30 August 2013

Break in the action

Last time we checked with our hero, he was exploring the exotic far off lands of Asia.  Adventure!  Drama!  Suspense!  Comedy!  Yea, right.  Sorry for the pause in the action, but things got a wee bit crazy around here (story of my life) and I am trying to wrap things up to head out of town for a extended weekend.  This weekend is the start game of our football season and I have a parking pass and tickets to the opening game.  Will be good to get back into the weekend football rhythm.  Maybe I can get someone to autograph a football for me...  

Trailer is already loaded up, bags packed, bills paid, land barge is topped off, dogs waiting by the back door.  Momma has to stay home to watch over her mother and cannot make the run this weekend.  Bummer.  We had plans to head up to Austin on Sunday to visit with our offspring and his bride, but those plans got cancelled.  So it will be just me and the dogs in the trailer (that's just asking for trouble) this weekend.  

I was trying to wrap up my synopsis on China.  The last hotel was nothing like the first two - nice room, but after the Grand Hyatt, everything seems a bit pedestrian.  Food over in China was good, got to sample some unique Chinsese dishes (dim sum, Peking Duck, Dragon Fruit, lasagna).  Funny how, in Shenzen, because of the typhoon and the rain, we wound up eating in the evening and the Italian restaurant turned out to be our favorite.  I've spent a good part of my week writing up the audit report and getting ready for the next one.  And, yes I have another one that dropped into my lap.  This one popped up on the radar at the last minute and I "volunteered" to lead this one.  This will involve another looong flight to get to/from the place, but, due to the location, I have my motives for this one.  Details to follow.....

In the meantime, I hope to test out my new toy this weekend to see how it works on the road.  

25 August 2013

Roughing it

Whenever I travel, domestic or international, I always keep an eye on costs.  Being in purchasing, we are always looking for the best value and the lowest cost.  I have a budget to maintain, expenses to keep under control.  Rule of thumb is we normally travel coach (except on long haul flights over 12 hours) and go for the lowest fare possible.  I tend to book my trips with an eye on the shortest distance/least amount of travel time, if possible.  Sure I can get a flight to Los Angles with two stops, but if I can find a non-stop for close to the same price, I prefer not to burn those few extra hours of my life waiting in some airport terminal for my next flight.  

As for hotels, we tend to go for the mid-range hotels, not the 5 star resorts.  I have a price point that I typically shoot for with an eye for a hotel nearby the place we will be visiting.  Also like to find a chain that throws in some "freebies" along with the room rate (WiFi, breakfast, parking, airport shuttle, manager's happy hour, etc.).  Eating a continental breakfast at the hotel will typically save I found a great La Quinta in Paso Robles that had its own wine store in the lobby and every afternoon they would have wine tastings from local vineyards.

Normally, when I plan these road trips, I am the one making the travel arrangements. Flights, hotels, cars, etc.  That way I have an idea on the total costs of these road shows.  This trek to China was run by the Engineering Director who is in charge of the new program.  Since he has been over to Hong Kong/China before, I left all the details up to him.  Of course, being in the R&D group, they have a bigger budget, so their idea of "comfortable accomodations" is a bit different from mine.  

We stayed at three hotels while in China last week.  The first one was the Hyatt Regency in Hong Kong located near the University.  Very nice hotel.  Rooms were exceptional, food great, excellent work out room, great pool.  As I mentioned earlier, it was a bit on the upper end for our normal digs, but given the location and convenience to the company we were auditing, it was well worth it.  Usually I take pictures of the rooms so I can post comments/observations on TripAdvisor later(regular contributor).  I find that site is a pretty good source to get an honest, unvarnished assessment on a place to stay.   

The restaurants in the hotel were great, just a wee bit pricey.  Ate the breakfast buffet twice and dinner once at the hotel.  I normally don't go for buffets (always eat too much) but we weren't near any McDonald's and I didn't discover the pastry shop until the last day. 285 HKD ($27.50) for breakfast is a bit more than I normally expect.   

