have been teaching him some chinese. It's really funny for an american to teach a chinese person to speak chinese. But he learns it much faster than I do. The other guy was born in India and also moved the the US when he was in grade school. He has spent several years living in Japan and Turkey. Both are single guys and both are more american than I am at this point. There is also a finance guy who is american but has worked in Japan and has recently been working in England with his wife and 6 year old twins. There are several chinese guys who also worked in america but now work for Ford of China, another american who just married a chinese woman and a guy from South Africa. We are quite an international team.

I'm still getting used to work. It's very different than being the only foreigner in a small chinese company. It feels very much like the GM joint venture job I had before. It's more of a culture shock for me this time than when I first came to China. Even though working in Shenglong was really frustrating, they were like family and they were really welcoming and accomodating to me. Everybody liked practicing their english with me and wanted to be my friend. Now i feel a little like a fish out of water. I'm not chinese, but I'm not a typical foreigner either. I think I just need some time for them to get used to me. I hope they will be my friends too when we get to know each other better. They will come to trust me and see that I am different than the foreigners they've met before.

One thing that is very different about this job is the Mazda (Japanese) influence. There are many japanese people working in the factory and the whole plant and all the processes and equipment were designed by Mazda. They even sent the whole chinese team to Japan for 6 months to study the Mazda ways of making engines.

There's a big debate about "Face Time" going on right now. They seem to want us to stay at work late so they can see our faces to make them think they are getting their money's worth out of us. But our new team believes that work/life balance is most important. Later we are going to be working a lot. Right now we are not so busy. We want to get settled into our new lives and get some exercise and do some work at home after dinner if need be.

I rented a really great apartment near the city center. It's on the 10th floor and overlooks a small lake. There's a walking/jogging path around the lake and every morning and night there are many old people exercising there. The apartment was just redecorated in an american or european style. Most of the furnishings came from IKEA. I also have satellite TV again, with quite a few english stations. I can watch the news every day and some movies too.

Anyway, I am just trying to enjoy my new life and enjoy not working all the time. I think this is enough for now. I will write more about my new life soon.


(the chinese say this because the pronunciation of 8 is ba, so 88 is baba which sounds like byebye)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Working for a Chinese Company

Working for a Chinese Company

I came to work for Ningbo ShengLong Automotive Parts Company in October 2007. It has probably been the hardest 11 months of my life, but it has also been my best job ever.

I want to explain my experience here without giving away any secrets of my company or our customer. So I will keep the information general and explain my opinions and feelings about the experience. Sorry, there won't be any pictures. But i hope you find the story interesting and thought provoking anyway. I hope that what I write will not anger my employer or customer. Maybe I should save this story for later, but I feel I need to tell my story.

Shenglong is a small company in Ningbo China. Ningbo is a very improtant export city. There are a lot of companies here that make products for export. And a lot of companies that are distributors for Chinese export products. Shenglong is a privately owned company with 4 groups. I work for the automotive group.

They hired me because they needed somebody that could help them meet their customer's needs. They won their first big contract to make a high volume transmission oil pump for Ford Motor Company in America. Ford, like all companies wants to cut costs. Just a note,... they should know they get what they pay for... Ford has offices in Asia with local people who can help them purchase and work with asian manufacturing companies. Shenglong made a big commitment to this Ford Transmission Oil Pump. They are even building a whole new factory for it.

Shenglong hired a retired Ford Transmission Oilpump design engineer in America to be their technical expert for the project. But when the Ford team made their first trip to China to visit Shenglong, they got nervous about Shenglong's ability to pull off such a big and important project. They encouraged Shenglong to hire somebody from the west to work in China that could help them manage this first project. One of the Ford people on that trip was a friend of mine. He knew that I was in china and was looking for a new job. And he gave them my name.

Actually it was almost a perfect fit. They hired me as launch manager. Actually, when i was doing my career planning during my last 3-4 years at Ford, Launch Manager was my 10 year goal job. But there was very little chance that I was ever going to be given that kind of opportunity at Ford during a time of cutbacks and reducing labor force. I was a good and hard working engineer but almost all of my experience was in Engine Assembly. It was in Ford's interest to keep me in Engine Assembly. There were many many good engineers working at Ford and many of them had a better, broader experience than I did. They weren't going to let me be a program leader, much less program manager or launch manager.

Many people at Ford have the same problem. But most of them either want to or need to stay in Michigan or at least in the USA. I really feel bad for many of my Ford friends in Michigan. Ford keeps cutting jobs, so everybody's job is getting harder. I'm sure there are basically NO opportunities for advancement. And even if they want to take one of the packages and leave Ford there are almost no other jobs in southeast Michigan in the auto industry or other supporting industries. And if they find a job in another part of the country they will definitely take a huge loss if they want to sell their house. I went through that whole nightmare myself over the past 2 years. It is a very hard time in Michigan now.

