Unsolicited product review: Meguiars Clay Bar

If you think "clay bar" sounds like a particularly repellent diet candy, I don't blame you.  It's actually for taking paint smears off your car, and it really works.  I actually posted about it once before, but this time I remembered to take before and after photos.
A few weeks ago my wife lightly scraped a concrete pillar in a parking garage while maneuvering to a newly opened ticket window.  The result was this nasty arc of gray on her deep metallic blue Miata.
It looks screwed, right?  When you see that on your car your heart sinks, you just figure it'll be like that forever unless you pay someone with permanently blackened fingernails a grand to bolt on some new body panels.  But sometimes it's not so bad:
blue Miata here
Basically you buy this kit, and inside it there are "gray bars" (here actually white) in plastic bags.  You open one and knead it until it's kind of soft.  Then you flatten it out a bit, spray that squirt bottle onto the car, and rub the bar on it.  Rub it and rub it and rub it.  It took me a half hour or an hour of spraying and rubbing to do this, meanwhile stretching and folding the bar to get a clean surface.  There's other stuff in the kit too, like a soft cloth and some wax, but the clay and spray are the main things.

You do have to be careful not to get sand or hard grit in your bar, because if that grit happens to be at the surface of your clay while you're rubbing, it will scratch the daylights out of your clearcoat.  It's not too difficult.  Just wipe off the car with a paper towel before you start, and don't lay the damn clay down on the ground while you're working.  Put it in the little plastic box they gave you.  Easy!

Shenzhen travelogue 5: door, ass, etc

Leaving Shenzhen, I took a taxi to the ferry terminal.  On the way, we drove alongside this:  an open truck full of half butchered pigs, uncovered, unwrapped.
Their tails flapped in the breeze.  It reminded me, as I left, that the Shenzhen project is a thin veneer of modernity and cosmopolitanism laid over much older ways of doing things.  And in the long run, I and the other westerners, the scientists and managers and vice presidents, don't belong here.  The Chinese government is modernizing China not for us but for the Chinese.  Don't let the door hit you in the ass on your way out.

Shenzhen travelogue 4: avoiding fiery death

Below is an email I sent home in the middle of the trip.

Oh hey I forgot to tell you, I almost got killed yesterday. We were driving to that vendor site and avoided an accident by inches. There was this tanker truck, I could tell it was empty by the way it was bouncing, and the driver was absolutely flogging it. The highway was three lanes each way, we were in the left lane. This tanker came up in the right lane going about 20mph faster than traffic, and moved into the middle lane to pass someone. But the smaller truck he tried to pass got into the middle lane too, to pass even slower traffic. Mr. Tanker was going too fast to avoid rear-ending the guy, so he laid on the horn, locked up the brakes, and drifted to the left towards us. We were about six inches on either side from being pinned between a concrete barrier and a semi, as the road with three lanes briefly had to accomodate four abreast, three of which were trucks. But in the end, there was no contact.

Our taxi driver was a pussy. He left too much following distance from the car in front of us, and he was constantly getting cut off. And he stayed in the left lane. And he should have seen (as I did well before the incident) that that tanker driver was dangerous and stayed the hell away from him.

Traffic in Chinese cities is anarchy, but it works. There's a system, it just isn't the same system that they teach in driver's ed and put on the signs and laws. Traffic on the freeways, on the other hand, doesn't work. There is too much speed difference between the slowest and fastest vehicles, slow vehicles don't stay to the right, and everybody is constantly changing lanes without looking behind them. There's a custom here that you're only responsible for what's in front of you. That's technically true in the US too, but people usually check their mirrors anyway to be polite and because they know the consequences of getting rear ended. Here they don't look first.

Shenzhen and its people: here to stay?

On the day I arrived in Shenzhen, I had a conversation about the city with a native.  We shared the shuttle bus from the airport to the hotel, and I took the opportunity to ask a stranger a question that had been nagging me.  Almost everyone in Shenzhen is in their twenties, so why doesn't it feel like a college town?

My fellow traveler grew up in Shenzhen before the construction began, but he'd spent the last ten years in Washington DC.  I told him that the last time I was here, I hadn't seen a lot of local culture.  In the US, if you had all these young people living in a citys, there'd be a thriving music scene and sports leagues.  Like Ann Arbor, but fifty times the size.  I told him maybe I don't know where to look, but I haven't seen that in Shenzhen yet.

He said basically the young people are working long hours and sending their money home, so there's no time or money left for cultural activities.  Also, they don't feel like Shenzhen is their home, so they don't want to invest in improving the city itself.  They're not there to stay.  They work for a few years and then go back home to establish themselves.  I found this response both depressing and incomplete.  The kids have got to do something on the weekends.  And at their age, this city must be a roiling cauldron of hormones.  They should be competing to get laid in this pan-Chinese cultural melting pot, inventing and discarding styles faster than the Japanese.  But no.  Karaoke is the closest thing they have to a local pastime.
This time I'm seeing more children and old people here in Shenzhen.  Like the city is here to stay.

That might seem like a staggeringly odd thing to say about a city; the only time a city disappears is when the climate wipes out its civilization, right?  But in 2010 the impression I got was more like a colossal factory than a city, although I couldn't put my finger on it at the time.  A factory can close down if a simple business decision is made.
At a Chinese Walmart, are all the goods made in the USA?
And maybe that's why:  all of Shenzhen felt like a business decision. The Chinese government decided to perform an experiment in openness and modernization.  They set aside a tract of land that for some bizarre reason didn't already have a metropolis on it, and they invited foreign companies to come use their abundant labor.  Everybody won:  the companies got trainable production workers at relatively low wages; the workers got what was for them relatively high wages for a few years.  As time went on, the Chinese government ramped up the value added:  first it was only production workers, then supervisors, then managers, then engineers, then scientists and vice presidents.  At every step, foreign companies got the benefit of low wages, and the Chinese employees got training, and the Chinese government got highly skilled people that could be used elsewhere in the economy - to build Chinese companies, for example.  Really, you have to hand it to them.  It was very well managed for a government program!

