Category Archives: General

Exciting times ahead

<insert lame excuses, wishes, promises about not/writing here>

I was reflecting on my travel calendar for the next few months today and realized it had an interesting theme than my normal.  Over the next 60 days I’m going to 3 different cities to see friends I’ve not seen in 2+ years!  Finally I think I can accept the idea that my frequent flyer miles are paying off!

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Welcome (back) to Tokyo!

So I arrived in Tokyo on Wednesday evening (after more airplane delays!) and headed straight for my apartment. It was funny that despite being away for 2.5 months, I was instantly reminded how much I like this apartment.  Of course, due to the way my personality operates, I also very quickly started to pack everything up in my mind.  I knew pretty quickly that I was going to be in good shape to bring everything home with the luggage I’ve got.  Dinner was a bit late and simple – Michal and I walked up to Coco Curry.

Thursday morning I headed to my old office – the one that I was first assigned to and worked at the longest.  I had not been in any ‘official’ contact with them since March when I transferred offices.  Due to political circumstances and the fact that I wanted my replacement to being able to establish himself, I didn’t / couldn’t reach out much.
It was strange even just walking to that office.  At first I didn’t even go the right direction because I was on autopilot for the more recent office.  Once I corrected my course, a flood of memories came to me.  This was a path that I’d taken for nearly 2 years.  A 2 year period that contained things like the first apartment, Susan and Olivia living in Japan, and their leaving Japan.  It had all sorts of ‘ghosts’ along the way – people I would see regularly, places I would stop, and buildings I was familiar with.  Then there were the things that were missing.  They’ve taken down a set of 4 or 5 buildings that had been there since I moved to Tokyo, including the one containing the pet store that was always an interesting attraction to walk past twice a day.
Backing up in time a hair, the train ride to the office was an amazing wake-up call.  I had gotten used to walking to the offices in Hong Kong and Manila, so returning to the morning commute via train was quite strange.  I hit a pretty heavy rush hour time and was smashed into my fellow riders for the trip.  I realized that I did not like this experience.  The heat was on in the car and that combined with a few hundred people, I was uncomfortably warm.  It was very, very nice to get out at my stop 10 minutes later.
It was pretty nice to go back into the old office because there were so many smiling faces and happy greetings directed toward me.  It was strange to see a lot of new faces in the desks where the former staff had been.  I spent a lot of time answering the same couple of questions – are you coming back?  Where are you based?  Do you enjoy this travel arrangement?  How does your daughter handle it?  Is she going to move with you?  I bet you’ve got a lot of frequent flyer miles, don’t you?
Both of the days in the office went by quickly, with hours on end spent in meetings to catch up with their latest developments.  I got to start doing my job, helping to extract feedback about the global team and to point out places where the team in Japan can improve their engagement to benefit them.  It seemed pretty clear that everyone was excited to have me and my role in their environment.
After work time was also pretty fun.  I got back into the old routine, albeit with some additional faces since I hadn’t seen everyone in quite some time.  We had beers at the bar in the ground floor of the building.  We ate curry ramen (Hemant – we missed you!).  We went to Yocho’s bar.  On the second night, I ate yakitori at the place near Yocho’s, too.  It’s been a very fun couple of days and nights, even if they were a little late.
Saturday, today, had me up at 5:15A to be on the first train out so I could catch a shinkansen (bullet train) up north.  I had to travel to Aomori to finish up my tattoo.  The artist had been regularly traveling to Tokyo, but stopped late last year when he opened a bar / studio in his home town.  The trip up gave me an opportunity to sleep off the previous night’s activities and the tattoo work went smoothly.  I was able to catch a train 2 hours earlier so I wouldn’t have to get back home at 11PM.
I’ve got a week and a half left to go in this trip.  Next week I visit another two offices for two days each – one that I had been assigned to and one that is new.  Of the three remaining weekdays, 2 are for follow-ups and 1 happens to be a holiday!  A week from Monday I’ll be attending my ‘farewell’ party, conveniently scheduled the night before the holiday.

