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  I walk up to the counter and hand them my outdated, but still valid as identification boarding card.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.


I’m ready to write

At least I think I am!

I’ve been in my mind lately about writing – postcards, blog posts, etc. – and given my upcoming travel, I think I have a good opportunity to write blog posts.  Combine this with my promise to send Olivia photos and descriptions of my days and it shouldn’t be something too tough for me to get done regularly.

So today is my last day in the country.  I chose to spend Friday night and half of today (Saturday) in Chattanooga so I could be with Olivia before I left.  It’s been a tough week and a half after getting to spend a lot of dedicated time with her around Christmas.  I was able to make it down and pick her up from school, something that was a complete surprise to her.  We didn’t do anything particularly special – we spent time with my parents and my sister.  We had a few meals together, had some time to play.

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So it’s been since October since I last posted.  Let’s see…

I was home in the states from the weekend before Thanksgiving and won’t leave until this Sunday (the 12th).  It’s been really great to be home around my family and friends… but I have to be honest that I’m also beginning to feel a bit ready to get to back to Asia!  More of that later…

Christmas and New Year’s had a tremendous amount of driving associated, which was pretty interesting.  Across 10 days, I drove around 28 hours… which I guess is about 1800 miles?  No… that seems excessive… but is apparently pretty close to accurate when I start checking the map.  For around 1100 of those miles, Olivia was with me and she was an excellent travel partner!  She spent lots of time doing crafts in the back seat.  She always impresses me with how good she draws.  Once the sun went down, she switched to watching Star Wars on the iPad.  Oh, if you didn’t know, she’s a huge Star Wars fan.  I would wager she’s probably seen movies 2-6 around 4 or 5 times each!

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So many things…

I’ve got a bit of bad news, so let’s tear the bandage off quick: Susan and I have gotten a divorce.

Now that’s out in the open, let’s talk very briefly about that.  We are still on good terms with one another and are very committed to providing Olivia with two strong, loving parents that just happen not to be living together.  Olivia is handling the situation well and has not exhibited any major problems.  She thinks it stinks and would like it not to have happened, but she’s coping with strength.  And I think that’s about all there is to share.  We would both appreciate your quiet respect for our very personal decision.

So on to the many other things…

Olivia has started kindergarten in Chattanooga (Soddy Daisy, specifically) and is doing an excellent job.  She loves the school, the teacher, the children… the whole thing.  She’s been very well behaved for the teacher – they have a behavior chart from 1-7 and she’s had 6’s or 7’s since the beginning save for one day when she was overly excited about Johnny Appleseed!

Olivia is still taking dance classes, switching from Ballet/Tap/Tumble to Ballet/Tap/Jazz.  She very much enjoys doing crafts and artwork, expressing her creativity in lots of ways.  She really takes her time when coloring – with crayons, pencils, pens – to select the right colors, to apply the right pressure, etc.  When writing, again she takes her time to form the letters well and clearly.  We’re very impressed with her creative side!

As part of the creative side, I’ve exposed her to a couple of musicals – “Lion King” and “Beauty and the Beast”.  Despite being a little lengthy, she really enjoyed going to both.  It doesn’t hurt that it offers her an opportunity to get dressed up!  Over time I’ll be looking for other opportunities to expose her to music and dance… especially as her attention spans grows.

Susan is back to work as a nurse in her old hospital system and seems to be enjoying that as much as the workload allows.  She’s been able to balance the work demands with her desire to be around our super awesome kid.

I’ve begun splitting time between the US and Asia, racking up a tremendous amount of time in airplanes.  I’ve been very lucky to be able to set my own travel schedule so I have been around for all of the important dates in Olivia’s busy life – first day of school, dance recital, etc.  It’s a bit of strain on me, but totally worth it.

Generally, I spend 3 weeks in the US and 3 weeks in Asia.  When in Asia, I land in Tokyo, but so far I’ve not spent a full stretch of time in Tokyo.  I’ve had the opportunity to visit Sydney, Hong Kong and Manila so far.  In the future I expect I might see Seoul and Taipei, plus plenty more of Manila.