But by now, Shenzhen has acquired inertia, a presence of its own.  People actually live here, and not just the people that lived in the sleepy fishing village my fellow traveler grew up in.  The production workers sending money back to their families don't call it home, but others do:  the managers and engineers.  If a factory closes down, those people don't pack up and move back to the provinces, they find another factory.  They're here to stay.  But it's still a mystery to me why those managers and engineers haven't created a local culture.

Shenzhen travelogue 2: the rotating restaurant

I ate several meals in a rotating restaurant on top of the Baolilai International Hotel, where I stayed.  I took some pictures as the scenery came and went.

If you were an architect assigned to build a rotating restaurant, how would you do it? Like a lazy susan, with ball bearings? Air bearings, like an air hockey table? Or just a giant greased plate?  Would you use a screw drive to push it along?
View from the rotating restaurant, 12:23 PM
I think that hole in the ground is going to be another hotel.

12:33 PM.  Things at the right edge of this picture were on the left edge of the one above.
When I'm here, I eat a lot of fresh fruit. There are fruits here I simply can't get in the US. Right now, there is something in season that looks like a Rainier cherry and has a similar pit, but tastes totally unlike cherries. There is guava, which has big hard seeds that stick in my molars. Also there is a melonlike fruit with white flesh and many soft small black seeds. Lychees are in season - vendors sell them by the side of the road, there's a stand about every thirty feet. 
Finally, 12:54PM.
Based on these images, it looks like the hotel rotated about 90 degrees in the half hour I was there.  Two hours per full rotation isn't fast, but then again, the restaurant is huge.

Who's been hospitalized in China? This guy!

By the time you read this, I'll be home, but I'm writing it in the middle of a two-week work trip to Shenzhen, China.  Travelers do get sick here.  Even the locals don't drink the tap water; bottled water is everywhere.  Usually a few days of Imodium clears up any problems.  But not this time.

On Friday night, I decided I wanted something nice to drink with dinner.  Since alcohol is pretty expensive here, I ordered a cheaper-than-usual dinner:  a cheeseburger.  It came fully cooked; I prefer medium rare but it's safer to have your food thoroughly cooked here, even in a restaurant inside a four-star hotel.  It tasted a little funny, sort of like they'd mixed in some sausage spices with it, but I finished it.  Ten hours later I was awakened by the urgent need to use the toilet.  I was kind of bummed, because I thought I might get through this trip without The Problem, but it's usually no big deal.

An hour after waking, I started vomiting.  Between throwing up and using the toilet every 30 minutes, I was dehydrating fast.  I started to see spots.  I called the front desk and asked them to bring me some medicine.  They came up to my room so I could write down the brand name I wanted.  While they were there, I ran to the bathroom and threw up violently.  The assistant manager said 'we think it's better if you go to the hospital with a bellhop'.  I knew that the anti-diarrheal medicine wouldn't cure vomiting, so I agreed.  

I felt like I'd swallowed Satan's motorcycle and he spent several hours doing donuts in my gut.

The bellhop transcribed/translated this conversation between me and the doctor
The Chinese doctor wisely diagnosed me with acute gastroenteritis.  It's pretty obvious when a foreigner throws up in a plastic bag in your office and runs to the WC twice during the visit.  He gave me three medicines, which the bellhop immediately administered to me.

I post the image of this guileless dog not to imply that the foreign doctor was untrained.  Far from it - I entrusted him with my life.  It was me that had no clue how to proceed.

If you are a foreigner, how do you pay for hospitalization in China?  Cash.  Visit the ATM in the hotel lobby before you leave.  In this case it was very cheap; the whole doctor visit was only 99 RMB, about $16 including the medicine.  The hotel had told me it might cost as much as 1500.

The bellhop dropped me off at my room and gently but firmly urged me to sleep.  Oddly, he and the doctor both said to drink only warm water, not room temperature water.  My coworker described this as a mere tradition.  My guess is that it helps prevent people from drinking too fast.  I know my inclination was to pound three bottles of water immediately upon returning to the room, but if I'd done that, it surely would have come right back out, along with the medicine.

Saturday was a lost day.  One of those medicines may have been a sleeping pill, because every time I'd wake up (to answer the phone or the door or to roll over) I'd fall right back asleep again for 2 or 3 hours.  I ate nothing, only pills and warm water.  On the other hand, delirium might be normal after losing five to seven pounds of water weight in a few hours.  My medical condition improved quickly but didn't clear up completely.  Sunday morning, 24 hours after the beginning of the incident, I finally showered and ventured down for breakfast, and as of this writing I've been awake and clear-headed for, oh, six hours.

In compressing this story to conserve time, I haven't mentioned the help and support of two important people.  First is my wife Alice, who contacted me by every means available to cheer me on.  Second is my coworker Mr. Gu, who visited me, double-checked my doctor's orders, and brought additional medicine.  Many thanks to both.

Travelogue: Shenzhen 2013

I've just returned from two weeks on business in Shenzhen, China.  The next few posts will be about that trip; I'll space them out so they post every few days.