the first day of work. the worst would be to come back and have people say, "i didn't even realize you were gone!" fortunately that didn't happen, as i was welcomed back. if anything, people were saying i'd been gone a long time, which is exactly how i felt. i went to the downstairs bakery in search of breakfast. that's where i bumped into shirley, who was the last person i saw before i went on my vacation. "how was your vacation?" she asked. i said it was fine. i wanted to ask her about her mother but didn't think it was appropriate to spring up with that question.

much like the speed at which chinese construction projects move along, a lot can happen in a chinese office, even in just a week. first of all, some people changed seats. fengya moved down to sit next to guo. looks like she beat me to the punch, since i wanted to move as well. why she'd want to sit next to her boss is not something i can answer. lihui ended up taking her old spot directly behind me. some absent engineer took loren's old spot, i don't know who. conspicuously absent was yangyi, and i feared the worse, which xiaolong later confirmed: the head office asked yangyi to return to shanghai in preparation for his departure to venezuela for another project. this was the big departure he'd waiting for since october, and now it was suddenly happening. i don't think anyone had time to give him a proper sendoff, his departure happened so quickly and unexpectedly. i sent him a QQ message asking him how long he'd be in shanghai but he didn't reply back yet. the construction engineer with the always muddy shoes? he moved to the other side, where that young korean kid used to sit. and little zhouke in the contract department? (that's not her real name, but for the longest time i got her confused with big zhouke because they look alike) looks like she left the company, and in her place some new guy. that's a shame because i really never got to talk to her even though she seemed interesting. it was obvious for months now she didn't seem happy, and when she took a long leave of absence to recover from appendicitis surgery, that was her out for leaving.

i realize that i do most of my work early in the mornings, then the rest of the afternoon are spent whittling away the hours until time to leave. i figured it'd take me a while to get back into the swing of things, but i slipped right into work mode as if i never left.

i know a lot of the custodian ladies but there's one who seems to have a particular interest in me, the one who comes around our area in the morning to empty out the trash cans. she said she hadn't seen me in a while, i told her i went to chengdu. "to visit your wife and kid?" she asked. "no, i'm single," i told her, raising my hand to show her i wasn't wearing a wedding ring. "how old are you? 26? 27?" she asked. i told her 39, 40 next month. she didn't believe me at first, but then decided i was too picky. i told her i was just unlucky. "a handsome guy like you should be married," she said.

i saw chehong eyeballing me in the office. turns out she wanted to give me the package that arrived for me when i was on vacation. just a small padded envelope, my parents sent me a new sansa mp3 player along with some cold medication.

mr.ma came around to let people know of their options of the upcoming chinese new year holiday at the end of january. people can either choose to leave early - 1/23 to 2/6 - or take the later option - 1/29 to 2/12. that 15 days of vacation. later lihui explained to me that it's only for people who have regularly scheduled vacation that fall during that time. only those people can take the extended option. otherwise, the regular chinese new year break for this year is 1/29 to 2/6. lihui told me that sometime after new year (1/31) i can come visit him in wanzhou and he'll take me driving in a borrowed car (he has a license) through his old village. so during my christmas vacation i headed west; looks like for the chinese new year vacation i'm going east.

i left early for lunch - 11:30 - as my allegiance to the cost control department slowly ebbs away as more people leave. i sat down by myself but was quickly joined by wangyan and yuwei. yuwei told me earlier that she only wants me to speak to her in english, but her chinese is much better so it's just easier speaking with her in the language she's most comfortable in. manny our german cohost sat with us. he told me that he's doing a dance performance for the new year dinner ceremony, and he's looking for willing male partners to dance with a surplus of female dancers. that was the perfect opportunity to get to know more of the owner's secretaries, but i have a natural fear of dancing so i balked. he said they rehearse every day after lunch, so maybe tomorrow i might go take a look just to see what they're doing.

after lunch i went around the office dropping off gifts: some rabbit jerky i got in chengdu, and some powdered cakes i bought here in the chongbai supermarket but actually from chengdu. i gave some to everyone in my department, then some to xiao and lihui, and of course shirley and mahui, and to wangyan as well. the jerky went fast, i still had a lot of mini cakes so i gave some to mrs.gu and chehong (she was sleeping, i left them on her desk), and to zhang anshu and xiangmin.

sunmeng got in touch with me in the afternoon. she mentioned a new mao cai restaurant in the old city, i half-jokingly said we should go one of these days, and was surprised when she said tonight.

after work i feigned tiredness and said to lihui i wanted to go home and get some early sleep. i sat by myself on the bus, listening to my newly acquired mp3 player. when we got back into the new city, i just made a beeline straight to my apartment. after dropping off some things (including the large santa head), i went back downstairs and took the bus into the old city, to meet up with sunmeng at the mall at 7:00. when i got there i didn't see her. of course she'd changed her hair color since i last saw her, so anybody could've been her. i called, she said she saw me, but i still didn't see her, and she told me to wait as she came down to meet me.

the mao cai restaurant was right in the mall (actually a multi-level outdoor atrium), i would've never found it on my own. we ate RMB$62 worth of mao cai (actually just RMB$52 because sunmeng had an RMB$10 off coupon). it was okay, a little bland, and not very hot for some reason. the mao cai lihui and i ate in yangjiaping in chongqing city was much better, but i think because we were both starving after a day at the zoo. sunmeng asked me if i'd been sleeping well because i had terrible breath. nobody else told me this! i told her it'd because i ate a whole head of garlic yesterday with my rice porridge. she told me fengya called her yesterday asking if she wanted to hang out, but sunmeng he just gotten back from korea the night before and wanted to sleep in.

afterwards sunmeng and i walked around the old city plaza a little bit before we both took the bus heading into the new city. she got off midway (she lives in the old city), i stayed on but got off soon afterwards to see if they had any good glass tumblers at the hypermart.

for a place so huge, hypermart actually has a poor selection of glass tumblers. i decided to go back to the chongbai supermarket and get that glass tumbler i saw yesterday. before i left, i checked the produce department and found some bing tang oranges for just RMB$2 a lb. i ended up getting a bag of oranges for around 50¢. instead of walking back, i elected to take the bus (104).

i got to the new city around 9:10, with the mall closing at 9:30. i quickly went downstairs to the supermarket and found what i was looking for (RMB$29.30). back outside, i noticed how quiet the place was. was it because of the cold weather? normally there'd be ladies dancing outside. or maybe 9:00 is the time when they normally all go home for the evening.

the double-walled glass tumbler is not very well insulated, which i knew when i bought it. filled with boiling water, the outside wall becomes warm to the touch. compared that to my vacuum-sealed contigo, which still feels cold even when there's boiling water on the inside. i got this tumbler primarily because it's see-through, so i can see the flowering tea leaves inside.

i also tried the new bing tang oranges i got from hypermart. they're not as pretty as the ones i got yesterday, and they're a bit smaller, but they're just as sweet. mrs.gu also gave me a blood orange she picked from an orange grove she and some upper management people went to yesterday as part of a new year's day outing. afterwards they had a home-cooked dinner at a farmer's house. mrs.gu told me that had she known i was back in town, she would've invited me as well. as for the blood orange, juicy to the point of over-ripened, but definitely a bloody color on the inside, and sweet with a touch of tang.

out of curiosity i tried my old broken mp3 player. surprise surprise, it started working again! even after i washed it. so i didn't need another mp3 player after all, but it's good to have a spare in case i need it.