I do not normally blog about employment negotiations, but this was a strange one. I shake my head every time I think about it....
The story is not very complicated: The Beijing office of Novell posted a job opening on a local website. I responded. There was an interview, which seemed to go well enough. A couple weeks later I received a phone call followed by an e-mail, with an offer. And here is where things go a little off the rails....
Normally one would expect an offer, especially from a big company, to be, well, SOLID. Ie. at that point, if I accept the terms of the offer, the job is mine, if perhaps conditional upon a probationary period. Based upon this understanding of the situation, I actually turned down an interview in the following couple of days....
Apparently though, at least in Beijing when dealing with Novell, there is no such "solidity". After I had already accepted the offer, the HR person I was dealing with asked me what kind of visa I had. I told her an 'F' (rather typical, I think, of someone working freelance in China).
"Oh". "You need to have a work permit already." What she is talking about basically is a "Z" visa, which is only held by full-time employees sponsored by their employers. In my current situation, which was no secret to anyone, my holding a Z visa was quite an unreasonable assumption. And then she just kind of casually brushed away her previous offer, like it never existed.
As any foreigner who lives in Beijing knows, the silliest part of this exchange is making a big deal about any kind of a Visa in Beijing. Getting them is fairly trivial. Even little hole-in-the-wall English schools seem to be able to get their employees Z visas, and I certainly do not have any problems renewing my F (normally....)
So I am left contemplating three probable explanations for all of the above:
I tend to lean toward the last explanation. But none of the above leaves me much inclined to waste my time replying to another Novell job posting.
The biggest and oldest expat-oriented site in Beijing. Especially
good for their classified listings:
Another recent addition to the list of Beijing expat sites. Well-done
but will it succeed?:
Beijing bus routes. All Chinese, but is there any other way?:
Haidian Hospital: Clean, fast, cheap, professional service. But not a
word of English anywhere:
United Family Hospital: Probably the best hospital in Beijing.
Expensive, spacious, staffed by Australian doctors. A friend of mine had
major surgery (collar-bone reconstruction with plates and pins) and had
a first class experience:
Beijing Linux User Group (BLUG): http://www.beijinglug.org/
Beijing Python User Group (BPUG): http://groups.google.com/group/bpug/
Drupal China: http://drupalchina.org/
Open Party: http://www.beijing-open-party.org/
Organizer / aggregator for Open Source events.
An Open Source software development company, with a 100% Open Source working environment.
I am a Canadian who has lived in Beijing for four years now, and I walk a lot. Some locals tell me that I know Beijing better then they do. So perhaps my opinion of Beijing's various tourist traps(!), er, sights, might be of interest to others.
Let me dispose of shopping first. I am not a shopper, so I do not intend to say much, except buyer beware! Counterfeit goods are plentiful and often difficult to distinquish from originals. If the price is unbelievably low, then you have a fake in your hands. The cheapest goods are often of very low quality, and might break the first day you use them. Foreigners are charged very high prices. Starting prices for foreigners wandering around in markets are generally *at least* double or triple what a local would pay, so bargain hard, or take along a local who knows the terrain. That said, if you walk into a big shiny new mall, goods are legitimate, and prices will be not much different then wherever you just came from (maybe more, because of luxury taxes....)
Beijing's parks: Tiantan 天坛, Ditan 地坛, Ritan 日坛, Yuetan 月坛 parks (Heaven, Earth, Sun, Moon) found at the four cardinal points just outside the 2nd Ring Road. The Old Summer Palace 圆明园 in the Northwest just north of Beijing University. The Summer Palace 颐和园 further to the Northwest, just at the edge of the city. Xiangshan Park 香山公园 and the Beijing Botanical Garden 北京植物园 at the extreme Northwest edge of the city. Beijing's parks are beautiful, peaceful, and sprinkled with old temples and architecture that in some cases goes back millennia. Special mentions are the massive temple complex in Tiantan, the Buddhist Temple Wofosi 卧佛寺 in the Botanical Garden, and the thousands of martial artists training every morning in Tiantan.