With that level of accommodations, I felt we had pretty much hit the pinnacle for our trip.  Au contraire.  We caught a company car to take us across the border into China for our next round of audits.  Very interesting crossing into China - the whole border security is tight coming and going.  We headed to our company for the audit first before heading to our new hotel.  This one was a bit further up the scale from the HR in Hong Kong.  This was a Grand Hyatt in Shenzhen.  It is located in the downtown section of Shenzhen attached to the upscale shopping mall.  We thought of this as the "Galleria" style area after the local high end shopping mall in Houston.  You know that things might get a wee bit pricey when the first stores you see next to the hotel are Prada, Versace, Cartier, Hugo Boss, Georgio Armani, just to name a few.  Stepped out of the van to be met by two doormen and escorted to the express elevator to whisk us to the 33 floor where the check in desk is located.  Stunning views from the receptionist desk.  My room was on the 10th floor and you had to take a second bank of elevators just to get to the hotel rooms.  

The room itself was, simply put, amazing.  You enter from the hallway directly through the bathroom.  The bathroom splits to the left and right to enter into the room.  To the left is the vanity/sink/closet/shower area, to the right is the toilet and back side of the shower and the room.  The shower/tub area is a six foot glass box with a wall mounted shower head and another monsoon shower head in the ceiling along with a fixed tub.  The rest of the room was very nice as well.  Decorations and fixtures just smelled expensive. 

Imagine showering or taking a bath in a six foot glass box
Great place to get ready 
Now, one of the really amazing things about this room was the bathroom.  At first, I found it unnerving to shower or take a bath or even change in the wide open.  It wasn't until my co-worker mentioned the partition glass next to the tub.  When I first came into the room, I noticed it was translucent, see through straight into the room.  Kinda "open" in my mind.  However, if you slide the room dividers open just slightly, the glass next to the tub goes opaque.  It is called Smart Glass or Magic Glass.  It has suspended particle within the glass and when activated with a current, the glass goes opaque or translucent.  In this case, when you close the room dividers, the glass "fogs" over giving you some privacy to the room and you don't feel like you are showering in the middle of the room.     
Now you see me
Now you don't  
Monsoon shower head
Even with the smart glass, it still felt weird showering in a six foot glass box.     

The view from my window overlooked part of the city and the Hong Kong countryside across the river.  Electronic window shades would cover the window at night.  I thought it was a bit over the top until nighttime.  On one of the downtown buildings there is one of those obscenely large electronic billboards that is 10 stories tall.  That thing would light up the sky until well past 10 pm.  My room faced away from that sign, but it lit up all the adjacent buildings and area at night like Vegas.  

Looking out over Shenzhen
Even 10 stories up, I could hear the traffic
night lite
Well, I think I have rambled on long enough for one day.  
I'll save the food report and our last hotel next.  

24 August 2013


Finished up our business on Tuesday packed up to head east to Guangdong province.  It is actually a very short hop from Hong Kong (30 minutes by train, 50 minutes by car) until you reach the border of China.  Shenzhen is a pretty impressive city with over 10 million residents (bigger than Houston and the Twin Cities combined).  Lots & lots of high rise buildings.  By my estimate, there had to be 3-4000 people in each building. 

One of the guys I was traveling with informed us that there was a typhoon called Utor bearing down on Hong Kong that had pretty much hammered Manila earlier.  No real signs of it while we were in Hong Kong, but it did blow in on Wednesday evening with lots of wind and rain.  We asked the hotel staff if there was anything we should do to prepare, but everyone seemed to feel it wasn't anything to lose sleep over.  Our Chinese sponsor told us that their operations would be running rain or shine.  

Still, it we did get a lot of rain that kept us in the hotel for two nights so we did not have a chance to explore around town.  Spend both nights eating in one of the restaurants downstairs.      

I did try to get in a bit of running in the morning but was rainy in the mornings.  Some interesting shops downtown, but I did manage to spot a familiar name.

Wonder where they get their cheap stuff from?

No real picture of the areas we went to, but you did get a good taste of life in rural China.  The Guangdong province is highly industrialized with lots of industries turning out stuff to be shipped overseas.  Shenzhen is a huge port on the China sea and almost every evening, we would pass a long line of trucks waiting to load up their cargo onto the ships. Despite the industrial presence, we did see a wide variety of things that you don't find back home. 
Can you name the statue in the middle?
While the downtown area was sleek and modern, a lot of the outlying areas were more modest.  Some areas felt slum-like.  It really was a mixed bag.  Driving down the road, we saw BMWs, Toyotas, Buicks, Hondas, Mercedes and even a Cadillac along side of mopeds and bicycles.  A lot of people in a relatively small area.  It was interesting to spend time in a totally different culture/place halfway around the globe.

