Friday, December 22, 2006

Great Walls of Fire

Today I had the amazing opportunity to visit the Great Wall of China in Badaling, which is about 90 minutes by car from Beijing. This portion of the wall, and most of what still exists was built by the Ming Dynasty, which rules China from 1368 to 1644.

I've seen pictures of the wall, and have seen it on TV, but until you actually see it you cannot imagine what an amazing effort that is must have been to build. At almost 4000 miles long it is almost incomprehensible how much work must have gone into it. What is even more amazing is that the wall is built in the mountains...I'm not talking hills here, but full fledged mountains. In fact, the terrain is so steep in places, that walking up the wall is, itself, a very difficult task.

My hosts and I traversed up several hundred yards from the entry point before we had to give in. Not only was I incredibly short of breath, it was exceedingly cold, about 25 degrees. I'm sorry that I couldn't make it to another couple of watchtowers, as that would have earned my 'HERO' status. Common belief in China is that if you walk the wall you are a hero.

Hero or not, I'm just so grateful to have had this amazing experience.


Thursday, December 21, 2006

You want me to eat that? Parts 2 & 3

I've had a whirlwind day in China today. I started my day (after sleeping for only a couple of hours in Shanghai). I met with a prospective vendor and had a fruitful two hour visit. Because we ended early, my hosts suggested that we have a quick lunch before my trip to the airport. Because I hadn't had a meal in over 24 hours, I accepted.

We went to a Chinese restaurant, as your would expect. My hosts ordered, and we ate shrimp, fish, pork and vegetables (eaten in a doughy pocket) and several other dishes. The meal was excellent, and my hosts were amazed that I was proficient with chopsticks. I mentioned my love of the American version of Chinese food and how we used to go to Chinatown in NYC to eat every so often. As the food kept coming, I waited for the dish that would challenge my sensibilities - and if finally came. A soup was brought out and it had some kind of weird looking meat and little mushrooms. As you may know, mushrooms skeeve me, so I was hesitant. I asked what it was, and they said I probably should try it before they answer. My "shouldn't eat this" red flags and alarms were going off full bore. I tried a piece of the meat and it was fine. I thought it was chicken, except that it had this strange skin on it. I ate some more, and politely asked my hosts what it was. I had just eaten frog. All I know is that it really does taste like chicken, and I will never turn frog legs down again...

After the meal and our goodbyes, I was on my way to the airport. After a 2 hour flight, I was in Beijing, the China capital. I went directly to my hosts site (my second site visit of the day) and had a short, but effective meeting. It was then suggested that we go to eat, which I accepted. Since we are in Beijing, which was formally known as Peking (as in Peking Duck), I was informed that the name of the restaurant was "The Duck House". After declining a fork (which again, amazed my hosts), we had Peking Duck (wrapped in a crepe like thing), chicken, shrimp, veggies, sweet and sour beef, etc. The only plate I didn't know what it was had vegetables and minced meat. It didn't look bad, so I took some. After eating it, and asking what it was, I came to learn that it was mushrooms. So much for my disdain for all things mushroom. It was good.

I'm finally back in the hotel and looking forward to some sleep. I get up early tomorrow to become a hero....more on that tomorrow.


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Shanghai Surprise

Actually, not much of a surprise. I've landed in Shanghai this afternoon and then proceded to wait. I waited an hour to get to the passport officer, and then waited for a half an hour while he and his supervisor inspected my passport (I think there was some belief that it was altered or something - they never said). I then waited for my driver and then waited in traffic. So I've been here for almost 12 hours and have basically just waited.

I've seen my hotel room and the skyline (which is absolutely tremendous, by the way) and that's it. I get to sleep for 5 hours, go to a site visit, and then wiat some more for my flight to Beijing. I can't believe that I am all the way around the world and I get to sightsee my hotel room. Ahhh - at least it is a nice room.

I guess you'll just have to wait for an interesting post...


Thursday, December 14, 2006

You want me to eat that?

Had an interesting experience this evening. One of the vendors I'm meeting here has a rep who has been here often and is on more of the adventurous side. So, when he told me that we need to go out to eat at this "different" kind of restaurant, I was a bit concerned.

My concerns were a bit abated when I was introduced to their driver, a hulk of a Filipino man if I ever saw one. He was at least 6' 5'' and he was introduced to me as 'Hercules'. That was his REAL name and it was aptly given. We got into his Expedition (which is a monster of a car on this side of the world) and began our trek. We drove down the main drive for a long while, passed the US Embassy, the waterfront, and began to enter a more seedy side of town. While we drove, Hercules let me know a little about it. His unofficial title is "client ambassador", which means he helps hosts clients in from out of town - he is also a driver and a bodyguard for the bigwigs when they are in Manila.