Anyway, back to my story... I say it was almost a perfect fit because I know Ford and what Ford expects from their suppliers. I speak english and am eagerly learning chinese. I have been able to help them a lot to bridge the communication gap in our 3 times a week engineering conference calls. I have good assembly experience, but I don't have much machining experience. Ford instantly saw that as a weakness and encouraged Shenglong to also hire somebody with machining experience. We looked at hiring some retired Ford transmission machining guys, but none of them were interested in coming to live in china like me. And in the end Ford came and reviewed our machining plans and met our machining engineers and they were convinced that we could handle it.

Surprisingly, I think the most valuable skill I have brought to this job is my quality mindset. Before I came here I didn't think I had a strong quality background. Assembly engineers don't have to measure parts nearly as much as machining engineers. So gaging was not my strong point. But my Six Sigma background did teach me the value of data and making decisions based on data. And I understand how important it is to have capable processes.

After I had been here for 1 month we started building our first prototypes. It took us 6 months to build about 250 pumps, and we had plenty of quality problems during that time. I and the whole team learned a lot about quality during that time. I learned a lot about gaging and realized that the design of our gages for mass production was probably the most important thing that I could focus on.

They asked me to teach Six Sigma classes to my team and others from the company. I was happy to teach them and for about 2 months I spent all of my free time developing training presentations and teaching classes 2 nights a week but most of them didn't try to use their six sigma skills so it was basically a waste of my time. Now we are about to start our second prototype build phase and then prove capability for Mass Production. Now they have to use these skills to prove the processes capable. And Ford is demanding to see the data. So, I hope that I can finally inspire and teach them the value of these useful skills.

I don't really remember it, but i am told that in the 70's america was flooded with "Jap Junk" - cheap and poor quality products from Japan. But, that is not the case with japanese products today. They are among the best quality products in the world. If Chinese manufacturing can have the same kind of improvement as Japanese manufacturing, American industry really has a lot to worry about. Anyway, I am happy to be learning more about quality. I think it is a skill that will serve me well in my future career. If I want to stay in China, I am sure I could spend the rest of my career in China as a quality engineer. I'm not saying that is what I want to do, just that there is a need and it will be here for a while.

We had so many problems during the first prototype build and we were pushed so hard to produce enough parts each week that the time slipped by very quickly and we started our mass production planning too late. There was also a commercial issue - basically Shenglong wouldn't make any investment in the mass production facilities until they officially got an order from Ford which was very late coming. So, we ordered the equipment that we need to build the mass production pumps for Ford too late and now we are behind schedule on equipment installation.

Now we are right in the middle of pre-acceptance for our new equipment. That is where we go to the companies who are making the machines and test the machines to make sure they meet our requirements and can hold the tolerances that Ford requires on the drawings for the pump. I have done this many times for assembly equipment, but it is a new challenge for me for machining and gaging. I'm enjoying learning about machining and gaging, and even though I am no expert, I don't think they could do this without me.

The whole process has been a huge learning experience for me. I am used to the Ford way. And I have had to learn that it is impossible to do in a year what Ford has spent the last 30 years or more learning and developing. Ford gives their suppliers about 300 pages of specifications based on years manufacturing process development, and experience with what works and doesn't work. They tell the supplier exactly how they want the machines built and what parts they are allowed to use and it makes the machines very expensive.

Shenglong on the other hand buys much less expensive, off-the-shelf CNC machines and a few special designed machines and gives their suppliers almost no specifications. Just a part drawing or process sheet telling them what dimensions and tolerances they are responsible for and a cycle time. They were supposed to tell the suppliers the acceptance criteria (every dimension has to be capable to 1.67 Cpk - sorry for the technical stuff). But I am finding that many of the suppliers either didn't know that this was a requirement or had no idea what it would mean to prove it to us before shipping the machines. So it is a struggle to get the machines delivered on time.

Oh yeah, and color is important to some people because face is important in china and we want our line to be beautiful and all the machines should look the same. But we also failed to tell some of the suppliers what color we wanted our machines, so who knows, maybe they will paint them themselves when they get a chance.

Maybe the biggest struggle is the cultural barrier with regards to supplier management. At Ford, managing the equipment suppliers and the order is the process engineer's responsibility. Instead of doing real engineering, Ford relies on the supplier to be responsible for the design and the process engineers are really just project managers. They have to make sure their supplier is on-time, under budget and meets all of Ford's requirements (part print dimensions and the 300+ pages of technical specifications on how to build the machines).

But in Shenglong, they split the responsibility up between lots of people, technichal department (process engineers), manufacturing department (like facilities engineering and equipment purchasing put together - which is a very strange combination) and the finance and commercial department are also involved. But, NOBODY thinks it is necessary to call the suppliers and check on their status and timing.

