Fish Fries And The Hunger Strike

I’ve had some interesting food in Malaysia. I had noodles with pork for breakfast one day, Japanese pastries stuffed with a hot dog (it looked like a big kolache) for lunch, and an Asian breakfast burrito (I have no idea what the true name is, but it was really tasty.)

All the sausage seems to be chicken, since pork is avoided. The chicken sausage has been very good.

So, I had tried new and exciting foods, but I was on the way home at last. There was breakfast on the flight from KL to Hong Kong, and I was hoping there would be a non-Asian dish available. The flight attendant was asking if people wanted fish fries. I was surprised that they don’t call the fish they were serving fish fingers or fish sticks.

I kept hearing “Fish Fries”, which I thought was a Burger King name for mini-fish sticks. However, they would be good airline food, since they reheat easily.

As the flight attendant got to my row, she was asking if we wanted an omelet or fish fries. I hadn’t heard “omelet” before. Although I decided fish fries would be good, I had the omelet on the way to KL, so I chose the omelet again. It’s breakfast food.

The omelet is very tasty, and it comes with chicken sausage, so it’s a good breakfast, even if you’re not on an airplane. So, even though I haven’t had fish sticks in forever, I had the omelet.

The person next to me chose the fish fries. He received fish and rice. So, I think I need a hearing aid, since FishRice sounded like Fish Fries. For twenty rows.

The omelet was good, as usual.

That was the trip to Hong Kong. The next leg was Hong Kong to San Francisco, which was exciting because it was a tight connection, and we were late getting in from KL.

If this were a stand-alone blog post, it would be called “11 1/2 Hours Of Random Kicks From An Adopted Cleft-Palate Chinese Baby”, but that seemed really long.

When two gate agents meet the plane with your connecting flight on a sign, things are not going to go well.

One of the agents counted heads, got enough of us, and said, “Follow me!” Apparently, her goal was to make the plane, and keeping the group together was up to us. If I could dodge and weave that well, I’d still be playing soccer.

It would be easy to follow a young dark-haired, slim Asian woman in a red dress in the Hong Kong International Airport, except that describes most of the employees of Cathay Pacific.

We made the train to switch terminals, got to security, went through the crew-only line (woo hoo!), then made it up the elevator and down two sections of moving sidewalk to the gate. They were still boarding.

Our bags were searched (for appearance sake) and we got on the plane. I had booked a middle seat in the bulkhead row only because it was the only bulkhead seat left on the plane.

How bad could it be?

So, I have an old guy on one side and a Yuppie-Hippie tattooed Dad with a lap child (the baby in the too-long title) across from his wife (Earth Mother) and three other kids. Kill me now.

At times like this, I prefer to think there is no God, since I had said a quick prayer when I got onboard. Granted, He’s busy fixing people’s brackets this month, but a guy hogging the armrest on one side and a lap baby on the other? How much have I pissed Him off over the years?

Of course, I later found that a younger Italian-looking guy had switched seats so Dad could be parallel to the rest of the family instead of behind them. One row behind them.

I was beginning to think God really hates me.

During the first meal service, a really old Indian gentleman behind me didn’t get his vegetarian meal. The flight attendant tried to explain that you need to confirm special meals, but he refused to talk to her after she said it wasn’t onboard. This is the ultimate cranky old guy – she doesn’t exist anymore. The supervisor came by, offered to make him an alternate vegetarian meal, but he just muttered at her. Finally, he accepted. When she delivered it, he refused it. So, now I have a hunger strike in the row behind me.

This shit never happened in business class.

My little friend just took a dump for the ages. When Third World people get an “I smell stink” look, you know it’s an impressive one. I’m glad she was over by her Mom, not that I was spared much.

Baby comes back to Dad. Every time she rotates in his lap, I catch a whiff. Somebody didn’t bring the wipes, I guess.

A few hundred miles later, and the baby goes on a crying jag. Dad wanders off with her. Some of the poop smell lingers. Maybe the old guy next to me isn’t just belching. (I have never heard someone burp this much, and I used to drink in college.)

The hunger striker just agreed to green tea. I’m beginning to see rum in my future.

Six and a half hours to San Francisco. Oy vey.

The hunger striker was coerced into eating something. I would have thought an average hunger strike would last longer than a flight from Hong Kong to San Francisco, but Cathay Pacific are taking no chances. I guess if the overhead bins are full, there’s no place to put a body. I wonder if a dish is still vegetarian if someone has spit in it.

I need a nap. I am not going to need white rice for quite a while.

One of the kids had an extended coughing fit. It went past medical into “Somebody notice me.” If that kid can hit a drum with the same rhythmic accuracy she can cough, we have the next Ringo.