We finally got to the restaurant, which looked more like a seafood market than anything else. There were seating areas, and a kitchen area, as well. Fish, Clams, Crabs, etc. etc. were all out packed on ice. Additionally, there were numerous tanks of fish and some of the largest lobsters I have ever seen. Lastly, there were these little versions of shopping carts. We had entered "The Seafood Market and Restaurant".

Here's the deal. You pick what you want to eat, you tell them how to cook it, and they serve it to you. It's that simple, especially when you have a Greek Hero to help you. Hercules walked up to the lobster tank, grabbed one by the antennae things and hauled in out of the tank. The next thing I know, they were putting him in a plastic bag and into our cart. Hercules then proceeded to pick out clams, vegetables, fish, and shrimp. As I taunted a jumbo crab, he asked if I wanted it and I politely declined.

We went to our seating area (which ended up being a private room in the back) and enjoyed Mango shakes until the food came. First the clams in a soy sauce, then the vegetables, then jumbo shrimp tempura, lobster (Filipinos serve it cut up - shell and all - and stir fried with a chili powder), fried rice, and the fish. We finished the meal with some fresh mango.

The meal was absolutely outstanding and the company interesting. All in all, a great time.


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The big P - I

I've recently arrived in Manila, Philippines. I had uneventful travel from KL. In fact, it's been rather pleasurable. KL has an express train to the airport which cuts travel time in half (to 30 minutes) AND, if you are flying Malaysia airlines, you can check your luggage at the rail station. Very cool.

Although I've been in KL before, this is the first time I've taken the train, so it was a bit of sightseeing for me. Malaysia seems to have a significant amount of palm tree farms. It is green and lush and has some hills. It was just really beautiful country. So close to the equator, you can imagine that it looked like a tropical paradise, and you'd be right. At the same time, however, there was significant construction in some areas. The government is seemingly fostering an atmosphere that is business friendly, and the country is prospering. It just goes to show you that not all Muslims are what they portrayed in news clips from Iraq and Iran. In fact, I found all of the people in Malaysia, whether Muslim or not to be extremely friendly. Friendliness is something you'll find the the Philippines, as well. My driver and all of the people I've interacted with in the hotel so far have been very pleasant.

My flight from KL to Manila was three and a half hours. For some reason I received a business class ticket, so I had a nice big seat, got some work done and had a meal with a couple of drinks. All's good. Interesting thing on the plane. If you've traveled internationally or on a big plane, you may have seen the map showing the location of the plane and the duration of the flight. However, on this flight, it also showed a graphic of a plane with an arrow coming from the center and the word "Makkah". It also said "5300 miles". I couldn't figure out what it meant and then it hit me...the graphic was pointing to Mecca so that the Muslims on the flight would know what direction to point for their prayers should the flight cover one of their five daily prayer times. Technology is awesome.

I spoke to Angie before I left KL and she is doing well. She's been a little under the weather, but seems to be hanging in there. I spoke to Cassie, as well, and she misses her daddy. I miss her too, but I've been so busy it hasn't been nearly as bad as previous trips of this length. Unfortunately, I rarely go over 10 days, so I'm only halfway done.


Sunday, December 10, 2006


I've had some downtime in KL, so I've been able to enjoy the city a little bit. Sunday, after a long nap, I met some hosts for dinner. I was taken to the Suria KLCC (or Kuala Lumpur Convention Center). Although there may be a convention center there, I didn't see one. What I saw was a huge mall with high-end stores and restaurants nestled in between the two Petronas towers. We walked around for a while and then found a Thai place to eat. Now, since I am in southeast Asia, I couldn't pass the opportunity for good Thai, and I wasn't disappointed. The food was great. I had a shrimp phad thai that was excellent. We springrolls and other appetizers and washed it all down with a couple of Coronas....yes, Corona - the didn't have any Tsingha (Thai beer).

Yesterday, after work, a prospective vendor took me to the Hilton Sentral Hotel. We had a cocktail and generally laughed our butts off. Imagine a table with a couple of Aussie's, a Singaporean, an Indian America, and an America. Truly a blend of cultures. After cocktails, we had an awesome Japanese dinner. There is nothing like local food. We thing we have good ethnic food in the US - and the fact is that we do - there is nothing like the local stuff. We had:

wagyu wafu beef (a marbled beef like kobe that didn't even need to be chewed, it just melted)
unagi kabayaki (freshwater eel grilled with soy sauce - my choice and awesome)
ohtoro (prime belly tuna sushi - that like the beef did not need to be chewed)
hamachi (young yellowtail sushi)
and several Saporo beers.

The meal was absolutely outstanding, the company entertaining and the night altogether fun.

Today - completely different story. I am working and catching up on some work that has piled up. Tomorrow, I'm off to the Philippines. I haven't kept up with the typhoon situation, but I'll look into it soon.


Kuala Bear

I arrived in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia this morning after a 4 hour flight from Chennai, India. All is well, although I think something I ate on the flight didn't agree with me. Not all out sick, but my stomach isn't very happy with me. The hotel, as expected, is very comfortable.