They all really think that after you give the supplier the order, the supplier will just deliver exactly what you want on the promised date. You don't need to call them or have any status reviews. After telling they needed to have at least a bi-weekly status review with each supplier for a month or so and getting no results, I started scheduling the meetings and forcing them to attend, but they still thought the meetings were useless. And when I still couldn't get them to do it, I just asked my assistant to call the suppliers directly. She hates it because the suppliers also have a bad attitude about having to answer our questions, but it has to be done. And of course EVERY SINGLE SUPPLIER HAS LET US DOWN!!! Every single supplier has been late or in some way not met our expectations.

I won't go into details, but it is a real struggle and cultural and professional learning experience. I am sooooo tired of hearing the translated words "They say they will do their best" which does not mean that it will get done on time or like you want.

We still have a lot of work to do to get ready for our prototype build and mass production. And I need to keep pushing harder and harder if we are to be successful. My first chinese little brother and best friend Ray recently taught me about red face and black face in china. It's a little like good cop / bad cop. He said that all teams have at least one person who is red face and one person who is black face. Red face is nice and everybody likes him or her. Red face helps everybody and wants every body to be happy and like their job, etc. If you have a problem, Red face will say nice words to you and make you feel better and help you fixes your personal problems. My boss Joan is Red face. I think Red face is the way most Chinese people like to manage. Don't push people too hard. Actually Joan is a very good manager. Even though she is usually red face, she can also be tough and demanding and push the big bosses to get things done.

Black face is the person who has to be the bad guy. Who has to make people do things they don't want to do and enforce the rules and make them meet deadlines. I have been forced to become black face on my team and it is not a job I like. But I have to do it or we will fail. I am constantly telling my team and our suppliers that they aren't doing enough or they are too late, they need to do more, need to work overtime, need to finish on time... Black face goes totally against my preferred management style, but the chinese "ok is good enough" or "doing our best" mentality isn't going to meet our American customer's expectations.

Though my team knows i love them and I think they love and respect me to, they will follow the chinese boss's wishes before mine. They have to. I am a lone warrior and though I may be fighting for the right cause, I may be fighting a losing battle. I often feel that I work for Ford, not Shenglong. It is a difficult and often lonely line to walk.

Last thoughts for today...maybe I should save this for later but I am going to say it. Shenglong is a growing company - but they are growing too fast. They have successfully won a lot of new contracts in the past 2 years. My opinion is that they should quote a higher price and hire more people so they don't have too much work and can better meet their customer's demands. And their employees can have a better quality of life. But this is china and they can hire labor at a very low wage and ask them to work very long hours. If the people don't want the job there are many others that will work for the same low pay.

This is always a very difficult ethical question about working in a developing country. They pay me a fair american wage which is much higher than my chinese counterparts and even my bosses. In return, I am helping them to learn from the west and become a better company. There is a lot they can learn from me if they are willing to change their way of thinking.

My daily dilemna is: Chinese people are the nicest and hardest working people I have ever met in my life. I love the people on my team. They have become my family in China. I care about them very much and I want to help them. But what is the best way to help them? I think it is to lead them to success. And to teach them how to become better. I hate some of this company's HR policies, and though we from the west would say they are not fair, they are probably no different than any other small chinese company. So, how can I best help the people I love? Is it best for me to work hard for the company and help my team succeed or quit in some feeble protest for human rights... I don't think my quitting will help the people I love. But my job is to successfully launch this product. And try as i may, I cannot force the company to hire more people. I am forced to be black face. I constantly have to ask my team to work harder or we will not meet our customer's requirements. In that way, I am becoming part of the problem that I hate.

And finally, a note on the American economy... Wake up America!
Even if American wages are cut in half, it will be a long time before China's labor rates (and other developing country's) will catch up to American wages. So if Americans are willing to put up with the poor, but ever improving, quality of chinese and other developing country imports, they will continue to lose more and more jobs.

Some people may think that I am a traitor to be here helping china to improve. But I know I was lucky to be born in America - a free and rich and powerful country. I get bored and frustrated with the "America is the center of the world" mentality and I know i can't change it, and I don't feel like i fit in america anymore. I have a world view, a restless soul. So I went in search of the place i fit in this world.

I think that everybody on this planet should have an equal chance at happiness and a good life. And I do not feel guilty about wanting to help these wonderful, warm, hard working people build a better life for themselves. That is going to happen whether I am her helping them or not.

I came to China in search of adventure and personal growth. I wanted to learn about the eastern way of thinking and I was surprised to find that I fit here. There is something about the ancient chinese way of thinking that feels very right to me. I feel like there is something that China has to teach me. I am here to learn something important from China. And I am learning every day.

I hope you are too. Maybe my story helps in some small way.

That is all for now. I hope I did not upset anybody by my thoughts and opinions written here. I just wanted to tell my story so far.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Long Time No Write

September 21, 2008

It's been a long time since I wrote in my blog...
For those of you that actually read it, I'm sorry.