Manila

My trip to Manila was quite brief, being constrained by my need to be in Tokyo a little longer to handle my personal matters of moving out and whatnot.  I landed on Sunday evening from Hong Kong and was in the hotel around 10PM.

Leaving Hong Kong airport was a pretty smooth process.  I was able to check my bags at the train terminal in town then took the express train to the airport.  Once there, I headed through security and got some lunch.  (A pastrami sandwich which was decent, but nothing special).  I hung around the gate area for a while and finished up the book I was reading.  Boarding the plane was interesting – it was just a general boarding call, right from the beginning.  They didn’t even do children / people needing more time… just pile in!  I chose to let the line shrink before I stood up.
Arriving in Manila… that was a bit more interesting.  The immigration desks were a bit understaffed and / or the people coming in required an awful lot of screening.  I spent 20-25 minutes in a line of 5 people.  I grabbed my luggage and headed for the hotel car.  My driver, Mario, was a chatty guy and we had a reasonable time over to the hotel.  Once checked in, I didn’t really do much but head to bed.
The two days in the office were good – full of meetings to discuss their concerns, provide feedback and talk about initiatives we could work on together to improve the environment.  Everyone is always very friendly and engaging, at least once I initiate – something I’ve learned quickly.
Dinner the first night started with some drinks on the hotel patio with a fellow ex-pat.  We talked ex-pat things, work stuff, etc. before heading across the street to a pizza / sandwich shop.  We got the steak sandwiches and some onion rings – both of which were delicious.
The second night was with a member of the support team and we had Vietnamese which was nothing to write home about.  The conversation, though, was excellent, helping to get a better understanding of the Filipino culture / behaviors.  It will be something that will be an on-going process so I can make sure I’m interacting with the team in a way to get the best results.
Wednesday morning I got up and left around 9 to make it to the airport.  I skipped breakfast with the intent of getting something at the airport… only to be reminded that the Manila airport is not necessarily an amenity rich location.  Further compounding the issue was that I had no cash due to the short stay.  I was left with an empty belly until I could get on the plane.
But getting on the plane was a challenge, too.  I had gone straight to my designated gate once I’d gotten through security and was waiting there when the time to board came up.  When I looked over at the plane, wondering why we hadn’t started boarding, the jet bridge was disconnected from the aircraft.  I quickly realized that this was no longer my gate.  Unfortunately the airport doesn’t have any television monitors to direct passengers to their gates… so I was left to wander around.  When I finally found an employee, he tried to direct me to my old gate and then, seemingly randomly, redirected me to a new one… which was accurate.  But it doesn’t end there – that would be too easy.
While sitting there, I realized why I’d never noticed the gate change – all of their announcements sound like the adults from Peanuts.  I found that out when they (apparently) announced a delay to my flight – I just looked at my fellow passengers to figure it out, as the overhead was mostly noise.  Eventually they made another announcement to change our gate, yet again.  For that one I just asked the desk directly.  We all migrated to the new gate where there were no free seats and waited for another 15 minutes.
However, in the end, I was slightly rewarded for the trouble by getting a seat assignment with no one in the two seats next to me.  I took full advantage of that after the meal by lifting the arm rests, stretching my legs out and falling asleep.
But all good things come to an end and, despite the stunningly beautiful view of Mount Fuji at sunset on the final approach, our plane came to a stop in a ‘remote gate area.’  That’s a fancy way of telling us that we have to ride a bus to the terminal.  Luckily, this is Japan and it was a very efficient and effective process that eventually delivered us immediately outside of the immigrations area.  From there, things were smooth.

