Amid Ruins

By , September 10, 2007 00:00

Wireless is great. This update comes courtesy of mobile as I stand in the shadow of the Colosseo beneath the Arco di Tito in Rome – a ruin of an empire.

Notes of Interest

By , August 19, 2007 00:00

Heidi tells me that I have a lot to write about. Perhaps, but can I give it to you in point form?

– I now work for Big Blue
– I didn’t think I would be traveling as much for work (haha)
– I met up with Duane for lunch in Las Vegas
– We took a week vacation in Nova Scotia when Jason & Jen got married
– Oh yeah, Jason and Jen got married
– I dove on the German U-Boat again last week (woo hoo)
– I finally finished all the modifications on my motorcycle
– I’m up to three remote control helicopters (I love you Heidi)
– We hit the big FIVE YEAR ANNIVERSARY (I was swollen like a goodyear blimp with poison ivy)
– Isaac still crawls most of the time, but he walked across the entire room at least two or three times
– Jake remains shoeless (he hates wearing shoes)
– Everyone is welcome to Isaac’s birthday on Wednesday (our baby is all grown up)

Smile All. Next update – three years out … 🙂

Bittersweet

By , June 6, 2007 00:00

So today was the day … We have officially been acquired by a Big Blue company. It’s been seven years of working for a small company – fun and challenging. It’s both sad and exciting to see this happen. As someone said to me, “It’s like going to the wedding of your child after being with them for 18 years.” Happiness and sadness! I guess there isn’t the same emotional attachment, but I’m one of those old-school folks who stays loyal to a name and a company. For better or worse, things change …

I guess that means I need to really pray about where I might be working a few months from now. Wherever it might be, it won’t be called Watchfire. 🙂

Notes from China

By , June 2, 2007 00:00

Forbidden CityI have never, ever … no wait … I have NEVER, EVER been in such traffic. I consider myself a pretty aggressive driver when I need to be, but getting in and around the city of Beijing is nothing short of hair-raising. I sit, clenched fists, white-knuckled as my driver (ummmm … make that professional driver) Mr. Guo squeezes in, through and around spaces that defies the laws of physics and that thing about two objects occupying the same space at the same time. I’m speechless … and I’ve driven in some pretty crazy countries. Wow! However, I can’t say anything to him as I speak no Mandarin except “Ni Hao” and “Xie Xie”, and his English is even more limited than my Chinese.

The first evening I was taken out for a specialty here – Peking duck. If you like duck (and I do), it was delicious. One of the interesting things to note is that when you go out to dine in almost any restaurant in China (or at least the ones I’ve been to in Shanghai and Beijing), you get your own private dining room with at least one full-time dedicated waiter or waitress. There’s no such thing as waiting.

I guess I should have mentioned that on the way to dinner that first night, we stopped at a shopping plaza here called “Silk Road”. It’s a department store … or similar to it. Six floors of everything from shirts to silk to sapphires. You want a Rolex Submariner? No problem. While MSRP is the US is 3 or 4 thousand. It’s about $5 here. A Breitling Navitimer? Down from 10 thousand to 10 bucks. Software? Ummmm … what did you want? Keep in mind that whatever they quote you, can be beaten down just a little. As I’m a foreigner, I usually figure the price is 5X for me.

Yesterday brought some pretty interesting events from delivering a seminar at Tsinghua University, to eating at the most unique and fascinating restaurant I have ever entered. I was assured that this was the best we could get here in Beijing. The Baijiadayuan restaurant (I didn’t name it) is most famous for its imperial court cuisine and has won more awards than you can imagine. It’s actually been built on the location of the residence of Prince Li from the Qing Dynasty. When the imperial order was overthrown, the location was given to the Yue family and the current restaurant was built around the primary gardens. As with many Chinese gardens, the air is rich with incense, flowers and things you can’t name. The food came in waves for several hours, and I’m quite sure that I couldn’t name or place many of them – except that I know it was delicious.

If I had to put a price on this meal (there were eight of us) in the US, I’m sure it would come to well over USD $1000. The price in Beijing for such a meal? About USD $100. I was told that the waitresses who actually work (and live) there, would make somewhere in the neighborhood of 1000 yuan per month (50 cents an hour) and this is considered good. I guess they do however, receive free lodging and meals in the garden of Prince Li. It might be hard to argue with that.

(For all the formality and authenticity of the garb and speech, the bathroom was a little … interesting. I guess you squat?)

This morning brought me up to the Great Wall of China where the last update was actually posted – courtesy of internet access on my Blackberry. Let me share a little advice with any that might think that the Great Wall of China is a walk in the park: bring a helicopter. It’s a lot easier. All I know is that I’m going to have some sore legs tomorrow. Although the sky was a bit overcast, the weather stayed dry and more importantly … cool. I think I would have passed out if it was any warmer. Coming back, I had an even better meal than the night before as my driver took me somewhere local. It wasn’t that the food was better, it was a food that I’ve had before and I love. Mats’ Mom used to make a dish with eggs and tomato that had a very unique flavor and was definitely one of my favorites. Anyway, the little local hole-in-the-wall had a similar dish in an absolutely amazing sauce. Hands down, the best dish of the week.

Generally speaking, if I had to compare the food here with the food in Shanghai, I’m pretty sure it’s more oily. Other than that, I can’t really comment as I don’t know what it is most of the time.

This afternoon brought me back to the Imperial Palace or the Forbidden City – which really isn’t that forbidden given that there was a gazillion other people there … and a Starbucks. I wonder if the Empress Cixi liked her Mocha Frappachino with or without whip cream. In no other historic property (Japanese Imperial Palace, British Palaces, Roman Catholic Churches) have I seen such grand opulence. Incredible … and fascinating. I learned that I really don’t know that much about the history of China. In one day I was able to visit the Palace of Universal Happiness, the Palace of Gathered Elegance, the Palace of Eternal Spring, the Palace of Earthly Honor, the Hall of Manifest Origin, the Hall of Supreme Principle, the Hall of Imperial Peace, the Palace of Earthly Tranquility, the Hall of Heavenly Union, the Palace of Heavenly Purity, the Palace of Accumulated Purity, the Palace of Great Brilliance, the Palace of Celestial Favor, the Palace of Eternal Harmony, the Palace of Great Benevolence, the Palace of Prolonging Happiness. Unfortunately, the Hall of Supreme Harmony was under construction. I missed that one as well as about half dozen others.

I make light of this, but throughout the day, I felt such an overwhelming sadness. None of this lasted … and there was certainly little happiness. Reading the accounts in the palaces can’t help but touch the Believer.

Walking south from the Forbidden City brings you out into Tian’anmen Square. You can’t really get a feel for the size of the place. The forbidden city alone is more than 1 million square meters or 1 square kilometer. OK, so from the front of Skokes down to the Heather Motel is one kilometer. So you start walking at Skokes and head down Foord Street. When you get to the Heather, you hit the Highway down past Blue Acres and Swing back up past the Trailer Park. You can just walked the “perimeter” of the Forbidden City. In order to visit all the palaces, you need to criss-cross everything in between. Tired of walking? Sorry. Tian’anmen Square and the plaza with the Monument to the People’s Heroes are the same size as the Forbidden City. Now you get to do it all over again. It makes the Mall in Washington seem like a kids playground. And for the warm-up, a stroll up and down Green Hill a few times should do it (which is similar in steepness to many places on the Great Wall). Now it’s time for sleep. 🙂

Barbarian Breach

By , June 1, 2007 00:00

“Danny was here!” This update comes to you from one of the highest points on the Great Wall of China.