It’s that time of year…my favorite…where I get to recant the past year. This one has been rather quiet by my standards. I last left my snail mail readers after I landed in the US and started getting a return exposure to my homeland.

For the first time I learned what life in the home office/city of my current employer was like. I floated between Montgomery, San Antonio, and Washington DC. I also spent a lot of time at home in Omaha and whatever road trip I could scrounge up to a concert or sporting event. The bottom line about the home office…nice place to visit but don’t want to live there. I can’t complain about they way I was treated. They treated me very well. It just wasn’t me. I thrive on chaos and they don’t have that. It didn’t take me long to figure out I’m not domesticated…I need an ocean between the home office and me.

In February, the work trips to Texas and DC dried up and I was temporarily assigned to Oak Ridge, Tennessee where we have a joint venture project underway. Working in the US took a bit of adjusting. I haven’t been assigned to a domestic project in thirteen years. I was estimating change orders…something else I hadn’t done in a while. It had similar security requirements of my international jobs so it wasn’t totally different.

In late June, I got a rare call from the owner of my company asking if I’d be interested in returning to Beijing…same project…second verse…third verse if you count my trip here in 2000-01. Less than four weeks later, via Montgomery, San Antonio, and Omaha, I was back in Beijing. Wow!

One month after I arrived in Beijing, I returned to Omaha for a week and then back to Beijing. Northwest tells me I flew over 47,000 miles during 2007. In spite of working overseas, that kind of mileage isn’t normal for me.

The project and my role in this project is the same as before. Two years passed and lots had changed at the office but I hit the ground running and haven’t missed a beat.

Bottom line to the inevitable question; how do you like Beijing is that it feels like home…whatever that feels like. I didn’t seem to miss a beat when I hit the ground in July. It was as if I’d never left. I jumped into taxis and went where I needed to go. There was nothing complicated about it.

Like my life, the one thing that Beijing has is change. Since first coming here in 2000, many landmarks have come and gone once or even twice making navigation around the city difficult using those evolving landmarks. Unless you’ve missed it, China’s economy is smoking hot. The RMB (Quai, Yuan) was about 8.28 RMB to the dollar when I came here in 2000. Last trip to the ATM put it at about 7-1/8 RMB to the dollar. President Bush is pressuring China to remove the artificial constraints that undervalue its’ worth the RMB making Chinese goods more expensive to everyone including the Chinese. Some estimates predict a dollar worth half the current value in RMB. The Chinese are struggling with this concept. For the average household, the cost of everyday goods starts climbing while salaries go nowhere making the people part of the People’s Republic of China most irritable. For a look at the Chinese currency, Click Here.

Beijing is counting down to the 2008 Summer Olympics. There’s so much construction going on that it can’t all be for the Olympics. I missed the ticket lottery for the games. You could only register at a chance for one event. We’re not supposed to be here for the games but I believe we’ll have many people here. President Bush is supposed to be at the ribbon cutting ceremony that coincides with the Olympics.

If you call it a weekend, Sundays are reserved for Mass, grocery shopping, and dinners with friends. I’ve seen all that I know I want to see in my past two visits so being a tourist isn’t big on my list of priorities. If you want pictures, I have plenty. I’ve seen what I want from China. Most of the crew goes shopping on Sunday. I do a bit but I don’t want to carry a bunch of stuff home from here. I mail most of what I buy. Most of what I buy goes to friends back home.

I do have a bicycle I bought here and loaded down with accessories I brought from home. I ride early in the morning. I have lights to be seen. I ride early as traffic is just plain nasty during the day or early evening. As the temperatures dropped, so did my interest in riding. I do go out for a 10-15 mile ride but not as often as I would when it isn’t winter. If I don’t ride, I’ll head downstairs to the gym.

If you see bad publicity about Beijing and / or China, it usually has to do with the air pollution. For the record, the Chinese have done many things to improve air quality. New taxies and busses help. Banning gasoline-powered scooters helped. Stagnant air and tall buildings creating a wind block often prevent air from circulating so there is only so much that can be done. I’ve seen my share of hazy days due to air pollution but I’ve seen more clear days this visit than my past two visits.

It’s my third Christmas in China. I tell everyone that Santa subcontracted the work of his elves from the North Pole to China. It’s a fair bet that most of the non-perishable goods in your home have some or all of their parts from China.

I’m not sure that most Chinese know or understand the concept of the biblical origin of Christmas. There are lots of businesses with decorations involving Santa trying to capitalize on the commercial aspect but with so few Christians, I’m not sure the Chinese truly know the true meaning of Christmas. In my last visit, our Chinese subcontractor decorated their office with Christmas fare but didn’t take down the decorations until July.

For me, Christmas will be like Thanksgiving…low key and spent right here in Beijing. I could go home but it’d play with my tax status and I’ll be flying home for a week in February so I believe I’ll stay here. The physical stress of changing fourteen time zones twice for a weeklong vacation makes that week too short. The February trip isn’t a choice. I don’t really want to go anywhere else either. We will celebrate Mass at a local hotel…too big for our normal settings at the Embassy. I’ll have a few friends over for a Mexican lunch on Christmas Eve. Christmas dinner will be turkey from the crock-pot.

For Thanksgiving, we had a huge turkey feed at work on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. I ate turkey at my favorite eatery on Thanksgiving Day. We had a huge pizza feed and gave out prizes for the crew before the bulk of them went home for the holidays. The office staff will have a small gathering at the apartment ballroom.

I have one confirmed guest for early January and others have set tentative dates for visits. First come, first served at the Bluelou Bed & Breakfast. Here’s the link to my apartment; Click Here. I have a one bedroom deluxe version that isn’t shown on their web site but you’ll get an idea.

We’ll have a brown Christmas this year…not much green in the winter around here at this time of year. We had a half-inch of snow a couple of weeks ago but nothing since or in the forecast. Temps are in the 20-40 degree range.

The family…thanks for asking! Alan continues to work on his master’s degree. Theresa works and plays mom. Gigi and Jason are still busy playing working parent. Lisa doesn’t have time to work…spends her time working on her eighteen Christmas trees and Christmas decorations. Michele and Pat moved into a new home (at least for them) and are spending lots of their summer time at their very own pool that came with it. I regret to inform you that we lost one of ours over the past year. Barb’s husband Bob, had a knee injury that became infected which and he passed away in September due to complications that arose from that infection.

I have to admit, this has to be the shortest Bluelou Times Christmas edition that I can remember…2007 wasn’t that exciting for me. I know in 2008, I’ll have at least one change in venue. I’ll keep you posted. Until the next update, your wandering correspondent is signing off.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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