Even flights from Hell eventually end. This one ended with my bag being almost literally the last bag delivered, which meant I was late through Customs. That meant I was running through my second airport in 24 hours to make a tight connection. There was another train involved, as well.

One other moment of excitement – Cathay Pacific hadn’t issued a boarding pass for my Dallas flight. The American kiosk wouldn’t give me a boarding pass since it wasn’t an American flight (it’s a code share.) Luckily, the agent printed me one. So much for self-serve.

That got me into the Priority Access security line, where businessmen and random stupid people collide. There should be a quiz for passengers before they are allowed to book travel. If people don’t know by now to take their damn shoes off, when my taxes are paying for a TSA agent whose only job seems to be droning, “Take your shoes off”, I guess that’s why airlines still have to explain how seat belts work.

I had my first window seat in quite some time, so as I watched the ground crew finishing up, I saw a truck come up with late bags, and saw mine going onboard. It’s time to go home.

Here’s when you know you’re back in the States. You can buy a glass of iced tea that has ice, and is more than six ounces. Here’s when you know you’re on a US flight – you get a can of Dr Pepper and a lot of ice. After 14 hours of juice poured into a small cup from a liter box or Coke from a liter bottle, it’s nice to be back to cans. Plus, the flight attendant’s name tag says, “Oh Miss”. Sarcasm, how I missed thee.

This is now officially the trip that will not end. I will explain.

My iPad battery is dying, my phone is dead, and we’re still flying. So, I got my GPS out to see where we were. It got a lock fairly quickly. We were almost to Albuquerque.

Then, the Captain came on the speaker. “We have a medical emergency in the back. The closest airport is Albuquerque.” So, at least the GPS works.

We landed in Albuquerque and taxied near a gate.

Paramedics took a passenger off in a wheelchair. His wife followed behind, with her head down. I don’t know if she was embarrassed or avoiding the hate stares.

Now, we have to top off the tanks, take off, and get a new landing slot at DFW. We were doing 580 knots back to DFW. Somebody at AA corporate must have decided paying for hotel rooms would be a bad idea.

The first estimate was an hour or so late into DFW. I am very glad I am done with connections for the day.

Let’s recap, shall we?

I left the hotel in KL at 5:00pm Thursday, Dallas time.
I crossed into Texas at 7:00pm Friday, Dallas time, per GPS, and yes, I cried a little.
I landed at DFW at 7:40pm Friday, Dallas time.

Of course, our gate was blocked, so we had to wait to get to the gate. The crew asked that people without connections let everybody trying to catch their next flight get off first.

It was like a clown car. I was in row 16, and I never realized there were 367 rows behind me.

Now, to get home.

First, I had go find my suitcase. The sign said carousel A16. The agent said A15. After a handful of bags, he said they were all off on A15. Mine was not there. Of course. So, I waited until the carousel stopped, and went to report my suitcase missing. The same suitcase I had seen go onto the plane in San Francisco.

My assumption was they pulled it for the medical emergency man by mistake.

It was on A16. I’m still wondering how bags from one flight ended up in two carousels.

Home at 9:15pm Friday, Dallas time.

28 hours, 15 minutes. It’s the fifteen minutes that really made it tiring.

America The Exported

One of the interesting parts of international travel is finding new and exciting ideas, foods, drinks and the like. If you wander around a foreign mall, you may find things that make you stare in wonder. You will also find things that just make you wonder.

Here in Malaysia, my hotel is connected by a covered walkway to the 1 Utama Shopping Centre, the fourth largest mall in the world, according to CNN. (It’s on their website with a link to the CNN report.) So, the other night, when I just couldn’t take room service anymore and I really didn’t feel like Asian cuisine in the restaurants, I wandered over there. First, was a Chinese restaurant. No surprise. Just not doing it for me. Next, a deli that looked like a local trying to do his interpretation of a deli. Hmm. Then, Carl’s Jr. Huh?

Now, I expect McDonald’s in all corners of the universe. I was really surprised I had walked over 300 yards and had not seen a Starbucks. But a Carl’s Jr? They can barely keep them open in Dallas, and there’s one in the mall in KL? (It was tasty.) (Don’t judge me.)

I went back to the mall this evening to wander around, since my feet were falling off from standing in class all  day, anyway.  Before I went over, I found their website, and looked at the list of restaurants. Wow. It was quite the list, and a homesick American will feel right at home.

There actually was a McDonald’s, I just hadn’t gone to the right floor yesterday. (This mall is so big, there are multiple food courts – or multiple areas where food shops seem to congregate.) It’s not that I wanted to eat at McDonald’s, I just feel strangely comforted knowing it’s there. (There is a part of me that will go to McDonald’s simply for the irony, but that only works in Paris, when you order coffee at the McCafe on the Champs Elysees.)

