Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Well, I clearly didn't get a chance to update last Thursday. Sorry about that, I meant to, but between catching up on work, organizing things from my trip and then playing in a game on Thursday evening (which I was late to because of work) I didn't really get a chance to do any writing.

I'm going to try and go over everything today with regards to my trip to China and I even have some pictures to post thanks to Seth. I think I'll go chronologically through the trip. I'm going to try to arrange this so that the text that applies to the pictures will be below the appropriate pic. Enjoy.

The flight over was incredibly long. I flew from Seattle to San Francisco, then after an hour or two-long layover, I boarded the plane for Hong Kong. Direct flight. 14 hours. Ugh. Due to the jet stream this time of year we couldn't fly directly over the Pacific, instead we flew north (past Seattle), thought Canada, Alaska, over the straights to Russia, then down through China to Hong Kong, which is a lot further south than you'd think. And if you think 14 hours on a plane is a long have no idea.

I was talking to someone at a party the other day and he said his record was 16 hours to New Zealand. I have to admit that New Zealand sounds like it should be much more than 2 hours further away than Hong Kong. Sometime I'd like to go back to Hong Kong by flying over the ocean instead of around it.

Probably the prettiest picture I have. This is Hong Kong at night. If you're not familiar with the area, Hong Kong is divided between Kowloon (on the mainland) and Hong Kong Island. (I wish I had some source material with me so I could confirm that name.) This is a picture taken from Kowloon, which is where I spent all of my time in Hong Kong, looking out over the water towards the island.

I've commented before on how much I liked the city and it really is a remarkable place. It was very easy for my traveling companion and I to get by speaking English and it was a safe-enough city to walk around in at any time of the day. I'm sure there are parts of the city in which that isn't true, but it seemed like it to me. Of course I'm 6'4" tall and not a small guy otherwise.

I spend a lot of the time that I wasn't in meetings for work walking around the city. The image above is of some of the scaffolding that I saw everywhere that construction was going on. It's all bamboo that's held together by twine/wire. Some people think this is incredibly smart; very cost-effective and easy to do, but apparently it's also pretty stupid because pieces fall off fairly commonly and it's not unusual for passersby to be killed -- not to mention the workers who spend their days walking and working on the stuff. Anyway, I thought it was pretty interesting and actually much prettier than metal scaffolding. I have a few pictures of this type of scaffolding, but this illustrates what it looks like the best.

Saturday and Sunday I went shopping in some of the stores and markets around Hong Kong. This is an image of a street just off Mong Kok market (sorry, I don't remember if that's spelled correctly). This is pretty typical of a Hong Kong street. Signs stick out across the road, if the street isn't very busy with traffic people walk down it and only move when cars are coming, and all of the buildings along the way are stores or eateries of some kind of another. It's a pretty fun place to explore with tons to see.

Monday morning I was up early to go into China and see some of the factories that the products that my company poduces are made. I met up with some people, then took the train into the New Territories. The "New Territories" is just a fancy term for "the area of China outside Hong Kong." I've mentioned it before, but Hong Kong and China are considered and treated as two completely different places. When you talk about China, you aren't talking about Hong Kong and vice versa. Almost everyone that I talked to from Hong Kong thought the people in China were lazy, stupid, greedy, and so desperate for food that they ate cats, dogs, and rats. I'm not saying they do or they don't, but it was phrased by the people from Hong Kong as a completely backwards thing -- much like someone from the West would. I thought it was a funny thing for them to say.

The factories I visited were all very much alike. Each produced a lot of products (not just my company's) and the workers all lived and worked there. They also had to wear compnay-provided jackets and hats/hair nets. Each factory employed and housed about 3,000 employees. I mentioned to the plant manager that he had his own city. He just laughed and said no. That suprised me; how could you not look at it that way? Very weird.

I'm not sure, but I think the building across the street is an example of what the dorms look like. Even if it's not, that building is pretty close to what they looked like. Those may be apartments. Note the clothes hung out to dry on every one of the porches. Everyone did that, even in Hong Kong there were clothes hung off the sides of apartment complexes on poles and strings. It certainly made for colorful buildings.

Besides the scaffolding mentioned above, I also loved these "trucks". They were constructed of a single I-beam or portion of a truck frame that had an exposed engine on the front, two front wheels on a very short axel, a steering whell that the driver didn't turn so much as push from side to side, maybe a something to cover the driver, and a truck bed on the back that was usually filled as high as this one is. And the wheels in the back were on a much longer axel. They were very common in China, but I never saw one of them in Hong Kong. Very clever, but I can't imagine how unsafe they are.

Forgive the poor quality of this picture and the next. I took them out of the side of a moving car and my shirt showed up as a nice reflection in the window as an added bonus.