Being 13 hours ahead of Central time was interesting while trying to keep up with all of the news from home.  When it was 6:00 in the morning in Shenzhen, it was 5:00 in the afternoon at home.  When we got back to the hotel in the evening, everyone was waking up for the day.  Most of the e-mail traffic happened while we slept so we always felt a day behind the conversation.  What really struck me were the restrictions on information.  We had a pretty nice choice of tv channels to watch in different languages (try watching old episodes of Hawaii 5-0 in German), but the news was very limited.  I would be watching CNN when at times the screen would be blacked out for a time (can you say redacted?).  Not sure exactly what I was missing, but it does you appreciate the information we get at home.  I wondered if Fox News would be a completely blank screen over there.  And the restrictions didn't stop with the tv.  As I mentioned earlier, whenever I tried to log into my blog or anyone else's and kept getting an error message.  Even trying to access my e-mails through Outlook OWA was spotty at times.  It was a good thing my blackberry was working.  I was able to use my new toy to text momma back home to see how she and the mutts were doing, but that was only when I could find some available WiFi.  I didn't even try to use my iPhone except to take some pictures.  After what I paid for roaming in Belgium last month, I decided to forego the convenience for this trip.    

Up next:  room and board (with style)

21 August 2013

Hong Kong with a side of Dim Sum

Sorry it has taken me a while to post my trip report, but everyone seem so have saved up their crisis/problems until I got back to the reservation.  Jeez.  Some days I feel like the freakin' Shell answer man around here.  

Hong Kong harbor
Trip went well, if not long.  Our outbound trek was interesting.  The first leg of the journey got delayed which meant we would have missed our connection in Hawaii and would have had to lay over for a day (gosh, to be stuck in Honolulu is too terrible to contemplate) but it would have messed up our agenda so we quickly jumped on an alternate route through Tokyo that would get us to Hong Kong about the same time.  One less connection, one longer flight.  Made the changeover without any issues and we landed in Hong Kong around 2230 Saturday night.  Very long day (28+ hours).  Hong Kong airport is huge but fortunately we all doing carry ons so we did not have to find our bags.  Found a green taxi (makes a difference) and got to the hotel around 2330.  My co-worker made all the arrangements for this trek and picked hotels for this road trip.  Normally, we are very expense minded and tend to go for the lower cost venues, but, as you will discover in my story, this one was definitely a bit upscale.  Very nice hotel.  I don't want to name drop but it was the HR Hong Kong.  Outside of the city but full service.  Being in Hong Kong dollars, this one was a wee bit more expensive that we normally use.  I almost felt guilty (key word being almost).  We planned Sunday as our down time so we could get used to the time change and get acclimated to the area.  Group planned to explore downtown Hong Kong around 0900, so I got up early hit the treadmill/trails around the hotel, then hit the pool to cool down.  Stuffed myself silly at the breakfast buffet (normally don't do buffets but had to try out the different items) before heading out to downtown.  We took the train downtown to explore.   

View from my hotel room
Lots of room
It was very hot and humid downtown.  We were sweating like pack mules after several hours.  Toured the harbor, the shops, the market place.  I was really hoping to see some old Chinese shops/stores/buildings but most of the downtown area has been raised and rebuilt with modern, steel and glass edifices that are a marvel.  If you are looking for some flea market trinkets or souvenirs or a cheap, tailored suit, just head downtown.  We did find a few interesting sights.  Like a bronze statue of Bruce Lee.  
Bruce Lee
Or a market place full of knock off purses.
Mongkok Market
Mongkok market 
Sure, honey, I'll get you a purse in Hong Kong
Or some interesting suits...
I was thinking I could do this...
Maybe it was the long flight or time difference or our lack of interest in buying cheap junk, but we faded early afternoon and headed back to the hotel.  Spent the rest of the afternoon camped out by the hotel pool drinking overpriced beer and finishing up a really great story about a woman from a small town called Treadwell.  
Lap pool
Koi pond
Now, on typical accommodations for audits like this one, we tend to go for stuff on the lower end of the scale to be cost conscious, but our rooms were pretty sweet.  Lots of first class stuff but the bathroom with a window really took it over the top.  One of those with a big bay window into the room alongside the tube so you can lounge in your bath while watching tv or perhaps share the tub with a friend.  Huge shower and loo as well.    
Bedroom with a view of the bathroom//tub

One think I really liked was the shower arrangement.  Not only did you have a huge shower stall, but it had one those "monsoon" shower heads in the ceiling.  When you kicked that one off, it was like standing in a downpour.  Really nice to have when you have been out running in the heat.  