There actually was a Starbucks ( think there are two in the mall). (We drove past outposts of both on the way to the class this morning, so I knew they were around.) No surprise. Burger King? Hey, if there was one in Linköping, Sweden, there might as well be one here. KFC? A little strange, maybe, but I did see one selling fish and chips in London. TGI Fridays? I thought those were only allowed in airports, now. Kenny Rogers Roasters? Wait. Didn’t they go out of business?

Please excuse this (rather juvenile) interruption: The Kenny Rogers Roasters logo looked different than I remember. Maybe they’ve given the place a facelift. Bwa-hahahahahahaha! Wait. Shouldn’t Kenny Rogers run a laundry? He knows when to hold ’em and he knows when to fold ’em. I feel better now.

After all that, I ate dinner at O’Briens Irish Sandwich Bar – a place with “Irish” and “Bar”  in the name that doesn’t actually have beer. I saw “Irish” and “bar” and Googled it, and it’s a franchise of a Dublin sandwich shop that sold their Asia franchise rights to a Brit who lives in Singapore. That was so complicated, I felt obligated to try it out. I’m still a bit dubious on how an Irish place sells healthy fruit juices and coffee and not Guinness, but whatever. Maybe it was started in Dublin, Ohio, like Wendy’s. It was a very good sandwich, and the iced coffee rocked. That was actually the second iced coffee I had today. I don’t know why I don’t make it at home.

However, since I didn’t try any of  the local delicacies for dinner, I’m going to take massive heat tomorrow from my local IBM host, so after I finished my sandwich and iced coffee, I wandered around the mall, looking for the Japanese ice cream place I had seen in the list, because I thought they might have green tea ice cream. They did. It was pretty awesome. (Flashback to earlier this week – they also had sweet corn ice cream.)

Naturally, I got lost trying to find my way back out. As I wandered one floor below where I was supposed to be, there was a Hush Puppies store. A pretty big one, actually. I can’t find Hush Puppies in the shoe store at home any more and there’s an entire branded store here? (I loved Hush Puppies when I was growing up – they were slip-ons so I didn’t have to tie ties [yes, I was that lazy, and now I’m that inflexible] and they were close enough to dress shoes to wear to work or school. Plus, I always loved the puppy in the photo. No, Virginia, we are not adopting a Basset Hound.)

I just looked at the list again, and there’s a Kodak store. Really? I may have to go wander the mall tomorrow night, and see what develops. (Heh. Heh. Heh.)

I think sometimes we export stores to other countries, and sometimes we just move all of them, and never realize they’re gone.

So, if you have a craving for rotisserie chicken and a pair of Hush Puppies, I know where you can go. It’s just a bit of a flight to get there.

Almost Acclimated

I’m in Petaling Jaya to attend a seminar that starts tomorrow. I was going to have meetings with the local team today, but as the local team is only one person, and we met yesterday, I’m just working from my hotel room this morning. I know where the coffee is, somebody will bring me food if I call, so why would I walk next door to the office where I don’t have a desk?

I suppose I should be annoyed about traveling here early but I slept until almost 5:30am this morning and I will have to be in the seminar for six hours or so tomorrow, so the extra rest is probably good. I do know I went to Australia once for three days, and was still jet-lagged from Australia when I got home, so the extra time to acclimate is helpful.

I did visit the office yesterday and wandered around the Innovation Center, so that’s another one crossed off the list.

I was probably the only one in the bar last night having a wee pint for St Patrick’s Day. I had to settle twice – first, I went to the Cigar Bar (the Havana Club, which according to a glass by the register is actually a rum brand), and asked for Jamesons, but they didn’t have Irish whisky, so I had to settle for Scotch. Well, they learned it from the Irish, so that’s close.

The Havana Club reminded me of the Ice Bar on the Norwegian Epic – from an employee standpoint, it probably sounds like a really good deal, but then you realize there’s not a lot of traffic (I was pretty much the only customer the whole time I was there last night – my wife and I were alone in the Ice Bar last year), so it’s actually pretty boring. I’m pretty sure in both cases, it’s treated as a promotion – “You’re going to be the bartender at The Havana Club! You will have your own bar!” – but then you get there, and you realize “your own bar” means working alone, and while there are a lot of cigar bars around, there don’t seem to be a lot of cigar smokers. Actually, I was told most people come in, buy some cigars and leave. I felt a little hypocritical having asked for a non-smoking room and then going to the cigar bar, but so it goes. Plus, because I went, I heard the basics of the career aspirations of a cute 28-year old Malaysian woman who doesn’t smoke cigars and is really tired of being alone at work for long stretches.