The last time I wrote I had just sold my house and got my drivers licence.

And I soon found it very useful to have the drivers licence because I started driving the car to the hospital 5 days a week for 6 weeks to do physical therapy. I never found a chiropractor but did find "li liao" which means physical therapy. The therapy I did was basically traction on my neck for 20 minutes followed by 40 minutes of electrical shock stimulation to the muscles on my shoulders. I can kind of understand the purpose of the traction - Pull the neck straight and allow the bones to move back to the correct place. And maybe the pinched nerves move out of the way. But I asked several times what the purpose of the 40 minutes of electrical muscle stimulation was supposed to be doing. My impatient american way of thinking told me it was useless and a waste of time. But this is chinese medicine - which takes time, and I should be patient and give it a chance.

And, after about 5-6 weeks I was actually feeling a lot better. I asked, what should i do now and they sold me a little do-it-yourself pulley thing that you are supposed to be able to use at home. It was pretty useless and really uncomfortable. It really hurt my jaw and I figured even if it helped my neck, I was going to start having jaw problems, and that is not a good solution. So I basically stopped doing anything for a couple of months. And of course by the beginning of August my headaches and neck aches were back. So I am back to doing the therapy again.

On May 8th, my friend and little sister, Qiufeng moved to Ningbo. It was a rainy spring morning and she had spent a long 27 hours on the train to get to Ningbo. Shenglong asked me if I knew any good engineers with experience that would like to come work for the company and I said that I knew at least one. I knew that Qiufeng was not so happy at her job in SGMW (the GM joint venture in Liuzhou where I worked during my first year in china). I knew she was thinking about changing jobs so I asked her if she wanted to come to Ningbo.

I really needed a translator and asked if she would be interested, but she said she wasn't so confident in her english skills and didn't want to be my translator. So I said we also needed assembly engineers and I knew that she had some experience, so I told her she should apply as an assembly engineer.
She did start as an assembly engineer but after a few weeks, Shenglong couldn't find another translator so they forced her to be my translator. It has been a bad experience for her and she hates the job. I think I am a hard boss to work for. I have a lot of pressure and it is difficult for me to communicat with my team and my suppliers and sometimes I am in a bad mood. I expect a lot from people as I do from myself. I think she is doing a great job and I tell her that often, but she doesn't believe me. She thinks she is disappointing me or she should do better. She knows it isn't my fault. I have a lot of pressure and an impossible job to do, so she tries her best to help me get the job done and I appreciate it very much.

When she first came to Ningbo, she decided that she wanted to live with me, so she has actually been sleeping on a thin mattress on my floor in the living room for the past 4 months. But at the end of this month, I will be moving to our company appartment building which is right next door to our new factory. And she has decided that she doesn't want to live with me any more. She will find another apartment to live in so we will not be together 24 hours a day and maybe it will help our friendship. I hope so.

Maybe we both need some private time so that we can make an effort to do fun things together again like we did when we were in Liuzhou. We have had a few fun adventures together riding our bikes and hiking with friends and jogging in the park and taking long walks to the city center. I hope we will do more fun things soon. We want to go camping, so i hope in a week or so we can do that together. We have already chosen a spot and I have a tent and 2 sleeping bags, so we are all set. Just need a nice weekend and good weather.

I feel very sad that I asked her to come here. Even if she didn't love her job at SGMW she liked it much more than working at Shenglong. I am sorry i caused her to leave Liuzhou. But even though it has been hard on our friendship for her to be my assistant, I know our friendship will survive and be stronger than ever someday.

Summer in China is really hot. We live near the sea now and there is more wind here, but even though we are much further north than Liuzhou where I was the last 2 summers, it was still a really hot summer. So, nobody does much in summer in china. It is too hot to go outside. I have hardly ridden my bike since i got the car in April. Since we are starting to get a few cool days mixed in with the extremely hot ones, maybe Qiufeng and I can ride our bikes together again soon and have bicycle adventures like we used to do in Liuzhou and her early days in Ningbo in the late spring.

I had a trip back home in July for the 2nd annual Pinkerton Family Reunion and to do some shopping. Chinese people are all very skinny and generally shorter than americans. It is too difficult for me to go shopping in china. So I spent $1000 in america on new clothes. The really funny thing is that half the stuff i bought was made in china. Only one thing was made in USA and one in Canada. All the rest were from Indonesia, ShriLanka, Vietnam, some from south America,... Made in America is very hard to find these days. I also tried to catch up with friends while I was back in Michigan but the time was so short. I got to see some but not all.

I did go to an island not far from here with my friends Tracy and Donna and Qiufeng. It is called TaoHuaDao which means peach flower island.

It is really beautiful and we stayed with Tracy's friend who's husband works in the government on the island. Life on the island is really peaceful and relaxed.

I drove the car and we took a ferry to the island and back.

We saw a chinese submarine while waiting for the ferry. Cool! I never saw a submarine in the sea before.

