Tuesday, October 03, 2006
Movin' On Up

And anyone who doesn't get THAT reference should get up right now, go sit in the corner, and hang his head in silent shame. That's right. Shame on you.

One of the most exciting things that has happened since I've been here is the sighting of other waiguoren (foreigners) of Western origin in Laiwu. It's happened a handful of times since I've been here. The occasional businessman riding through, some twenty-something guys who seemed to be WAY off the beaten trail, tourists in Shandong on their way to the airport in Jinan. But I never really introduced myself or spoke with them before. Last night however, there was a large group of foreigners (4 altogether - it may not seem like a lot, but it is for Laiwu) sitting at the table in the corner of the dining hall. *note: for those of you who are new or haven't been following, I live in a hotel and eat all my meals for free in their restaurant.

I've become good friends with the servers in the restaurant (all of whom are female), especially since I eat there three times a day. Li Dujuan, one of the girls I meet up with regularly, came up to me and told me that the laowai (usually referring to a foreign adult male, for those unacquainted with Chinese culture) at the corner table wanted to meet me as they had seen me a couple of times before in the dining room.

It turns out, these men were from Arcelor - the world's second largest steel firm that began talks to acquire almost 40% of Laiwu Steel in February of this year - and were delighted to meet the first foreigner to work at Laiwu Steel (a.k.a. me). I had a lovely discussion with them and since I'm going to be part of the team that's working with a new product line, I was able to discuss a lot more with them than if we had met a week prior. This line may go international if it's popular enough, now that there's support from Arcelor, and I may be able to assist in that, which I would love. I met with the Arcelor group onsite today and was able to do some translation duty. The higher-ups in the company speak some English, but oftentimes even their English needs translating. So this has become the beginning of a truly fulfilling week - one that I expected to be rather quiet because of the holidays, but which has actually turned out to be rather busy. I'm just glad to finally be finding a niche here. Even if I continue to move between departments or even cities, I am glad to know I actually have responsibilities. Being here for two weeks with little to do except practice speaking Chinese was absolutely frustrating - and all my fellow overambitious colleagues (you Hopkins kids especially) know exactly what I'm talking about. We feel as though we must be doing something productive always. Well, let's hope that we always are.

As a special side note, L'Shana Tovah - quite a bit late - to all of my Jewish friends out there. No, there is no Chabad or anything like it in Laiwu (one of the most common questions I've received, second only to "How's Laiwu?"), but you're all in my heart for the holidays and December will be around before you know it. For those of you who won't be in Florida in December, well it might be a while. Anyway, to make up for my lack of Judaic inspiration in Laiwu:

"There was a study done by the Harvard School of Psychology on why Jewish women like Chinese food. After many years and focus groups, the study concluded that Jewish women like Chinese food because wonton spelled backwards is not now."
Happy holidays.
posted by Rachel @ 4:03 PM  
THE WILD WILD EAST: Everything you never knew you didn't know about life on the other side.
In China, the people are represented by two separate, yet equally important groups. The Chinese, who call this land "home," and the expats who migrate here. My name is Rachel. I am an expat. These are my stories.
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