It just occurred to me that was probably good training for me to be an old, crotchety bartender as my second career. Wait. Wasn’t she supposed to be listening to my problems? It’s a bit awkward to be in a bar when you’re getting hungry, but you feel the need to have one more drink, because the bartender is not finished with her story yet. So it goes.

One interesting note on the Havana Room (for those who don’t follow @xriva on Twitter because I mentioned it there last night, I think), the walk-in humidor has a biometric lock on it. So, the bartender had to lead me into the humidor to choose a cigar after opening the door with her fingerprint. I should have checked if she was packing heat.

This was the second biometric lock I’ve seen in a couple of months – the other was on the SoftLayer Data Center in Dallas. So, I have now have had a cigar that is as secure as the computers running the systems that turn startups into millionaires.

Since I hadn’t had a Guinness for St Pat’s, I stopped in the lobby bar on the way back to my room, but they had Carlsberg on tap, so I settled again. By this time, I was starving, and there was a small tray of sad somethings rotating in a warming oven, so I asked if there was any food available. The waitress brought me a menu, and then brought me another one. The second one was the room service menu. (The first menu seemed to be a subset of the room service menu.)

Another good idea. (Norwegian does something similar on their cruise ships – they will bring you a pizza wherever you are on the ship.)

So, I had a cheeseburger. It was amazingly good. I may have one for lunch, in fact.

Here’s an interesting question – the hotel has a Japanese restaurant, a Chinese restaurant, and an Asian-inspired buffet (where I had lunch yesterday, including sweet corn ice cream), so where does the American food on the room service menu originate? I would actually rather go to the restaurant and have a steak for dinner than try to eat it on the same desk as my computer, but the only place you can get cheeseburgers, sandwiches and mozzarella sticks seems to be from room service, or from room service in the bar.

An interlude – Sweet Corn Ice Cream. Now, when I saw that small tag, I just assumed it was another instance of mis-translation, and it couldn’t possibly be what we call “corn.” I steered clear of it anyway, and took vanilla, which looked very yellow, which means there’s a lot of cream or fat (or something.) 

Back at my table, I took a bite, and it didn’t really taste vanilla. It tasted like … sweet corn. Wow. Now, I’m not saying I would come back here just for the sweet corn ice cream, but once you get over the weirdness, it’s not too bad. It’s just .. weird. 

So, the physical part of acclimation is done – I can go to bed at a reasonable hour, and almost sleep through the night. (Didn’t I have to learn this as an infant?) Tomorrow, comes the schedule acclimation – starting at 9:30 am (maybe 9:45 am) instead of 8:30 am or 9:00 am at home, eating lunch at 1:00 pm (ouch) and finishing, well, when we finish, I guess.

I’ve learned to ask about schedules ever since I had a workshop in Stuttgart years ago, and about 11:30 am, I hit the end of one of the modules, and said, “Well, let’s break for lunch” and my host said, “We’re going to lunch in about an hour and a half.” Oops. Time to keep talking. So, always ask the locals, because not everybody in the world is on the same lunch clock.

Why doesn’t everyone do this?

One of the best parts of international travel is discovering that all cultures do things slightly differently. This is also one of the worst parts, since you end up asking “Why doesn’t everyone do this?”

First, let’s have a counter-example, since it has now happened to me on two continents in the past week. A lot of the hotels I’ve stayed in lately have beautiful stone or faux marble bathroom floors. While this would make my wife extremely happy, these surfaces are extremely slick when they are wet. I am now beginning to assume the Fall of the Roman Empire was due to marble bathroom floors. The floor here in KL is stone, and I slipped this morning – not much, but enough. The floor of my huge walk-in shower in San Francisco (actually in Burlingame) was faux marble and it was really slick. Why did I have a huge walk-in shower? Because when I checked in, the receptionist put me in a handicap room. Now, think of the irony of dying from a fall in a handicap room. This would not look good on a headstone.

Go back to the cheap floors. The clumsy (and splashy) among us will appreciate it.

Now, the proper examples. The first time (and only time so far) that I went to Taipei, there were two rather unique features in the hotel. One, there were rubber ducks sitting on the tub, which a sign around their neck that said you should adopt them. So, I have two Taiwanese ducks at home somewhere. (They’re not as tasty as Peking duck, but they’ve lasted longer.) From a business standpoint, a more important feature – that every hotel should do – is that when the bellman called a cab for you in the morning, he gave you a business card. On the business card was the hotel’s name and address, in English on one side and Chinese on the other. So, when you finished at work, you could hail any taxi and just hand him the card. Brilliant.