What you're looking at here are the fields along the side of the road. If you look closely you can also make out some darker areas. It's hard to decipher, but those are houses. Hovels, more like, made of corrugated steel tacked on to some kind of frame. The roofs of these places were usually held down with rocks -- probalby to keep them from blowing off in high winds. The picture below is a better image of what I'm talking about, but I think the building shown below is part of a business. Even so, it gives you a good idea of what the "huts" in the picture above look like.

I returned from China on Tuesday evening, had some dinner, then Wednesday morning boarded the plane home. We had a layover in Narita, Japan, then flew 8 hours to Seattle. Pshaw, no problem. This time we were able to fly over the Pacific because the wind was working to our advantage.

Okay, that was the trip. Since then I worked for a couple of days, went to Shana's for a gift exchange with people from work, then went to a formal party at Katie, Kate, and Beth's. It was a fun party, but there were a lot of crazy antics going on, including people passing out on the neighbors front step, people making out in dark corners, and even some party-crashers who had to be removed -- one of them forcibly.

Then Sunday I left for home, had a nightmare flight on American (which I'll avoid like the plague from now on), rented a Mustang in Chicago to drive home because they made me miss my flight, and now I've been home for the past couple of days.

Okay, time to do some Christmassy things.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

I'm back. I tried to update before I left China and Hong Kong, but things didn't work out quite like I'd hoped.

I'm having a hard time typing well right now, so I don't think I'll post anything major right now. Maybe after I've slept -- meaning I'll post tomorrow sometime.

Overall, the trip was excellent. I learned a lot about how our work affects those we work with in Hong Kong, had a good time shopping, and a great time learning more about the area and the people. Admittedly, Hong Kong was more interesting in a modern way, but the whole country became so much more interesting once we'd traveled out of the city and into China. The differences between the HK and the rest of the country were unbelievable. There were very modern cities, but they were interspersed with...hovels is the only work that applies...once you traveled outside the cities or even passed through a less-developed area. I have some pictures that I still have to look through and I'll try to get something posted in the next couple of days.

I'm going to stop now, I don't want to write much in this state. I left Hong Kong at about 9:00am on Wednesday the 17th and arrived in Seattle at about 8:00am on Wednesday the 17th. How's that for time travel?

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Hey! I'm in Hong Kong! I managed to get my travel partner's computer connected (my computer has been giving me issues, so I haven't been able to get online except at odd times using her computer), so I figured I'd do a bit of blogging. I don't have a lot of time, so this may come off as notes instead of a full post.

I'm really shopped out. Saturday and Sunday Tina and I walked around and looked for gifts and Christmas presents. I read in one of the guidebooks that Hong Kong is "the world's shopping mall" and there couldn't be a better description. Everything is available here. There's a lot of useless crap, but there are a lot of great deals. I would have a hard time living here, though, because I'd go broke trying to collect some of the amazing figures and toys they have available.

It seems like every building contains a mall or shopping center of some kind. And all of the stores are very small -- a large clothes store is probably about one-quarter the size of a Gap at the malls in the U.S. A small store is litterally the size of a closet. No lie. Some of the collectables stores we were in Saturday had enough room for the clerk to stand -- all day -- behind a counter and maybe 2 or 3 patrons, who had to be touching to stand inside the store. Amazing.

I love Hong Kong. That actually surprises me. There's constant activity. We arrived at our Hotel at 9:00 at night and the streets were very busy; people shopping, lined up at street vendors, or just walking along and talking. The harbor area is very scenic with boats and ships along with the other part of the city across the way. The people all seem very friendly and helpful (we had to get some help from a bystander to tell a cabbie where we were staying.) and many, many people speak English.

Monday (tomorrow) we head into China -- which is considered basically a different country for the people of Hong Kong -- and that should be interesting. The people here view China as if it's something like the most backward portions of the American South. I'll update more on that as I learn, but it will probably be a couple of days.

Tina and I have done a ton of walking and it's a great city for it. There are plenty of footbridges and lots of public tansport. The streets are often packed, not in the mornings, but in the afternoon and evenings. Later in the day people seem to get more active. The busiest times on the streets are definitely at night.

I've picked up a number of gifts, but I still have to find something for Mom, Dad, and real gifts for my nephews. I bought them some candy which should be fun to see them check out, but that doesn't really count as a real gift.

Okay, I have to shave for dinner with the people we came to work with and maybe go buy a new piece of luggage to get my goodies home. I'll check in when I can.

Oh, the flight over was incredibly long and painful -- two hours to San Francisco and then 14 hours to Hong Kong. Yikes. And not in an exit row. Yikes again.

More later.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

I'm outta here for a bit while I go to China. If I have access to a reliable connection I'll post something while I'm gone.


Sunday, December 07, 2003

I thought I was going to have to spend a lot of time at work this weekend in order to get things straightened out before I leave for China, but I managed to get most of it done in a relatively small amount of time. That's a good thing, because I had a lot of other things going on this weekend.