Good way to get acclimated to the area before heading out on our audits.  

Next up:  China, Versace, and Utor.

19 August 2013

Home again ('bout time!)

10148 miles and 22 hours later, we finally made it back home.  Left Hong Kong Saturday morning for a long 14 hour flight to San Francisco, quick turnaround in SFO with just enough time to catch our plane out to Houston.  A short hop of only 4 hours and landed around 5 pm.  This was definitely the longest flight I have ever done.

Dogs and wife happy to have me back.  Spent most of Sunday recovering, mowing the yard, hitting the dog park, and catching up on my sleep.  I was able to get in a massage on the side (back hurting from all that flying).  Looking at a ton of work at the office - several reports due, meetings to attend, decisions to be made.

Trip went very well.  We got everything done we set out to do.  I hope to start catching up on my blog posts/reads this week.  Stayed in some really fancy hotels.  While in Hong Kong, I was able to keep up with the blogs, but when we moved over to China, things got interesting.  I will elaborate later, but the short story is that I was unable to access anyone's blogs, including mine.  Found it interesting as to what we could see (or not see) both on the internet and the TV stations.  

Hong Kong harbor
And, oh yeah, remind me to tell you about Typhoon Utor that hit Hong Kong while we were there.  

16 August 2013


Greetings Comrades!  
Life is wonderful here in the homeland!  
Many interesting things to see and do!  
Everyone is happy and productive!  
My journey has been very fruitful and profitable.  
I have learned much in my journey.  
I must leave now to return home to the decadent west with their all-night debauchery and  fast food and big cars.  As sit here in the United lounge in Hong Kong airport pondering my travels, I will miss my friends and comrades I have made during my travels.   


11 August 2013

Hong Kong at last

I woulda thought a "short" hop from Tokyo to Hong Kong would have been a breeze after that 12+ hour run to Tokyo.  Boy, was I wrong.  3+ hour layover in a hot Uniter lounge, packed plane, sat in the middle seat (my least favorite) in the exit rowthen we proceeded to sit on the runway for an hour while the pilots were trying to "fix" one of the indicator light thingies. Great.  Not want I wanted hear.  The finally got it working and we took off for HK.  Laned some time after 2230 and finally made the hotel a bit befor midnight.  By my reckoning, i had been up for almost 28 hours (sans a short nap on the planes).  Pretty much crashed for the night.

Up early this am (it is afternoon in Texas) and decided I had been sitting way too long so went for a run.  Did 45 minutes on the treadmill (you know how much I hate treadmills) and the a few laps around the hotel property.  Not really far, but a good work out.  Especially since it was already 89 degrees at 0700.  Showered off (BTW fantastic shower) and met up with my coworkers for breakfast.  We decided to take the train down to tour Hong Kong proper.  I will eleborate on that trio later but let's just say it was HOT.  Saw lots of shops/stores/booths selling cheap crap.  Want a Fendi purse for cheap?  Versachi?  How about a Rlex submariner for $116,000 (Hong Kong dollars)?  

I would toss in a few pictures but somehow I cannot access my photos on the iCloud right now.  Bummer.  

10 August 2013

When life hands you lemons...

Swap them for some limes and tequila and have a Margarita.  

It helps to stay flexible and keep your options open.  As I sit here in the United lounge in TOKYO nursing a big vodka tonic, I ponder how much of a sense of humor one must have when traveling.  And, yes, I said Tokyo.  Turns out that our flight was going to be delayed by almost 1.5 hours which means we would have missed our connection in Hawaii.  Now, my travel strategy has always been, if I am going to get stuck somewhere while traveling, I want it to be in a nice location. And being stuck in Hawaii didn't seem like a bad option, but it would mess up our agenda, so we hit up the ticker agent and found an alternate route that took us through Japan.  Longer flight, fewer plane changes.  Did get my business seat on the long haul, but it looks like I am flying steerage on the hop to Hong  Kong.  Only 4 hours - I think i can handle that.  Flight over was loooong.  12.5 hours in one sitting.  Granted, we were in those plush first/business class pods, but try sitting on your assets for that length of time and not feel like a slug.  I did knock out a number of movies and a few more chapters of my favorite novel (an exciting story about a woman named Nelda).  