I’m in Kuala Lumpur,  Malaysia (actually, in Petaling Jaya – which is like just telling people you’re the Dallas Cowboys when you’re in Arlington) this week, staying at the One World Hotel and I was very happy to find that I have a minibar in my room. Then, I was distressed to find it was empty. Barren. I had never actually seen an empty minibar. (It looks a lot like a refrigerator.) When one of the maids came to bring more bottled water (free and apparently unlimited bottled water – I’m looking at you, every American chain hotel on the corporate list), I asked her about it. First, I apologized and told her that I assumed it wasn’t her department, but then I asked, anyway. She pointed out the card titled”Why is my minibar empty?” which I had missed. Hey, I’m jetlagged. Plus, it was right next to the order form, so it was easy to miss. So, I read the instructions, after she patiently explained it to me. The system at One World Hotel is simple – they fill the minibar with what you order. That’s what had confused me – usually the order form is your sordid confession of what you drank the last night of your stay, when you’re so stressed you drink all the vodka and finally eat the $7 Toblerone. The One World has figured out there’s no sense in having four cans of Heineken in every minibar in the hotel if only so many people actually drink it. There’s an order form that’s an actual order form – it’s not for what you did consume – it’s  for what you will consume if they just put in the minibar – just fill out the form, order what you think you need for your stay, and drop the form off at reception. They’ll deliver it. Why doesn’t everyone do this?

I also give the One World Hotel credit for having random stuff I’ve seen in other hotels, but not usually all at once. In my room, I have a robe, slippers, an iron and ironing board, a safe, a scale and a flashlight. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a flashlight before, and as a basic security tool, it’s a pretty good idea. They also have a thermostat that will display in F or C, depending on what you want, which is great since I forgot my portable thermometer again, and I can’t do the math in my head. That’s a pretty good list of stuff for a hotel that I selected solely because it was next door to where I will be working this week.

I’m thankful that most places have just started writing  the WiFi password  on your room key jacket without waiting to be asked. It saves a phone call. I’m surprised more hotels don’t just have open WiFi (thank you, Best Western in Hondo, Texas), but I suppose now that they’ve finally chased all the homeless people out of the parking lot, they don’t want to start chasing out the homeless people stealing WiFi and checking email to get their intersection assignments. I do wish more hotels would just have a WPA key so you could create a profile for the location and it would always log in – the software I use creates a profile anyway, so just storing the password would save time. Having to enter a password on a web page is tedious, especially when you can’t always get the page to load. From last week’s four nights in two different Embassy Suites, I appreciate that Hilton has a partnership with AT&T (and admits it) so I can logon to their WiFi with my home AT&T credentials, since I usually lose my room key jacket with the password eventually. Also, kudos to the One World – my laptop was still connected this morning. At most places, the connection automatically drops after some period of time.

The receptionist at the One World Hotel specifically told me the password provided would work for up to four devices – it’s nice knowing there is a limit, since I always wondered. Since I have my mobile phone (no connection other than WiFi since I can’t find Sprint here), my iPad (WiFi only) and my laptop (WiFi), that’s a good number. It also means I don’t have enough devices.

The receptionist did one other thing that every receptionist in the universe should do – even if it’s bullshit. She asked me “smoking or non-smoking floor?” and when I said “non-smoking, please”, she said, “Let me see if I can get you a better room.” Now, for all I know, I have the smallest, crappiest room in the hotel, but when I first walked into it, I’ was pretty sure it was better than the one I almost got, and I was very impressed with it. Marketing genius.

I miss the rubber ducks.

CX881 LAX -HKG

Wow. This is one long damn flight.

Here’s my new definition of a long damn flight: You get on the plane, climb to cruise, eat dinner, take your nighttime medications, and sleep fitfully for what seems to be a long, long time. When you finally realize you can’t really sleep any more, you turn on the navigation channel. There are five and a half hours left to go.

Five and a half hours. I needed to walk around, but I just couldn’t get motivated. It was like I was glued to my seat. So, since it had been almost ten hours since I took my medications, I found the one thing likely to make me walk. I took my diuretic.

After that, I walked around about every thirty minutes.

My seat wasn’t bad, for coach. I had the aisle seat in the middle section, just behind the galley. So, nobody in front of me, and only one neighbor, an older Chinese gentleman (which is important later in the flight.)

Cathay Pacific actually has premium coach, so there are four classes on the plane. Thank you, Corporate Finance, for managing to bump me even lower down the food chain.

Random Thought: There should be a convention of all corporate finance people in Australia. Those fuckers should all have to fly coach to get there, and they should all have to route through at least two airports. Maybe then they would realize business class is not a luxury when you’re talking about flights over four hours or so. (This may be too soon, but on the way home, we should charter a Malaysian Airlines jet and hope for the best.)