My friends Qiufeng and Clock and I also went to HuangShan (Yellow Mountain) on the opening day of the Olympic Ceremony, 080808. It was a long drive and my neck was killing me by the time we got there. We watched the opening ceremony in the hotel and it was amazing. My favorite part was the 2008 drummers performing in perfect harmony. But the whole ceremony was totally amazing.

China had an amazing team (1099 athletes) and their results were fantastic. 51 gold medals and more than 100 medals total. It really seemed like they wanted gold or nothing. The olympics were a great sense of pride for China and they have reason to be proud. The olympics were a great success and their athletes performed very well. China is a developing country, but it is developing fast. They hosted a very professional and successful olympics for the whole world to enjoy.

The next day we went to the mountain. We took a cable car to the top of the mountain and then walked around on the top all day. It was a little overcast that day which made the scenery not so spectacular, but it helped keep it a little cooler. It was still really hot though and crowded which made it a little disappointing.

Clock taught me some new chinese words. "Tai
yong ji le!" means too crowded. And "Tai chao le!" means too noisy. I really hate the tour groups in china. The tour guides have megaphones so their group can all hear them. When there are about 20 of these pushy tour groups in any one place on the mountain top all blaring away at the same time, it is very annoying.

As you can see, it was very crowded and steep.

Instead of taking the cable car down the mountain we walked down. It was a very long walk and my legs hardly worked when we got to the bottom.

On the way home Clock taught me more chinese. He is a good and patient teacher. I enjoy studying with him. At the same time that he teaches me chinese he also learns some new english words. It was a very fun way to make the long drive go by faster.

Other than those couple of trips, my summer hasn't been too exciting.

In my next post I will update you on my job.

That's all for now... 88
(the way to say 8 in chinese is ba. So 88 is baba which sounds like byebye).

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Extreme Sports - China style!

Extreme Sports - China style!

It's been an eventful week, on Tuesday April 22, it was my brother's birthday. He turned 39 (sorry Gary) and like every year we will be the same age for the next month and a half until I turn 21 again. Then on Wednesday April 23 while I was sleeping I sold my house FINALLY!!! And on Thursday, April 24 I got my chinese drivers license. And on Friday I borrowed the company car for the weekend and managed to get a parking ticket and apparently 3 points on my driving record. :( Not fair. Friday and Saturday nights I drove into the city to have dinner and do some shopping, etc. And Sunday I picked up 3 friends and we drove out into the country to a park in the mountains and had a wonderful day in the fresh warm spring air.
So how does a foreigner go about getting a chinese drivers license? It is very easy actually. You just need to go to an official place to translate your passport and foreign drivers license into chinese, then take a physical which is a joke and some pictures and get an official paper showing your address in china and get a book with about 200 questions and the correct answers in english. Read the book - takes a couple of hours, memorize the answers - most of which are pretty logical but some are kind of puzzling - such as:
48. The person concerned should assume tatal responsibility if:
A. escapes from the acene of a traffic accident
B. breaks traffic law
C. causes deaths or injuries
Answer is A
84. When moving the dangerous narcose or asphyxia wounded persons:
A. Should use the latericumbent lying posture
B. Should use the supine lying posture
C. Should use the prostration posture
Answer is C

37. One who has taken a little state-controlled psychotropic drugs or stupefacient may drive motor vehicles. T/F (F)

65. One can take a few fireworks and firecrackers when taking a taxi. T/F (F)

80. When carrying the dangerous goods, don't overload, don't mix the people with dangerous goods, and don't mix the dangerous goods with other goods. T/F (T)

87. The professional morality is not important for a driver but only good driving skills. T/F (F)
Anyway, the whole process took me 2 consecutive afternoons and cost a total of about 200RMB (<$30). Got most of the red tape done the first day and got the book. Read the question once, took the computerized english exam the next afternoon and passed with 100% score.
And my reward is this shiny new chinese drivers license. I was a little disappointed - one of my friends who has her license told me that when she got it 3 or 4 years ago they made her put a chinese name on it. But I had to put my english name on mine.

Now the fun begins.... Driving in china.

Luckily I've been a passenger, pedestrian and bicycle rider in china for almost 2 years. Because otherwise I wouldn't stand a chance of driving on the chinese streets. Actually once you come to realize that your fellow drivers will do the most illogical thing possible and the bicycles, three wheel delivery carts, electric scooters, motor cycles and pedestrians are going to come at you from any direction at any time and often all at the same time, and they will definitely run red lights and go the wrong direction down the street and cross traffic whenever they want whether you are coming at them at high speed or not, it isn't so bad.

If you have ever been here you know that the horn is the most important part of the car! And I think they should make foreigners take a class on how to use it Chinese style. It is your way of communicating with all the people you share the road with. Usually to let them know you are there and not to pull out in front of you. Most good drivers in china never take their hand off the horn. That is what I need to learn.