I’m in Manila

I arrived Sunday evening and I leave Wednesday morning. It’s a quick trip filled with lots of talking.
The weather here is extremely pleasant, something that isn’t also true of Manila. Mid 60s for the low, mid 80s for the high. Certainly better than the freezing temps back home!
Obviously Manila is a change from Hong Kong. I operate in a considerably smaller portion of the city for one. The hotel room is larger. The breakfast buffet is… less familiar? No, not that. Just different.
An interesting quirk of the local language / culture has everyone continually calling me Sir. That didn’t really happen in Hong Kong where everything was a wee bit surly. Not rude but not polite.
The smog here today is stunningly bad – much worse than what I saw in HK during this trip. Traffic here is pretty terrible too but I’m lucky that I can walk (8 min) to work.
Well I’m done with breakfast now so I’m off to make that walk. I still need to organize my thoughts about Hong Kong that I captured on my last few days. Maybe I can get that out in the next few days. I’m off to Tokyo from Wednesday!


Hong Kong – Jan 19

So my first “week” has passed here in Hong Kong.  Let’s see if I can remember how I spent it.

Obviously the first few days were spent in travel – attempted as well as actual.  I was able to spend three days in the office which have been quite productive.  Work is a bit different when I’m here, primarily because of the environment.  First, the office hours traditionally run a little later in Asia so I stay longer.  Second, I don’t have anything to run off to do after work, making the later hours easier to cope with.  Finally, when I do leave work I’m not needing to worry about getting caught in traffic.  Often I’m taking the 40 minute walk back to the hotel, but even when I’m in Tokyo and getting onto a train, it’s not a major concern.  Sure, the trains can be crowded but I think that since it’s human traffic and not vehicular, it’s easier to deal with.  You’ve just got to walk a bit and then someone else handles the transporting.

I did go out a bit this weekend.  Friday night was dinner at a co-worker’s house.  We met his wife after work and rode in her car back to the house.  It was a convertible and he strongly suggested we drive with the top down despite it not being the warmest of evenings.  He was quite right to do so – it was so awesome to be looking up at all the tall buildings.  Dinner was a fantastic Indian meal with some nice wine.  Over dinner conversations we discovered that we’d all stopped on the same episode of Downton Abbey (yes, I watch it… my sister tricked me into it and now I can’t stop…) so we decided that dessert would be accompanied by the next episode.  Rather an amusing way to end the night.  My taxi ride home was also a bit funny, as I had a very chatty driver.  We talked a lot about the weather, specifically the lack of the wind lately.  It was an interesting way to get home, especially since I’m quite used to just taking a bit of a nap in the backseat of a taxi…

Saturday had me pretty lazy until the evening.  I met a couple other co-workers – fellow ex-pats – in the Mid Levels part of Hong Kong.  The Mid Levels are known for a rather unusual landmark – the world’s long (outdoor) escalator.  No kidding.  It’s a series of escalators covering 2600 feet, lifting you up 443 feet.  It’s quite a novel way to travel and so much better than needing to walk the entire way up!  The neighborhood is also quite fun, with lots of restaurants and bars lining the escalator area.  We had some wine at one place, ate Thai on the rooftop patio of a restaurant, then shifted to a really cool bar in the basement of a building.  It was a very nice, laid back evening that did not leave any of us feeling bad the next day.  The slice of pizza on the way home may have been helpful.

Sunday, today, has been quite lazy for me.  I had a bit of a walk this morning, but it was kind of chilly.  Since then I’ve just kept indoors and watched a lot of television.  I ‘discovered’ Portlandia while I was on the plane, so I’ve now finished the first season of that along with the 3 episodes from… some season that I watched on the plane.  I’ve started into Bob’s Burgers latest season.  I’ve gotten through the first 2 episodes of Downton from this season.  Yeah – lots of television watching, lots of laziness.

I suppose that’s about it.  Maybe I’ll upload a few photos to share with everyone…


Good morning

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This is the sunrise at 7:25 in the morning as seen from my hotel room.

I slept reasonably well. I had a late dinner – 1030 or so – and sleep came to me around 11 or 1130. I woke up a few times but overall slept well. I got up around 6 when my brain decided it couldn’t stay still any longer.

I’ll head for breakfast soon and I plan to walk the 20 minutes to the office, just to be sure I’m adjusting to the time here.