The plane is a mix of Chinese and old Americans. From some of the conversation I overheard during boarding, many of the old Americans are going on a cruise. Considering how lost most of them looked just navigating the two aisles of the 777, they’re going to be really lost on a cruise ship. It was like being an extra in The Night of the Living Dead trying to get to the lavatory.

Food was decent, but my recollections of Cathay Pacific business class food were not met (not surprisingly.) The exciting meal was breakfast, where the choices were a mushroom omelet or chicken congee. I did not know what that was, so I assumed it was the token Chinese dish, as the omelet was the token American dish. The person across from me didn’t know what it was, either. All I heard was a muffled discussion, and then “The omelet, please” in a choked voice. The person one row up and across from me didn’t know what it was, either, he just knew it was the only thing his flight attendant had left on her cart. She said in a bright voice, “Chicken congee. It’s like a chicken porridge.” Now, I understood the choked voice.

My flight attendant had one omelet left, and two passengers. Luckily, the other passenger was the older Chinese gentleman next to me, so he had the chicken. I got the last omelet on the plane. Perhaps, there is such a thing as Divine Intervention.

It was a pretty good omelet.

Random Thought: All Boeing 777s should have a photo booth, so you could get a passport photo that reflects how you actually look after an overnight flight.

It’s Sunday.

Remember how I woke up with five and a half hours to go? That’s about how long my next flight will be.

Actually made my connection with time to spare.

Business Travel

I don’t care what anyone thinks. Business travel sucks. I’m in my third city this week and I’m in the airport, waiting to go to another continent.

Ten years ago, this may have been exciting, but I’m too old and tired to feel that way any more.

I went to Chicago Sunday, back to Dallas on Tuesday, to San Francisco Wednesday, and somebody told me it’s Friday today, so I’m off to Kuala Lumpur.

That’s right. The place CNN won’t shut up about, because a plane is missing from there.

The Spousal Unit is not happy.

CNN is actually on ithe TV in the Admirals’ Club, so you can have a relaxing drink and learn about how a plane can be sabotaged before you get on your plane. Piers Morgan is interviewing someone, so by the time I leave for my gate, at least we’ll know it’s the Tea Party’s fault.

Lovely.

(It’s still better than March Madness.)

I’m flying to Los Angeles, then to Hong Kong, then to Kuala Lumpur. It’s Friday now, I’ll be there Sunday afternoon.

I’m coming home next Friday.

I’m traveling 30 hours or so each way for a two-day class. This does not seem an efficient use of time to me, but I don’t have an MBA. Luckily, since our management has found cutting costs is somewhat easier than making money, I’m flying in coach.

I’m hoping the family with their precious (and cute) family goats are at least a few rows away from me.

The last time I flew to Hong Kong, it was from Europe. So, this is a first. The last time I flew home from Hong Kong is when I crossed a million miles on American.

So, I’m currently waiting in San Francisco (and listening to plane crash theories), so I can fly to LA and wait, so I can fly to Hong Kong, clear customs and wait, and fly to Malaysia.

Then, I can collapse in the hotel.

One partial day of rest (and a couple of meetings), another day of nothing but meetings, two days of workshops (teaching alone, since my co-instructor couldn’t get a visa) and then home. Also known ad another 30 hours in coach and airports.

Funny thing about the workshop: US logic says if the classroom holds 25 people, you stop registrations at 25. Asian logic says when you go over 25, you just find a bigger classroom. So, there were 40 students registered as of yesterday. The largest class I’ve done by myself is probably 20.

How can business travel not be fun?

So, the next person who says, “You’re lucky. I never get to travel!” is getting punched in the head.

Explorations

From June 1, 2001, originally. That was after a plane flight across the Atlantic. It still seems appropriate after sailing across the Pond – since sailing is a much more civilized way to travel than flying.

I crossed the ocean
And it crossed me.

Where am I?
I know the planet is Earth,
Since that’s what we call it.
I know the time
(As much as anyone could know)
But I’m still lost and floating
Home seems an eternity away.

Long ago, the brave crossed oceans,
To conquer and explore.
But today it doesn’t take courage,
Just an expense account,
And another meeting to attend.

Travel is no longer an adventure
(If ever it was before.)
This is just routine, almost tedium,
At five hundred miles per hour.

The oceans pass underneath,
And continents appear.
I’m in a crowded metal tube,
Trying to find a reason for it all.

I left my house to cross the globe,
But the website is still up,
And email downloads still.
Am I really gone?

Near-Death Vacation

Nine levels of switchback. Nine Circles of Hell. Coincedence?
Entrevaux Citadel

Yesterday, I thought I was going to die, all alone, while slowly approaching a French Citadel. Isn’t that what a vacation day on a business trip is all about?