The car my company has allotted for me to use on evenings and weekends is a fairly old VW Jetta with a manual transmission. After working for Ford and having the benefit of the A-Plan discount, it's been a long time since I drove an old car like this. The clutch friction point is WAY out which I'm not used to yet, so there is quite a lot of engine revving going on. It doesn't run very well when it has been sitting for a few hours. And reverse is up and to the left of 1st gear. The trick to getting it into reverse is you have to push the whole shifter down very hard and then pull it toward yourself and shift forward. And 5th gear is very difficult to get into too.

So, about my first ticket. I have been living in my apartment building for 6 months now and every night my boss's husband parks his car on the street in front of our buildings. And he's never got a parking ticket from parking there. But, the first night I park there I get a ticket the next day. Why me? I'm still not sure, but it seems that maybe it is technically illegal to park on the street. At night there isn't enough parking off the street so people park there at night but during the day maybe you have to move the car because the police can come by during the day and give you a ticket which apparently is what happened to me on my very first day. Everybody agrees that I was very unlucky!

On Friday, I rode my bike to work but took the car home for the weekend. I didn't want to leave my bike at work all weekend, so on Saturday I left the car parked on the street and took the bus to work so I could ride my bike home.

Really bad luck because that day the police gave out tickets! No signs posted saying parking not allowed. Even if there were, I wouldn't be able to read them. Apparently that will be 150RMB (>$20) and 2-3 points on my license which really isn't fair. We're only allowed 12 points a year. I don't have a chance!

Actually, before I came to this company there was another foreigner, Bill that worked here. He didn't tell me this, but apparently he got about 10 tickets a month of one sort or another. Of course it didn't take him long to use up his points. But so that he could keep driving, he would pay somebody else to say they were driving the car at that time since it belongs to the company. He would pay 100RMB per point, plus the price of the tickets, so that's probably about 4000-5000 RMB (well over $500) per month.

How many more rules are there like this that I don't know about. So far I found out there are 2 bridges in the city center that have even odd day rules. Even numbered licence plates can use them on even dates, odd numbered plates can use them on odd dates. There are cameras on the bridges that take your picture and send you a ticket if you use them on the wrong date. And there is another bridge that can be used by anybody anytime. And there are several other bridges with no rules so I guess they can also be used by anybody anytime.

And there are several traffic lights or streets where you are not allowed to make a left or a right turn. They are camera controlled as well. Speaking of right turns, it seems that right turn on red is allowed at certain lights but I'm not really sure which ones. Of course there are lots of speed cameras and traffic light cameras. Cameras everywhere - Big Brother Is Definitely Watching You in China! So, my boss's husband bought a nifty camera detector which announces active cameras as you approach them. It also apparently tells you in chinese what speed the camera is set to take pictures at. Pretty cool! But of course these cool devices are illegal.

In summary, Driving in China is definitely not for the faint of heart. It's an EXTREME SPORT!!!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

What a Headache!!!

What is causing these HEADACHES and how do I make them go away?

When did the headaches start?
Hard to say.

I spent the summer of 2007 in Liuzhou, studying and travelling and exercising every day and I was very healthy. Then I started working in Ningbo at the end of October and I stopped exercising completely since all I did was work 7 days a week, 10-15 hours a day.

... I just remember thinking, as soon as we get these pumps shipped on Christmas day I can have a day off. But of course we had to work 7 days a week the next week to get the next batch out and the week after that and the week after that....

And in January Ray came to visit and I wasn't feeling so well. It occurred to me that I had had headaches every afternoon for about 2 weeks. And it continued for about a month. And I often felt car sick in the car or bus. Then I went back to Liuzhou for the spring festival and I felt really sick again and spent most of a day in bed. So, finally, my first experience with a chinese hospital was in Liuzhou on New Years day. But they didn't find anything wrong with me. I came back to Ningbo and had more tests . . . blood tests and CT scans,The CT Scan was cool. Can see the inside of the brain. Luckily no problems inside my brain. The little balls at the top of this picture are my eyeballs. And the dark holes on the sides are the insides of my ears. :)

Then my company's general manager said that his father is a traditional Chinese Medicine doctor and he could do accupuncture for me. I am very curious about chinese medicine and i have seen accupuncture many times on TV, so I was very interested in trying it. So I did. Actually, the doctor seemed more nervous about it than I was. He put one needle in my hand and twisted it around until it hurt really bad. Then he did the same thing with a needle he stuck in the base of my scull. But then I don't know what happened because I passed out. I found out later that he was really nervous that chinese bodies and american bodies aren't the same and he might not know the right place to stick the needle. So NEEDLE-LESS to say I won't be trying accupunctuire again soon!