To answer the most posed questions:

  • No, I am not flying business class – premium economy all the way.
  • No, I’m not always jet lagged – the first 3 or 4 days are tough, but I push through and don’t let myself start bad habits like napping during the day or waking up insanely early.  I am most challenged at 3A and 3P.
  • Yes, I have a lot of frequent flyer miles and I have a modest status with the airline.  No, it does not offer me upgrades to business class over the ocean, but I will occasionally get bumped up on my (short) domestic legs.
  • Yes, I’ve seen the movie “Up in the Air”, as of last night.  An awful lot of it felt familiar to me and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

So the next common question – what is this job that has you flying back and forth?  That’s a little more complicated.  Basically I’m facilitating communication between our US and Asia organizations.  I assist with business launches, operational readiness, escalations of issues, etc.  In addition to that I’m helping mentor, coach and prepare the IT resources in the region to work with the global support team.  Finally, I’m helping improve our global support processes.  It’s not always easy for US-based support teams to understand the perspective and needs of our Asia counterparts.

Olivia and I will be headed to Disney World later this month, so we’re both looking forward to that a great deal.  I’ll have one more Asia trip before Thanksgiving and then I’ll be home through New Year’s, something I’m also looking forward to.  I’m seriously toying with a trip to Yellowstone with Olivia next June, but at the moment I can’t do much planning, what with all the park service websites offline.

The Yellowstone trip has a very interesting origin.  First, I have a good connection to Yellowstone through my family.  My dad has spent countless months there over the course of many years.  One of our few family vacations was to Yellowstone and I’ve been there 3 or 4 times.  During a few of those trips, staying in the Madison campground, I experienced the Montana “Big Sky” in all it’s glory.  A few weeks ago, Olivia and I took a little time to lay in the driveway of my sister’s house and look up at the stars.  Only last Saturday, Olivia invited me to lay on the sidewalk at Ben & Dru’s house to do it again.  From then I was sure I needed to give her that experience of seeing such a beautifully clear sky.

My apologies for not having any new pictures recently.  Seeing as how both Susan and I have switched to iPhones, Flickr has become less of a focal point for sharing or backing up photos.  Of course that does somewhat limit that audience that can see what’s going on… but that’s more through accident than planning.

So that’s the nutshell version of the past several months.  It’s been a challenge, with lots of personal change and growth.  It’s not necessarily been the most pleasant period of time, but it’s also not the worst.  From this, many things will sprout.  I know that all three of us have grow stronger and are moving forward with great strength, thanks to our friends and families.

That was January…

So the end of January was pretty… challenging.

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So the storms in Nashville decided that my car would do well with a new body style.  In and of itself, that isn’t terrible.  I won’t need the car for a few more months, so it provides plenty of time for insurance to do it’s thing.

If I had had insurance.

Turns out there was a little mistake after my August trip and my coverage was suspended instead of being reduced.  Oh yeah – and they are also pretty sure it’s totaled.  So at the moment we’re trying to see if the insurance company will be compassionate enough to notice that the pattern for all of my trips has been to raise / lower the coverage, combined with my 15 years of multi-line patronage.  Of course no matter the outcome, if it’s totaled it adds to my coming home fun.

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On the occasion of a new year

So it’s officially 2013 around the world now. I celebrated the passing of the year in Japan with friends. It’s a quiet affair without a lot of noisy celebration. Similar to what I may have done in the states, however, we sat watching television shows until midnight passed. Once it did however, instead of images of people celebrating in Times Square they showed people in temples around the country as each rang out a solemn 108 chimes on their huge bells. I have to admit I enjoy it.

2012 was a tough year and I can’t see 2013 becoming a cake walk. Susan and Olivia moved back to the states in April so I’ve been living the life of a bachelor in Tokyo. Amusingly when I visited Hong Kong I wasn’t really certain how big Olivia had gotten as I selected a shirt for her. It’s tough being away from my little one. That said I know she’s in a great place, staying with her grandparents. She’s in preschool, which has been a great outlet and learning experience for her – that’s something the past 6 months wouldn’t have offered as easily.

Given my single-life existence in Tokyo I’ve picked up some bad habits. I work pretty long hours, often going home around 7 or 8 at night. I’ve basically entirely stopped eating at home, instead getting take out or going to restaurants. That food combined with an extra drink or two has lead to weight gain. Sure, plenty of people would say its needed but I’m not particularly pleased with my new spare time around the midsection.

I’ve also been significantly challenged by the general isolation of being 13-15 hours off from my support system. I really Tokyo, but I’d like it more if I could transplant “my” part of the US here with me. 🙂 At the same time I have built a pretty nice group of people here in Tokyo that will be tough to leave.