Years ago, the Spousal Unit and I went to Southern France for a couple of weeks – I was on business, she was on vacation. Part of the time, we were both on vacation. On one of those days, we took the train to from Nice to Entrevaux, a Medieval city about two hours north of Nice. (Nice is a seaside town that is at the edge of the Mediterranean on one side and the edge of the Alps on the other.) So, Entrevaux is in the mountains.

Apparently, many years ago, somebody thought it would be a good idea to fortify the town by building a citadel (which means a fort way the hell up in the sky.)

“Monsieur, some evil people are attacking the town!”

“We need a citadel. How about putting it way up there out of sight?”

So, Entrevaux has a Citadel. The Spousal Unit and I shot some photos of it last time. From the ground. However, this time, I was not with my wife, I was with two of my co-workers. Co-workers desperately afraid they will miss something interesting while on a business trip with an open weekend in France. So, we climbed up to the Citadel. On foot.

So, the rest of this is a remembrance and tirade about taking a walk. Those of you in good shape who exercise regularly can roll your eyes and stop reading now. Those who know me and are already giggling or enjoy seeing me in pain (hello, family!) can continue on.

There was a helpful French guide at the foot of the climb who sold us our tokens to enter the passageway up. Three euros. Each. She said there were seven switchbacks along the way. She lied. The brochure says there are nine, as in the number of circles of Hell.

So, David from Austin, Sakamoto-san from Tokyo and I started the ascent. In retrospect, it is very clever to charge people for the opportunity to walk straight up into the sky. If you didn’t charge them, many would get to the foot of the walkway and decide against such a foolish escapade. With a charge, the thought is – “Hey, I don’t want to waste three euros!”

This is the same theory as joining a gym. At least you can skip going to the gym more easily than skipping the walk.

Quote: “How to get to the Citadel: Go through toll-gate [Editor: with the 3 euro token] and walk straight up for about 20 minutes. Easy walk on recently restored cobbled path (difference in height: 156 meters.)” Some key points, for those who don’t easily read between the lines:

  • Straight up. This is not an exaggeration, even though the path has seven to nine switchbacks.
  • Recently restored. France is in Europe. “Recently restored” could be sometime in the 1800s.
  • 156 meters. For Americans, that’s actually 511 feet which sounds a lot higher than 156 meters. However, you don’t actually walk straight up, you walk fifty-seven miles through the “seven” switchbacks. Rappelling would be 156 meters.

    Warning Sign
    This is not information. It is a warning.

David and Sakamoto-san are a lot like me, except for age, weight and general disposition. As they sprinted up the recently restored pathway, chatting happily, I got through the first switchback just barely before my heart began to pound.

Maybe I’ll just stop here and take a couple of photos. I’m not out of breath or anything, this is just a good vantage point, since it’s so close to the ground and all.

My colleagues are now out of sight. As well as out of earshot. So, at least now I can whimper in peace.

So, I’ll guess I’ll just stop here in the middle of the second switchback to {huff, puff} take some more photos. Wow. It’s already a long way down. I’m making progress! Wow. It’s an even further way up. I’m going to die.

Continue climbing.

Horrible realization – I don’t have a pen with me. I can’t leave a note for David and Sakamoto-san to find on the way down, asking them to deliver the camera back to the Spousal Unit. I also don’t have a safety pin to attach the note to my clothes before I breathe my last. Should I be concerned I’m already planning my last minutes on earth?

I’m only concerned about the camera because the Spousal Unit lent it to me before I left and asked me to re-shoot the town of Entrevaux, especially the Citadel. Hey! That means this is all her fault! Feel slightly better. Still out of breath.

Realize if I die on this walk, the Spousal Unit will just buy a truly expensive camera with her inheritance money. If I die, I’m throwing this camera off the mountain.

Continue climbing.

Horrible realization deux – I now know why I don’t remember the climb being this difficult the last time I was in Entrevaux. It’s not just because that was eight years and probably fifty pounds ago – it’s because we didn’t actually make the climb. So much for age and experience. I would yell at David for dragging me up this mountain, but he’s already at the top, and I’m here on the third switchback, out of breath. I mean, taking photos.

Well, {choke, wheeze}, at least I’m almost half-way there.

Continue climbing.

If Lance freakin’ Armstrong goes by on his bike, I’m putting a stick through his spokes.

Well, {sneeze, cough, whimper}, at least I’m almost half-way there.

Another Fort
Hey, that fort over there looks a lot lower.

Continue climbing.

Why am I not making any progress? I wonder what David and Sakamoto-san are doing at the top? I wonder if they will pass me on their way down? I wonder if they will recover my body?

Continue climbing.

Stop to catch my breath, uh, I mean, take some photos.