But that doctor did suggest that I had 2 more tests done at the hospital. An ultrasound of the blood vessels in my head and neck and an MRI of my neck. I thought that my brain might be pregnant for a minute, the ultrasound made the same swooshing noises like a baby's heart beat. Just joking. But the doctors looked at the MRI and said there was a big problem with my neck. But of course nobody could explain to me in english what that problem was and how I could get the headaches to go away. They just said, this problem won't go away easily.

So, since I got all this news just a couple of days before I was scheduled to go to America on a business trip, I decided to take the MRI film with me and find somebody in america that could tell me what it meant in english.

First, I went to my eye doctor in Michigan to make sure that my eyes weren't the cause of the problem, but they weren't. Then I went to a chiropractor and found out what the MRI had uncovered. Of course she wanted to do more X-Rays, but finally I know that I have some bones out of position in my neck and pinched nerves and the start of arthritis in my neck and my neck isn't as curved as it should be. Lots of problems with my neck apparently.

But, the headaches are tension headaches caused by really tense muscles in my neck and shoulders. This is partially caused by the bones out of alignment and pinched nerves, but more by my computer. Laptops are bad for ergonomics. Either the screen is too low making you bend your neck or the keyboard is too high making you tense your shoulders constantly.

The chiropractor said that she would recommend I go to a chiropractor 3 days a week for 6 weeks to get the bones back in the right place and fix the pinched nerves. But the arthritis or pointy fronts on the bones can't be fixed. I just need to do lots of things to try to slow down the arthritis so it doesn't get worse while I'm still young.

So I came back and was super busy for 2 weeks hosting some Ford customers and explaining all of our problems and how we plan to fix them in the future. And so far I haven't yet found a chiropractor here, but I have found a great massage place where the masseur told me, without having seen my x-rays the exact bones in my neck that were out of place. So I figure if he can feel my problem with his hands, he can help me fix it.

Unfortunately I am finding thought that the massage makes me feel great the night i have it but my neck hurts again the next day. So, I think massage really only relaxes the tight muscles unfortunately. I don't think he is helping the bone problems much at all. I will try to find a chiropractor and see if that helps more. But maybe work less, get more exercise and enjoy life more will do just as much good. I'm trying to do that too.

But at least I know what was causing the headaches and the massages do seem to be making the headaches less frequent...

Saturday, February 16, 2008

My Second Chinese New Year in China

Chinese New Year 2008 - The Year of the Rat

Finally, a holiday. The weather in China for the 2 weeks prior to the Chinese New Year record breaking. Huge snow storms brought the country to a stop. The timing was really bad as the the Chinese New Year is the traditional time for everybody in China to go home to be with their family. The worlds largest annual human migration. Trains were impossible to get tickets on. Buses weren't running because roads were all closed. Many airports were being closed. It was chaos.

The weather and customs made our lives hell at work. We were waiting for some parts to be shipped from Canada to Ningbo and they got stuck in customs in Shanghai for a week. We were waiting for other parts which couldn't be shipped because of the weather. We had to ship our pumps prior to Feb.3rd by 6pm or they wouldn't clear customs. We finally got the parts at 9pm on the 2nd and some of our people worked 30 hours straight to finish the pumps. We were all pitching in to build pumps, carry parts to be gaged, package and prepare for shipping... Those guys are our Heros!!!

So finally I started my holiday. Flew from Ningbo to Shanghai, spent the night then flew to Liuzhou. I stayed with my little sister Qiufeng.

The first night I went to my friend Ken's bar and met up with a couple of friends.
And my little brother invited me to his family's New Year's eve dinner. We went to the Temple again this year to pray for good luck and health in the new year.

I had a headache and Ray's family had me trying all kinds of Chinese cures including this one which is to eat the pig's brain 猪脑 with a dried root called tian ma 天麻. Actually, I felt better afterward.
Fireworks by the river. There were 4 big shows in Liuzhou this year and where we were standing we could see 3 of them at the same time. Cool!!!

Next we travelled about 5 hours south west of Liuzhou to our friend Rose's home town Baise. This is her parent's house. They live in a housing complex built by a factory for the factory workers. This small village has 10,000 people - more than my home town of Murphysboro Illionois.

Rose's boyfriend is Mike who owns the Wooden Shoe bar in Liuzhou. During the spring festival Mike moved back to Holland to go make some money for a while to try to pay off the loan he has for the bar. Anyway, Ray, A Zhu and I wanted to say goodbye to him, so that was our main reason for going to Baise.

We had some great meals cooked by Dong who is from Sichuan province. We had a bonfire every night and of course Mike bought lots of beer and fireworks.

The next day we did some site seeing in Baise. It is a historic city in southern China because Deng XiaoPing and his army set up their base there. We visited a house where they lived and some monuments and museums on the top of the mountain.

We had barbeque everything for lunch. Chicken feet and stomach, beef, pig penis, toufu,...

Baise also has a huge copper drum which is a replica of a Zhuang drum. Very big drum.