So as 2013 arrives I see plenty of change and challenge coming – some things I hope to introduce and others that will be placed upon me.

First and foremost I hope to become all the more mindful and in touch with my feelings. I’ve done a great job of disconnecting from most of my self so having been briefly reintroduced in 2012 I’d like to learn more in the coming year. It’s a bit frightening I have to admit… but it’s all part of a better experience.

Next, I have to close out my chapter in Japan. Within the next 3-4 months my role will change and I will no longer reside in Japan. I will have lived here for almost 2 years when this assignment ends. My daily routines, my life as a whole will change pretty significantly. I’m pretty scared of what that will mean… but with any luck I will know how it feels. (See #1)

Third I will need to move into a new role. I plan to stay with the company – they’ve done well for me – but I will need a new set of responsibilities after I leave Japan. I’ve been shopping around an idea that seems to have support, which is very exciting but of course comes with its own set of challenges. My plan is to travel, one month at a time, to our European and Asian offices with a month at home on the US. I hope I can help with our global expansion while also holding on to a piece of the international life I’ve grown accustomed to. I just have to learn how to live out if a suitcase and get dosed with plenty of radiation at 30000 feet. 😉

There are other things, but they’ll have to be left to be discussed in the future.

So that’s my brief reflection and look forward. Thank you to everyone for your love and support – I struggle to understand it (see #1), but it is appreciated.

I hope you had a nice celebration and have a wonderful new year. あけまひておめでとうございます!

Korea – Day 1

Let’s see.  I left Tokyo at 5PM.  The trip to the airport and the airport itself was just the same as every other trip I take through Narita.  I had my ‘last meal’ at the same restaurant as every other trip, except this time instead of noodles I had curry rice.  Yummm… curry rice.  🙂

I got a fair amount of work done ahead of the flight, boarded and watched a movie – ‘Seeking a Friend for the End of the World’ with Steve Carroll.  Nice movie.  Landed in Seoul around 7:30.  I managed to pack really well, getting everything I needed into my only laptop backpack.  As such, I had nothing to wait on at the baggage claim!  I got through immigration and customs quickly, moved to the currency exchange (picked up a few hundred thousand Won) and walked to the train station.  I was supposed to find a movie theater on the far end of the airport.  It was… odd.

The express train ride was just like every other express train ride except this time I was excited to hear Japanese because I have not a lick of Korean in my brain.  I arrived at Seoul station and made the loooooonnnggggg trek from the airport train to the metro.  Apparently the airport train is somewhere on the outer edges of the Earth’s core so it was a long climb out.

When I made it to the metro, I fought a bit with the ticket machine, but got it eventually.  I headed downstairs and used the my Tokyo Metro experience to guide me.  I made it to my transfer, switched lines and got off at the right station.  I made the walk (~8 minutes) to the hotel and checked in.  I was barely in my room when my co-workers from the local office showed up in the lobby.  I met them and we went for Korean barbecue!  We enjoyed a fantastic meal of grilled meats and Korean rice wine.  We discussed work history, work future, Seoul tourism, families, etc.  It was a blast, I’m so happy to finally get to meet these guys!

One funny thing that came up over dinner was a discussion about our work ‘anniversaries’ – one guy is Oct 16, the next guy is Nov 17, and I’m Dec 18!  Now they have 3 years more than I do, but it’s still a very amusing situation!  Of course I can always remember my anniversary date because it’s exactly 1 year before Olivia was born!

Friday morning I got up around 9, took my time getting ready and moved out around 10.  I had sort of dreamed of finding a ‘traditional’ Korean breakfast, but since I have no clue what that might be or where to find it I settled for McDonald’s… which, I guess, could be a traditional Korean breakfast.  Approaching the counter I could see the young lady brace – she wasn’t comfortable with an English speaker.  I used my standard Tokyo methods, though, and we proceeded very smoothly.  I was surprised by two things – one, the muffin on my egg McMuffin was the freshest I have ever experienced and two, the kitchen was apparently upstairs so there was a continuous dumb waiter / conveyor type device bringing food down!