This has been quite draining…

So I woke up this morning at 7AM with the expectation of a standard day of flights, complete with a short layover to add a little spice.  When the self check-in machine asked me if I’d like to volunteer with a promise of travel vouchers on all three of my flights (a bit unusual), I thought it was interesting.  I knew the call had come in when I heard the agent in the club say into the phone “and you’re at gate 5?”

No problem – sure thing.  Give me the voucher, let’s re-route my luggage, it’s just a change from Minneapolis to Atlanta and I’m still arriving in Hong Kong at the same time.  Easy choice.

I queued up for the flight, I keyed in the new flight numbers into my phone and as I was taking my seat, a terrible picture was painted.  The flight from Atlanta to Tokyo had been delayed by 2.5 hours… putting me into Tokyo an hour and a half after my flight to Hong Kong was set to leave.

Hah.  How lovely.  A 30 minute flight later, I’m on the phone with Delta.  I’m a Platinum member so I’ve got a fairly quick line into the reservations desk and they tend to fawn over me for some reason.  The guy was super nice and as I walked from A concourse to F, we went through my options.

Delta didn’t have another flight from Tokyo to Hong Kong until 24 hours later.  That wasn’t ideal.  Let’s try something else.

Okay… because it’s our fault (mechanical issues) I can get you onto another carrier’s flight.  We’ll send you to JFK and get you direct to Hong Kong via Cathay.  Great!  Let’s do it.

I walked back from E to A and head to the club.  I walk up to the counter and hand them my outdated, but still valid as identification boarding card.  He sees a note (or similar) that I will need new boarding passes.  No problem, let’s do that now.  Oh… that’s an unusual error.  What does it mean?  Hm… let’s call my help desk.  Ohhhh… Cathay didn’t confirm your flight… they don’t have that seat.  Let’s try another.  Nope.

20 minutes later I’m booked for a flight tomorrow on American from Atlanta to Chicago, then direct to Hong Kong.  I’ll arrive ~18 hours after when I was supposed to be there.  I’ll be put in a hotel for the night and given some vouchers for food.  I call back to the Platinum desk to inquire about my mileage.  I’m told it will still be earned appropriately.  I ask for more compensation, now that they’ve botched this so wonderfully.  I have to call corporate customer service… that doesn’t open until Monday at 8AM.

Ugh.  I’m drained.  I spend the next 15 minutes sitting, texting everyone to let them know things have gone sideways and try to leverage the unusual opportunity to visit with friends in the city.  I realize my luggage wasn’t accounted for.  I return to the desk, she struggles with the system to try and re-route it again.  It isn’t certain that the commands have gone through.  I’ll have to track it tomorrow morning.  The hope is that since there are notes about my harrowing experience, they won’t decide the luggage is … a force for evil, if you know what I mean.  Thoughts drift through my head of Delta replacing my luggage…

I return to the club seating – the staff don’t dare try to tell me to leave, even though I’m technically not supposed to be there any more.  They are pleased with my demeanor throughout the whole matter and she thanks me for it.  It’s not difficult… there is no one person behind something this amazingly messy.

I hang out in the club for… I’m not sure how long.  I fight with American and Cathay to get checked into my flight, to select seats, etc.  I can’t check in with AA.  I fret as to whether or not I’ve actually got a flight.  Cathay requires me to call them to pay for a seat upgrade.  They are closed.  I finally go for food at the Sweetwater grill.  It was good, the beer was nice.  I sat next to an interesting gentleman that was a former sailor.  We discussed free-diving in Guam and fights in Roppongi.  His flight had also been delayed.  It becomes clear that there is just a solid gremlin in the system today.

Eventually I decide to head for the hotel… it has to be more relaxing than being in the airport.  First, though, I stop by the American check-in counter positioned, without exaggeration, at the farthest end of the terminal.  With a bit of a confused look, they check me in without any hassle.  Finally I feel as if I’m going to make it after all.  I head for the parking lot where, after a 10 minute wait, the shuttle carries me to the hotel where I check in and assume a comfortable position on the bed where I spend a few hours reading.

So… tomorrow I’ll try again.  Let’s hope this time it goes smoother.