My next stop was Nanjing. I flew from Nanning to Nanchang to Nanjing. I stayed in a 5 star hotel right near the Confucious Temple. The area was really crowded and it was really cold in Nanjing.

The river is lit up beautifully at night.

My boss and (good friend) Joan was my host in Nanjing. She invited me to her house. I met her 14 year old daughter Louise and her 8 year old neice Shirley and her sister in law and parents. It was a nice time.

We did a lot of shopping for small things we really didn't need. But it was fun.

For the first time I saw the unborn chickens being sold on the street to eat. This is about the only food I have come across so far in China that I do not want to try. They are eggs just before hatching. Baby chicks that are just about to be born.

My next stop was Yangzhou about 1 and a half hour drive from Nanjing. I was invited by one of the young engineers on my team, Wang Yong Nian. He was a great tour guide. We walked around a lot on the first day touring a big lake called Shouxi lake which means narrow west lake.

This is Wang Yong Nian and I at the park.

For breakfast on the last day of my vacation we went to a famous local restaurant where they sell local foods. One was tang bao (soup dumplings). It was the first time I ever drank the soup of the soup dumplings using a cute little straw. Later that day we took a bus for 6 hours back to Ningbo.

So, now the holiday is over and it is back to work. Hopefully things will go a little more smoothly in the new year.


Xin Nian Kuai Le!

Happy Western New Year 2008

Happy Western New Year

After working for more than a month straight we did get a few days off at the Western New Year. I went out and bought myself a Christmas present. I bought a new Mountain Bike.
It is a beautiful bright blue Giant hardtail mountain bike.

My first 'Giant' Adventure 31.5Km - loop around the city
Of course it's too cold to ride it right now and I work every day so I don't have any time to ride anyway, but I have ridden it twice so far.

My second 'Giant' Adventure 37km to Dong Qian Lake

On the last day of the year Norman and I decided to climb a local mountain (Fu Quan Shan) which means luck mountain.

It was a fun day. We wanted to take a bus and they only run about once an hour, so we walked to the bus stop and waited. But when the bus finally came by we were standing at the wrong bus stop so the bus wouldn't stop. So we ended up walking about 5 km to get to the mountain and then climbed the mountain. It was a very cold day too.

But the mountain was a lot of fun. It is a Tea mountain. Tea trees (more like shrubs) cover the mountain. First time I ever went to a tea mountain. It was really cold but a beautiful and sunny day.

Here's a picture of my new apartment. I live on the 8th floor in a small apartment but it's just what I need.

I live in the building on the left and my boss lives next door in the second tall building just to the right.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

A Working Christmas in China

A Working Christmas in China

Well, it's now February 15th and I've been in Ningbo for 3 months and 3 weeks now but it feels like about a year. I've never worked so much in my life but I've also never had a job that was more suited to my abilities and personality.

Our company is making a new transmission oil pump for Ford. When I came here 3 months ago they were just getting ready go start building the first prototype pumps. We bought off and received two CNC machines - one lathe and one machining center for milling, drilling and tapping. Then we started machining the two parts that we make for the pump. We also bought 3 press machines to assemble the pumps and some simple leak test machines. After we received all of the components we build our first pump on Dec. 14th. It was a big event for the team and everybody was very happy and proud.

In these past 3 months the people in this photo have become my new family in Ningbo. We work very long days starting every day at 8am and often ending at 10 or 11pm. We have meetings with our customer Ford at least 2-3 nights a week and also have meetings with our US subsidiary in Michigan. And we have worked almost every day from the beginning of December to Chinese New Year holiday starting Feb 4th. We were all very tired and ready for the 10 day spring festival and chinese new year.

The woman to my left in the photo is my boss and our program manager Joan Chen. To my right is Jennifer Chen our project manager. I am the Launch Manager. The chinese have a saying "three women one stage". Kind of means "three women do everthing". Actually there are many other great people involved in the team. The general manager of the factory is the man in the leather coat to my left. He is very friendly and supportive of our program. As Joan says, we are the VIP team. We have the full support of the company to make this program a success.

Shenglong makes many spare parts for the auto industry and some low volume production. We make many different engine oil pumps and cast and machine some aluminum parts and we machine some camshafts as well. But this program is the first large mass production product we will export to a large foreign customer like Ford. They have a few people with some good experience but nobody knows Ford's requirements very well. That's why they hired me.

Our first pumps to ship to Ford were due to be shipped on Christmas Day. It was tough but we got 4 pumps shipped by Christmas. Everybody felt bad that I had to work during Christmas so they bought me some gifts and we also had a Christmas Eve dinner to celebrate our first shipment.

Of course after Christmas Eve dinner we ended up at KTV - China's favorite entertainment activity.

I keep telling them that I can't sing and they really love torturing me by making me do it anyway. This evening I sang Jingle Bells at least 4 times. It seemed to be the only thing they could find on the list. Haha