Meet a couple on the way down. Try to be polite without heaving too much. “Bonjour!”

Why do they look so damn happy? Oh, maybe it’s because they’re going down. Bastards. Wonder what “bastards” is in French? If I could get a WiFi signal, I could use Google Translate. Who am I kidding? If I had a WiFi signal, I would call for help.

Continue climbing.

Well, at least I’m almost half-way there.

I wonder if David and Sakamoto-san remember me?

Hey, I made it all the way through that switchback without stopping. I wonder why my heart is beating so far out of my chest?

I think that was switchback 27. If I ever make it down to safety, I’m kicking that cute tour guide in the butt, as soon as I catch my breath. And can move my legs.

Damn. More people coming down. Look pleased to be here. “Bonjour!” Well, at least a little old couple hasn’t passed me on their way up.

At least I’m almost half-way there.

Hmm. What kind of message does dying on Father’s Day send? I’d better get moving. I’ll just take a couple of photos, since this is a nice vantage point.

Dear Lord, if You could just give me one more chance and let me survive this easy climb on a restored cobbled path, I’ll build You a freakin’ chapel at the top, next to the Citadel.

At least I’m almost half-way there.

Looking down at Entrevaux
If I puke, will I hit the houses?

 

Holy Crap! (Sorry, Lord.) Another couple is heading down. How many old people think climbing a mountain to see an old fort is a rational idea? Were these guys stationed here at one time?

If this freakin’ Citadel is closed for lunch when I get up there, someone’s going to die. Unless I die first.

Bonjour. That man looked pleased to be descending. I’m pretty sure the woman said “Almost” in a slight whisper as she passed me. Almost to the top? Almost dead? Almost is some French word for “look at the fat guy dying on his easy walk”? I’m pretty sure that was a pity smile she gave me.

I wonder if it’s time to start saying “Bon soir”? I’ve been climbing for about fourteen hours (twenty minutes my ass) and it was late morning when we started.

Hey, at least my pants are getting looser. It’s either the altitude or the 37 1/2 pounds of sweat I’ve produced so far. It’s a bit warm in Southern France today.

If one of these couples calls the authorities, and I get med-evac’ed off this stupid easy climb, the first thing the Spousal Unit will say when the US Embassy calls is “Was he wearing sunblock?” What is wrong with her?

At least I’m almost half-way there.

Hey! That’s David up ahead! Hmm. I don’t remember him wearing a white robe. Why is there so much light behind him? Why is he telling me to come into it? Why are my grandparents behind him?

I think I have enough time to shoot some more photos.

At least I’m almost half-way there.

As I turned another corner in the 42 switchbacks, I wondered how the French architects and builders managed to make the switchbacks at the top longer than the ones at the bottom. I wonder if the French army lost any wars just because their soldiers couldn’t make it up to the fort in time. I wonder if the enemy soldiers could just dodge any arrows shot from the Citadel since it would take a half-hour for them to reach the ground?

Man, I thought that can of olive oil the Spousal Unit requested I purchase in Nice was going to be overweight luggage. Wait until IBM has to ship my corpse home. That is going to be one big-ass internal mail envelope.

Wait! This time, it really is David. I’m at the top. That was easy.

Where’s the welcoming party? The snack bar? The oxygen tents? The snack bar?

We’re at the damn top at last, let’s take some photos. Hey! A bench! Let’s rest, then take photos.

Well, that was fun. Let’s go down. Does France have a Care-Flite service?

Going down wasn’t nearly as bad as going up, and I did take a few more photos.

Entrevaux Citadel
French soldiers were stationed here, waiting for attack. I’m waiting for a heart attack.

I even kept David and Sakamoto-san in sight most of the time. Most of the time.

I only stumbled once, but I didn’t even fall, since I’m an experienced climber now. I did, however,  have a flash of rolling down a recently renovated cobblestone path, wiping out co-workers and tourists as I fell. Bowling for Tourists.

At the bottom, we saw a young couple with two bouncing sons in tow, approaching the entrance. I thought “That hike should calm those kids down.” Then, I thought, “This is going to be the vacation those kids discuss with their therapist.”

Once safely at the bottom, I realized that I had forgotten to build the Lord His chapel. Considering what He’s overlooked in my life so far, he may let that one slide. Come to think of it, it may not be the first chapel I’ve shorted Him.

Lord, I would go back and build Your chapel as promised, but I think that climb was a once-in-a-lifetime event. Mainly, because the next time would kill me, and I know how You feel about suicide.

I’m still alive. Next time, I’m buying posst cards at the gift shop and just telling people I made the climb.

David said he signed the guest book as “IBMers from Texas and Japan”. So, the next time you’re at the top of the Citadel, you can see my name in the book. Implied.