It's my 80th day in China, so at this point I think it's safe to say I'm going to survive this experience. In recognition that my ability to survive on the other side of the world has probably been improved by some of the companies I have dealt with, I want to give the following unsolicited 'thumbs up' to some things that have made my life in China better and easier:
Skype: If there's a way to invest in Skype, I want in. It is the greatest thing ever. If you don't know about it, it's telephone software for your computer. I have a local U.S. phone number that anyone can call for free, and with my laptop and a headset, I have been able to chat with family, friends, and most of all my wife whenever I wanted for pennies. I actually spoke to my wife probably twice a day on average, and without that I would certainly have been a wreck.
BeijingExpat.com: If you're going to spend any length of time here, I can't recommend this community highly enough. Before getting here, I was able to get a sense of life as a foreigner in Beijing by reading the message boards, and as I was preparing I would post my questions and get the unvarnished answers I needed from people like me. After I got here they helped me find grocery stores, shopping etc. If you're coming here, join the community there first.
SIRIUS Satellite Radio: I didn't bring the receiver, but I do have a virtual 'tuner' on my computer, and I've been able to listen to all my favorite music while I've been here.
iTunes and iPod: I've even been able to buy new music, and with my iPod, I brought my entire music collection, plus every episode of my favorite TV shows, which I have watched religiously. It's a full entertainment center in my pocket, which takes on special significance when you're pretty much cut off from all normal sources of entertainment.
Dell Computer: As you can tell from the list above, my laptop has pretty much become the center of my life here. Every touchpoint I have with my life back in the States goes through this computer. It's my TV, DVD player, telephone, videophone, news source; I've been able to keep connected with my work in Minneapolis; I've been able to write this blog. I know people can travel long-term without all this technology, but it really, really makes it all so much better. And my computer has held up admirably.
AT&T Wireless: I was impressed with AT&T and how quick and easy it was to get ready for China. They unlocked my phone so I could buy a China Mobile card and have a local phone number, and set my wife up with international roaming so we knew we were in touch at all times when she was here. We payed dearly for the feature (a minute of talk time cost $2) but it was worth it when we needed it.
MLB.com: One slice of home I've enjoyed has been baseball. Several times a week, I'd listen to the game that had just finished back home while at work. Of course, the Twins haven't exactly made that a GOOD experience lately, but it's surprising how nice even a little thing like listening to a ballgame can be.
Of course, the biggest thank you goes to my wife, who is neither a company nor a product. She had to talk me off the ledge about a dozen times, plus picking up all the balls I dropped when I came here. So if you see her, give her a hug for me.
IN OTHER NEWS:
Talk about indulgence. My Scottish colleague set up a Sunday brunch at the Intercontinental Financial Street Hotel on the west side of Beijing. Eight of us attended (as usual, going around the table read like a United Nations roll call) and feasted on... well, everything you can imagine. I was the odd man out in not being a fan of shellfish or sushi, but there was lobster, lamb, pork chops, omelets, fresh fruit, 20 feet of pastries, fish, pasta, a dessert spread with caramel flan, a chocolate fountain, cheesecake, ice cream and all the Verve Clicquot champagne you could drink.
Which, as it turned out, was quite a bit.
Afterwards we retired to the bar where some partook of cigars (I did not) and more champagne. Al told, we were there for more than 4 hours. The bill was astronomical by Beijing standards but in line with what you'd pay at a top-tier restaurant back home. But hey, how often am I going to be out for brunch at a five-star hotel in Beijing?