Oh – I almost forgot.  When I was leaving the hotel I got in the elevator and a woman got off… but I was pretty confident that she didn’t want my floor.  I called to her, she returned and she spoke to me in Japanese.  Without even thinking, I responded in Japanese!  Now, it wasn’t anything significant – just telling her it wasn’t the 7th floor, it was the 3rd – but it was really funny how smooth it shifted for me.  In fact I’ve really been wanting to use Japanese in places… but maybe that’s just because I’m very clearly in an East Asian place…

I went to Gyeonbuk Palace and arrived just in time to see the changing of the guard.  I’ve got videos and I need to upload, but also photos.  I did a self tour with the audio guide and loved it.  The palace grounds are enormous.  One thing that strikes me about Korean architecture is the vivid color.  It has plenty of similarities to the palaces or temples in Japan, but the color is vastly different.  I hope that stands out in the photos…

The audio guide didn’t pull many punches about the Japanese occupation of Korea.  Apparently there were a number of palace building razed during the occupation for the purpose of putting in provincial government buildings.  On one description they actually said “[destruction of this building] clearly showed their intent to ruin the palace.”  Oh.  Yeah.  Ok.

It was also extremely proud of the creation of the alphabet, indicating that without it they would not have formed their own culture and would have remained a province of different foreign powers.  It mentioned the damages to the grounds made during Korea’s multiple historical wars, as well.  All in all it was a very informative audio guide and I’m really glad I got it!

After the palace I walked to the Bukchon village where a vast neighborhood of old, traditional houses have been preserved by private owners thanks to subsidies from the government.  Unfortunately it’s a huge area and I just didn’t have the time to explore much.  I might visit on Saturday, but I think there is a different area that provides more access / view into the houses because of a lack of private ownership.  From the village area I headed to the train station, stopping off for a lunch of bibimbap – delicious!

I got a bit lost walking to the office, but was retrieved and redirected.  We spoke for a while, I met another person, then after an hour or so I headed out.  I was thinking I’d go to the traditional street market Insadong, but instead went to the modern one Myeong-dong.  It’s a large area crammed with lots of chain stores, etc.  I wandered completely randomly through the streets.  The narrow streets are filled with vendors as well, but nothing really struck my fancy.  I couldn’t get into socks, phone cases or glasses.

OH!  Glasses.  Oh man this place has a such a serious habit with glasses.  I found an shopping area underground where there were at least 6 established stores with hundreds of pairs of glasses.  It was absolutely nuts.  Plenty of ironic chunky frames in addition to all the big name brands.

I eventually went to the Lotte department store and, similar to Tokyo, found the food basement on B1.  I wandered around for a long time and finally settled on noodles.  Udong… or udon as they call it everywhere else.  It was nothing special, but it filled my stomach.  I moved on to more random walking in the shopping district.  There are a number of food vendors but none of them really drew me in.  There is one type of street food that comes up regularly that I can’t figure out nor does it look too appetizing.  Maybe tomorrow…

Anyway, let’s do a quick Seoul / Tokyo comparison:

  • Driving – Right side Seoul, Left side Tokyo.  Messes with me when I cross the street.
  • Smoking – Seems to be ok most public places in Seoul; Tokyo it’s a no-no except in certain spots.
  • Cleanliness – Tokyo is cleaner, but Seoul isn’t dirty
  • Trains – Very similar, but Seoul’s trains are wider and the crowd is a good bit noisier.  Of course almost anything is noisier than a Tokyo train!  Stations are almost identical – yellow exit signs included!  I will say that I find Seoul’s payment system a little harder – getting a PASSMO type device isn’t done from a machine.  You can get a flat-rate ticket (actually a touch-card) from the machine.  I had trouble getting out of a station, however, and since they aren’t over-staffing every corner of the city I had trouble getting someone to come help!
  • Language – Korean pronunciation confuses me, but everyone seems to go straight for English with me and it is commonly good.  In Tokyo service staff barrel through Japanese most of the time.
  • Service Staff – Tokyo has more sincere service staff in my opinion.  Seoul isn’t rude, but it’s not got the same fervor.
  • General – I’m shocked at the amount of plastic surgery ads and shops.  There are at least 8 street-front plastic surgery shops between my hotel and the station.  In the station there are perhaps a dozen advertisements for plastic surgery, complete with before and after photos.  I saw two middle / high school girls standing in front of a pair of 5 foot by 8 foot ads… how discouraging in terms of body image could this be!?

Ok.  Its time to sleep.  Tomorrow will be the market for sure, as I need to get a nice souvenir for Miss Olivia!