The Hutongs 胡同: Beijing's traditional courtyard / narrow lane neighborhoods. These are shrinking rapidly because of development, or in some cases being renovated into something that does not much resemble the original. Old neighborhoods still exist in many places. From Ditan Park, head south across the 2nd Ring Road and then hang a left just after you pass Yonghegong Temple. Or head straight south from Tiananmen Square and you will find more. Walk around Houhai Lake just inside the Northwest 2nd Ring Road and there are many examples of old, and highly renovated, courtyards, as well as shops and restaurants.
Tiananmen 天安门 Square: its big, free, and surrounded by a lot of imposing architecture.
Simatai Great Wall: The Great Wall passes very close to Beijing, there are many areas that are highly accessible from Beijing, and they are therefore absolutely over-run by tourists. And in some cases renovated so as to look like they were build just last year. Traffic is horrible, crowds can be so dense as to render one as unable to move.... Simatai is far enough out (three hours drive) that very few people go there. I have been there twice (three times?) and seen just a handful of people each time. Renovations are minimal. It is possible to spend the night in local guest houses.
Eat a lot. Do not be afraid of street food, hygiene levels are quite reasonably high. You can eat very well and very cheaply, or very well and very expensively (though the former is more difficult without Chinese skills).
Any part of the Great Wall except Simatai, unless it is the dead of winter, which has a way of reducing the crowds.
The Forbidden City. It is definitely worth seeing once, but it was completely stripped of anything that could be carried away during the Revolution, so it seems, at least to me, to be kind of.... empty. There is a garden in the north end with very old trees, and another one just outside the complex on the East side, which I thought still retained some feeling.
The campuses of Beijing University and Tsinghua University (adjacent to one another at the Northwest 4th Ring Road) are big and beautiful.
Shopping, for reasons enumerated at the top. Unless you want something very specific, like jade or Chinese artwork. Then be prepared to bargain.
Most Temples. Most of them feel like tourist traps manned by fake monks. There are some exceptions, but I generally feel regret after paying the door charge at these government-run institutions.
I just attended what I think was my first Open Source conference. Hard to believe I have been an open source zealot for so long and this is my first conference.... As it happens, maybe because of the Beijing Olympics, maybe because the Open Source community is experiencing massive growth in China, this is just the first of several such events in Beijing over the next few months.
I have to say a conference like this is a fun, informative, and highly motivating experience. It really does leave one with a strong desire to find a project and start coding, like yesterday. It probably also helps that the event was super-well-organized, and most of the presenters were quite interesting.
One of the things I learned this past weekend is that the Open Source community and the commercial world are in a highly symbiotic relationship. Fully 40%(!!) of the work done on Open Source projects is done by paid employees of companies that operate in the Open Source space. Which of course explains why there are so many eager sponsors for this kind of conference: they want to recruit more free labor for their projects by helping to build a vibrant Open Source community around them. It would seem like a truly win-win situation, and perhaps explains why many companies are moving towards the Open Source model. (Of course, Sun Microsystems is the poster child for this trend....)
The sponsors flew in a number of executives and senior engineers from around the world to talk to us. The event was free, the facility first class, lunch was good and also free, and there were some quite lavish prizes raffled-off at the end of every day (starting with a laptop....) I felt quite pampered.
Another really interesting tidbit I picked up was the vast increase in Firefox usage in the past couple of years. If I recall the graph clearly, Firefox users went from single digit millions to over 100 million during that period. Obviously most of those are Windows users.
And I switched my window environment from KDE to Gnome. Gnome really seems to be becoming the standard, so I really think I should get better acquainted with it.
Here are some pictures from the event.
I managed to mess up my lower back recently, resulting in severe, debilitating pain for several days. If I were living in N.America, and being averse to knives and drugs, I would turn first to a chiropractor. In China (and, as far as I can tell, all of Asia) chiropractors are a very rare breed. A friend of mine suggested that I should try Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM - 中医).
