i sat next to zhang anshu this morning on the bus. i found out she's originally from liangping (between changshou and wanzhou), went to school in chengdu, and (embarrassingly admitted) majored in english. with her short hair and small stature, she has a pixie-like quality. added to that her way of talking fast in a conspiratorial sort of way. ZAS also told me that normally she goes to bed around 9:00, for about 9 hours of sleep. she has an office boyfriend, whom i only found out about during the sports meet when i took a photo and saw a guy leaning in close to her. even then, she has flirty office eyes.

xianglian asked how my lamb dinner with loren was last night. she and her roommate ended up going to dico's for dinner, chinese fried chicken. on the 18th of every month it's buy one get one free deal, so they binged on fried chicken. "you should've told me!" i said, "i love fried chicken!" i've never had dico's fried chicken before, but i did try their fried chicken sandwich, which was okay.

mr.yang one of the managers from sichuan construction chatted with me this morning. he was curious about my chinese new year plans. i told him i was just spending it in changshou. "with your girlfriend?" he asked. "no, by myself." that made him sad enough that he said he'd find me a chongqing girlfriend from his pool of employees. "very pretty, and chongqing girls are very direct," he added.

on his last day, loren showed up for work a little late, around 9:30. no point in waking up early since he didn't have any work to do. the most important thing was to return his office laptop and his id badge. he went around saying good bye to people, and left around 11:00, his classmate coming to pick him up via car. he gave me his id badge to return to the office.

loren left without any fanfare. i wonder when i leave will people throw me a party or will i just fizzle away as well? of course when i depart, the chance of me seeing any of these coworkers again are almost none. i have another life on the other side of the world, my real life if you will. i will probably cry when i leave. tears will be shed for many reasons. it will be an emotional day. fortunately that is many months away still.

i felt a bit numb the rest of the day. with loren gone, i no longer have to consider him when i make dinner plans. i'm free to have dinner with whomever i want now. but he was my default dinner companion; now my default is either depressing cafeteria dinner or going home and eating alone. loren was also my china explainer. there are so many things i still don't know about chinese society, but he was always there to shed some light on any subject.

i inherited loren's workload: on top of the 40 claims items i'm responsible for, i'm also adding 69 more from him. and as this is the change & claim department, i am claiming everything from his desk and cabinet, including a much-coveted green highlighter pen and a collection of colored binder clips. it didn't take long for somebody to take his swivel chair, even though his office-issued vest was still draped on it.

my first lunch without loren, and i ended up eating with the contract department (including xianglian), only because i couldn't find where my usual cost control group was located. they probably thought i abandoned them now that loren isn't here. i'll be honest, the thought did cross my mind, only so i wouldn't have to sit with FY and G. now that i'm operating solo, i really can sit where ever i want, which should've been my plan when i first started working here.

during the one hour break period after lunch, i ordered some evelyn crabtree hand therapy order (lavender, nantucket, lily). it took me a while, i had to use an american server VPN in order to get my order processed online. one of them is for wangyan, who squeezed some onto my hands when i asked her what it was during our ride into town for loren's farewell dinner. i recognized the brand (scent: nantucket), but it was yuwei who told me wangyan's older sister got it for her from hong kong, and the stuff is kind of expensive that yuwei herself has never tried it. so i'm getting one to give to wangyan, and another one for yuwei. there was a 3 for $40 deal with free shipping.

i went to bed pretty early - at 11:00 - but by afternoon i still don't have energy to work anymore. i ended up having to drink some coffee, but even then it only woke me up halfway.

i invited xianglian out to dinner tonight, but she declined by the end of the day. she said she was trying to lose weight, and prior to her fried chicken binge yesterday, hadn't had dinner for 3 consecutive nights. instead she invited me out to dinner on monday night, before i take my christmas vacation. for some reason i refused at first, which made me sound like an asshole, but my reason wasn't because i didn't want to have dinner, but that i didn't want her to pay since i imagine i make more money than her, but i don't think i communicated that idea effectively.

xianglian asked me about my sichuan paocai. i told her i saw an online recipe that included rock sugar. "oh no!" she exclaimed, "we forgot the rock sugar!" apparently that is a key ingredient in sichuan paocai. she told me to buy matang (麻糖), a type of sugar that isn't sold in stores but can only be purchased by a sugar salesman who roams the streets of changshou banging away on a cowbell. you laugh, but this person exists, i've seen him. however, finding him is another matter. "you can also use rock sugar," she said, which is good, because i won't be able to find matang in the US.

so instead i had the office dinner around 5:45. i went by myself too, now that loren isn't here to usher everyone into the cafeteria. i sat alone, but was greeted by a stream of koreans and filipinos as they came in to have their dinner. the korean project manager came up to me to personally ask for my resume. "i'm starting a new project," he told me, which i already knew, a 2 billion dollar petrochemical upgrade construction project in oman. "i want to see if there's a position for you, if you're interested," he said. the thought had cross my mind when i first heard about the project, but only as kind of a joke slash wishful thinking. but this might actually happen! the korean PM and i have a very good relationship, ever since i wrote that harsh dispute letter for him which he never sent but loved the effort and called me the office hitman because of my english language skills. so who knows. i'm not getting any younger, so if i have to spent a year or two abroad in oman, who knows when i'll ever have time to find a girlfriend and eventually get married. but oman! i've never been there before, i'm definitely curious!

xiao ended up eating with me, rejoicing over the fact that he didn't have to eat the office dinner alone since he never has any evening plans except to eat in the cafeteria and go home to his wife and son.

i ate in the cafeteria mainly because i could go to the gym afterwards. dressed in my shorts and a hooded sweatshirt, i went to the supermarket first to buy some rock sugar. when i went upstairs to the gym, i encountered a problem. normally i swipe my own card, but the attendant took my card this time and scanned it through their computer, revealing that i am not the card's original owner. why is this a problem? because membership is not transferable, or it is, but there's an RMB$200 transfer fee. they said because i didn't know, they'd reduce the fee to RMB$100. i'm probably getting fleeced, but even with an additional RMB$100 on top of the RMB$350 i paid for 4-1/2 months of gym membership, that's still a pretty good deal. i told them i didn't have enough money tonight but i could come back tomorrow. in the meantime i could still use the gym for tonight.

i finally broke the 20 minute barrier, running 4km in 19 minutes 10 seconds. i did this because i ran at a speed of 13km/h for the first 10 minutes, then ran 12km/h for 5 minutes, before increasing it back to 13km/h again. 13km/h comes to be around 7.43 minutes per mile. maybe i had a lot of stress to work out (no friends at work, gym membership snafu), but also buoyed by the possibility of a potential job in some exotic locale. i'm hoping to work my way up to a sustained 14km/h, which is a 6.9 minute/mile. getting back to fighting speed again!

coming home from the gym is the best part, as i parade across the plaza in front of all the dancing ladies, wearing nothing but my shorts and t-shirt, temperature in the 40's, my breath steaming from my mouth, slowly walking home, seemingly impervious to the cold. soon i'll be known as the "guy who can't feel the cold" amongst the people of changshou.

when i came home i added about 2 spoonful of rock sugar into the sichuan paocai jar. earlier i asked xianglian if it was okay to do this, she said yes because it's still early in the fermentation process. i tried a little bit of cabbage: bitter and reeking of baijiu. this first batch might be a bust, just because i don't have the proper fermentation water yet. the second batch - using a portion of this leftover water - will be better and faster. still, like i said, it's still early in the process, maybe once fermentation kicks in, the flavor will get much better. the rock sugar didn't dissolve immediately and i wanted to stir it into the jar, but later i saw it was dissolving, just very slowly.