I did spend a couple of hours in central Bangalore walking with my host. He explained to me how the city has grown and what's what in Bangalore. The nice thing about our time, is that we went to places that most tourists would not go. Our first stop was the Bull Temple. It is here where Hindus go to worship. It was explained to me that the area is meant to instill peace and good tidings. Every temple area will have a walking path that allows the faithful to walk around either the temple or the idol within the temple. Again, this is to obtain good will.

We then walked through several streets of Bangalore. I was told that this was a older area of Bangalore and somewhat affluent. It was very crowded and very interesting. Most were shopping or eating. I was stared at by most (I was the only westerner that I saw).

As we walked past a guy pissing on the side of a building, my host made a statement that describes one of the differences of our respective cultures. He said,

In India, we piss in public and kiss in private. In the States, you do the opposite.

One of the great things about being able to travel is to experience different cultures. None better - just different. Just watch where you walk.


Friday, December 08, 2006

In with a Bang(alore)

I've safely arrived in Bangalore. Like the rest of India it is crowded and traffic-ridden. I spent less than 24 hours in Hyderabad, and that's unfortunate, as it looked like the prettiest city in India that I have experienced. I'm sure I will have the opportunity to come back.

As you may know, Bangalore is the IT capital of India. Although there are outsourcing centers throughout the country, Bangalore is much like Silicon Valley in California. If you aren't in Bangalore, you aren't in high-tech. Many find it surprising that I am in software, have been to India many times, but haven't been to Bangalore previously. It is the only city in India where McAfee has an office.

I have three site visits to do this evening, and will be extremely busy through tomorrow morning when I wrap up at 5AM (it is currently 3:20PM as I write this). That means I'll be going nonstop for about 24 hours. I can't complain, however. I've caught up on sleep (got 6.5 hours last night) and am feeling fine. For that, I am greatful.

In case you are curious, I am staying at another beautiful hotel in Bangalore, the Oberoi. My hotel in Hyderabad was amazing, as well. I stayed (just slept really) at the Taj Residency. I did, however, receive an upgrade to a suite when I arrived at 3:00AM.

I've already received an invitation to go sightseeing and shopping tomorrow. I will tell you all about it.


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The glamour of it all

Dylan once said to me that I have the coolest job because I get to travel. In some ways he is right. I have been to a great many places and seen many things that I wouldn't have been able to otherwise. I've been very fortunate to have been able to travel so much. I've been to every continent except Africa (and I even had some chances to go there) and Antarctica. I've seen some of the most popular landmarks in the world (eg., the Taj Mahal, the Eiffel Tower, Rialto Towers, the Petronas twin towers, and others.) On this trip I will be able to add downtown Tokyo and perhaps the great wall of China. I am indeed blessed. Because my international trips typically involve seeing the vendors we use, or vendors that are trying to get us to become clients, I am often very well hosted - going to nice restaurants, being taken to see the sights, etc. And, because of company policy, we typically stay in very nice hotels. In Delhi, I am staying here.

That's all the good parts - the parts that Dylan thinks he knows about...but he doesn't really know any of the bad, so here goes:

1) Flights and layovers. There is nothing glamorous about 14 hours flights in coach or 10 hour layovers. I've done both and they SUCK.

2) Heat. I've been to places so hot that it was 100 at 7:00AM.

3) Fatigue. The expectation is that your regular day job will continue to get done. This means that you do your 8-10 hours (why you traveled) and then another several hours catching up on all that US work. Being sleep deprived and working at night is a particular challenge.

4) Homesickness. The worst of all travel maladies. Sometimes I miss Angie and the kids so much it physically hurts. I'm trying not to think about the last week of this trip. I've never gone that long and I'm not going to like it.

Am I lucky? You bet. Will I stop? Nope. Can it be a pain? Absolutely.


Sunday, December 03, 2006


I am in the middle of a four hour layover in Frankfurt, Germany and I am bored. I mean really, really bored. I usually take the direct flight to Delhi from Chicago, but my company had an opportunity to save $1800 by putting me on Lufthansa flights (Dallas to Frankfurt and Frankfurt to Delhi).

I am starting out on a 21-day Asia trip that will take me to three cities in India (Delhi, Hyderabad, and Bangalore); Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Manila, Philippines; and Shanghai and Beijing, China. Oh - I'll also have an evening in Tokyo as a layover on my way home.

This is the longest that I'll be away from Angie and the kids and I'm dreading this trip. I have 20 vendor evaluation visits to perform while I'm on the road. Mostly, I'll be doing two a night while I'm here.

I did want to share an offer I received the day before I left. I have a great friend (whom shall remain nameless to protect his man-card) that offered to do Christmas shopping for me while I'm away. How awesome is that? The worst thing a guy could have to do...and he offered to do it for me as I wouldn't have time. That is a true friend. Thanks, Bob...ooops!

I'll keep the blog up to date about my travels...