Personally, my first thought was that acupuncture (针灸) might be helpful....
A lot of Chinese hospitals, naturally enough, seem to have TCM departments, and I knew of one for sure here in Beijing, a place that I have had a couple of very good, and very cheap experiences with before: Haidian Hospital (海淀医院).
I asked for acupuncture. The doctor said no, the best thing would be Tuina (推拿), which might be most generally described as Traditional Chinese Acupressure Massage. (The progenitor of Japanese Shiatsu, which is probably more familiar to most Westerners....)
I would have to agree, in the end, because Tuina includes spine manipulation techniques that are very similar (and similarly effective) to those used by chiropractors. He massaged the area for about fifteen minutes, then put me on my side, and pressed back on my upper shoulder while pressing forward and down on my upper knee so as to put some torque on the whole spine. Then he dropped his weight into my knee to give the lumbar area a sudden surge of extra torque, and my vertebrae snapped back into place with the customary satisfying crack. Three treatments on three successive days and I was almost back to normal.
I thought 100 RMB per treatment was a bit expensive for the local standard of living, but I might have been paying a bit of "white man's" premium. And at about US$1 ~ 6-7 RMB, it is still much cheaper then a comparable amount of attention from a chiro in N.America.
I saw them adjusting other peoples necks, but have not yet had that experience from a Tuina doctor myself, so I cannot comment. Cervical adjustments, in my experience of chiropractic, require more finesse and a much lighter touch then is necessary for lumbar adjustments. Whether that skill is common here, I do not yet know. But I will not hesitate to go get some Tuina for any future spine issues while I am living in China.
Virtual Museum of the Chinese Cultural Revolution
This is a list of Chinese language web-sites that might be of interest to non-Chinese who can read a little Chinese. (Please install Chinese fonts if you are not seeing Chinese characters below.) I personally use to speed up the process.
Getting back and forth between China and Vietnam is cheap and easy. The bus ride between Hanoi and Nanning costs only 150 RMB (~US$20), and you can catch the first one around 0830 at either end, no advance ticket purchase necessary. You change buses at the border, and arrive at your destination in mid-afternoon.
On the Nanning end, the Vietnamese embassy is in a quite obscure location, but service is good and you can get a same day six month business visa for US$200. Demonstrating typical bureaucratic efficiency, their website does not appear to give an address. Here we can find an address (but without Chinese):
Consulate General of Vietnam in Nanning, China
1ST floor, Touzi Dasha
109 Minzu Avenue
Phone: (86-77) 1551 0562
Fax: (86-77) 1 553 4738
The bus station in Nanning is also a very long ride out to the edge of town, 30 RMB by taxi from the train station.
On the Hanoi end, the Chinese embassy is easy to find, on the west side of Lenin Park. Per usual for Asian embassies, it would seem, the website seems to have no address and no information about hours of operation, not even in Chinese. Note that the front gate also has no English, all signs are in Chinese and Vietnamese. Address:
Embassy of China
46 Hoang Dieu,
Ba Đình, Hanoi
Phone: (04) 845 3736
Hours: Mon-Fri, 0830-1100
As of this writing (23 Sep 2008) you only need a photocopy of your passport front page and Vietnamese visa and entry stamp. No mention of return plane tickets, or hotel reservations. You will be turned away if you wear flip-flops (sandals with a heel-strap are accepted) or your shirt does not cover your shoulders (no kidding). Service is terrible, and glacially slow, as there are only two immigration agents working visas, and most customers seem to be travel agents with two dozen passports under their arm. I got there about nine and did not leave until after eleven. After being told at 1040 that I needed to rush out and get the photocopies mentioned above. People wearing flip-flops were being turned away at the front of the line after waiting for two hours, right in front of the guard who was turning them away. Welcome to China.
As for the bus station in Hanoi, it is also a little ways out of town, tucked in beside a hotel at the NE corner of "Phõ Đội Cấn" and "Giai Văn Cao" streets in Ba Đình district. (I will try to get an address...)