Friday I went to Katie, Kate, and Beth's to watch the really horrible movie From Justin to Kelly. It's sort of a thing with these guys to find a really bad movie and watch it just for fun. This movie was particularly bad. It featured the two people who'd won on the first season of American Idol. If you have the opportunity to watch it while you have rum-soaked brownies and five very attractive, fun women it, otherwise you really should skip it.

Saturday I worked in the late morning and afternoon, until I went home to change for the work holiday party. I drove downtown to pick up comics, then I picked up Cathy (whom a number of us practically had to strongarm into coming to the party because she's not very up for being social since her boyfriend was sent back to South Africa for a while. It's very sad and annoying for everyone at work). Then the two of us made our way through town to Katie, Kate, and Beth's again to pick up Katie. After that we had a good time getting partially lost in Seattle while Katie tried to get us to I-90 because I'd suggested we take that instead of 520 because there had been an accident on 520 (which I'd seen on the other side of the road when I came into Seattle). Eventually we made it where we needed to be and drove out to Kirkland.

Once there, we hopped on the boat the company had rented and took a cruise around Lake Washington. It was a great party (and Shana should be very, very pleased with how it turned out. Good work!), dinner was excellent, the music was good, but not too loud or intrusive, the White Elephant gifts were fun (even pretty good in some cases), and the door prizes were great. It's great to work somewhere at which pretty much everyone gets along and respects each other, because it makes the holiday party an actual joy to attend.

After the party a bunch of us went to a nearby danceclub/bar/meat market. It was very unfun and everyone eventually filtered out...probably wishing we hadn't gone there.

Oh, my White Elephant gift was the boardgame Tri-Bond. It's the game where you are given a list of three things and you have to figure out how they're related. I chuckled to myself when I opened it because I remembered that Patch Products, the company that makes it, is located in Beloit, which is about 20 miles(?) from my home town.

Sunday I went to work and did all sorts of stuff, then left for Mike's birthday party/dinner. They had a Greek theme to the food and it was excellent. He and Sharon did a great job getting it together and we all had a good time. We even met some friends of theirs that I'd never heard of before. Who knew they knew anyone else in Seattle?

After dinner I went to the Ballard Firehouse to see Katie's sister's band, The Consequences. They were very good and had a couple of very catchy songs that I'd like to hear again.

I took a bunch of pictures at dinner and at the concert tonight, if any of them look good enough, I'll post something here (with Seth's help, of course).

I'll try to post before I leave, and depending on what sort of connection I have in China, I'll try to post something from there.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

I went to the doctor and waited and waited and waited to get my shots for the trip, but now I'm all immunized against hepatitis, malaria, the flu, the plague, and jungle rot (that one was for you, Mom). Actually, I'm only immunized for the first three, but it seemed like such a funny sentence to write that it was a shame to let it end so soon.

My mom has been having issues with her back and she apparently went in yesterday to have some shots to get it taken care of. She told me she was going to have it done, but not when. So when I called my little sister to ask why I couldn't get through to my parents phone, she told me that their phone has been on the fritz, but also that Mom's visit to the doctor hadn't gone well due to the needle hitting a nerve. She said Mom looked all white and had a really bad headache. I hope she's feeling better today and that she made it through the night all right.

I have a lot to get done before I leave, but I think I'll actually manage to do it. None of it is overwhelming, just lots of little things here and there.

Tonight I took the evening off and went to play a session of Spycraft with some friends. Not much happened (I'm partially to blame because I hadn't finished my character), but it was fun. Wow, it's been a long time since I've actually played a game instead of run.

I'm headed home to sleep now.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

So yesterday I was in a meeting with some people at work and I said, "Oh yeah. Do I need to get any shots or anything before I go to China next week?"

"Oh, yeah," my travel partner responeded, "You haven't done that? Hepatitis...but it's probably too late."

"Um, you couldn't have maybe mentioned this sooner?" I say.

"Oh, well I've never had them either, so it's probably not a big deal," she says.

So I'm going to the doctor's tomorrow to get some shots. Which is really good, because for all I know I'm working with Typhoid Mary.

Most of you know I spend many hours at work, until very late in the evening (he says noticing that it's 10:22 as he types this), but I tend to get in a bit late...9:30 or 10:00. I really need to be getting in earlier, so I started this morning. I was in by just a couple minutes after 9:00. Woohoo! Let's see if I can do it tomorrow, too.

It's the little victories, isn't it?

My next month is pretty much shot. In a good way, but it's almost pointless for me to try and plan anything aside from what I already have planned. Briefly -- gaming Thursday, movie with friends Friday, company holiday party Saturday, co-worker's birthday Sunday, leave for China next Wednesday for a week, the next Friday is a party at some friends', a couple days later I leave for home for two weeks, and then it's a month from tomorrow. And all of that is on top of my regular schedule of going to the gym, work, and whatever various grocery and book shopping. Oh curses! I also have to get a bunch of Christmas gifts somewhere in there.

And I need a new watchband. Mine mysteriously broke sometime in the past couple of days.

That's all from me.