Let's see, the ones I knocked out were:  Iron Man 3, Oblivion (meh), Cloud Atlas (long), The Great and Powerful Oz, Bullet to the Head (gag), not to mention a few more episodes of Game of Thrones.  

My watch tells me it is 3:30 in the afternoon here, but my internal clock says is is 1:30 in the morning.  Long day and we still have another 4-5 hours to go.  

Time for another refill before we have to board the plane.  


09 August 2013

The joys of travel

Gawd how I love to travel.

Up at the crack of early (even the chickens were still asleep), walked the dogs, finished up a report to my boss, took care of the three S's, kissed the wife good-bye, headed off to fight cross town traffic to get to the airport.  Being a paranoid person, I usually strive to hit the airport 2-3 hours ahead of flight time to avoid possible delays in check in.  Besides, you never know what the TSA lines will be like.

Made it to to the airport in plenty of time, breezed through the scanners.  Checked the departure board only find out our plane has been delayed an hour.  That leaves me with 3 hours to kill. Fortunately, I have a premier pass so I get to hang out in the United lounge. Free food, coffee, and WiFi.  

Now I wonder what this delay will mean to our 40 minute layover in Guam.

08 August 2013

Vaya con dios

At this point, RC is probably out exploring the streets and trail of Malta.  I hope that he and Mrs RC have an outstanding time.

As for me, my bags are packed and sitting by the back door and I am ready to go off world.  Today it was typical chaos.  Several reports to finish, meetings to attend, decisions to make, last minute tasks to run.  Just one time, I would love to head out on one of my extended trips in a calm and deliberate fashion.  I had hoped to leave by 4:00 pm to mow the yard one last time, but that was just a pipe dream.  By the time I finally pulled the plug, it was well past 1830.  And I still owe my boss a report tonight.  Oh well, nobody ever said life was easy.  Besides, I'm getting the opportunity to visit some far off land, see some interesting sights, sample some interesting food/drink.  This time tomorrow, I will still be on a plane headed west to some far off exotic destination halfway around the globe.    

Dogs are walked/pooped/fed.  One final walk in the morning before I head off to get felt up by the TSA.  Sorry I haven't been posting my inane comments on everyone's blogs, but I've been backed up at work and haven't been on line as much as I used to.  I am sporting a new toy that I hope will make communications easier.  If it works, I hope to post some updates while in transit.  My plan is to play catch up on everyone's blogs while I am waiting to catch the next flight.  If things pan out, keep an eye for some interesting road postings.  Pictures to follow.  

The road goes on forever and the party never ends....    

03 August 2013


They launch new ships with a bottle of champagne.  What do you christen a new lift with? Beer?  Scotch?  Champale?  

Ran back across town to my brother's garage.  My old lawnmower has kicked the bucket and I am in need of a some new hardware to take care of the yard.  My brother had a spare mower (don't ask) he gave to me that I can use for the rest of the summer (puts off the decision to get a new mower).  Of course this mower is almost as old as Stephen, but still fires up on the first pull.  While over there, he wanted to test out the new car lift.  What better way than putting something up in the air?  Now, with a new lift, what would you use to test out the system?  An old 1930 Model A?  Or how about a crappy old '87 Nissan 300X?  Nah, that'd be too easy.  How about an '81 Delorean?  

I kept waiting for it to fall over. 

Of course, let's thrown 30 years into the mix.  A 1951 Ford and 1981 Delorean.  

The -1951 is my brother's ride and the Delorean is my nephew's.  

Of course, while I was being used to help test the system, I took advantage of the available tools/hardware to rebuild my drawer that was damaged during the break in. Was able to come up with a pretty decent fix that should work.  

Of course, being 98 degrees down here, we were sweating like pigs by the time we were done.  Looking forward to the fall and "cooler" temps.   

02 August 2013

No excuse

Nope.  Got none.  Sorry for the pause in the action.  I could blame it on technical difficulties but that's not true.  I've actually penned two eloquent, articulate posts (with pictures), only have them turn to crap in the morning when I re-read them.  I've hit a lull in the fire fight and I am working my way back.

Been busy (what's new?).  Work has been:  a) cleaning my clock, 2) eating my lunch, iii) kicking my butt (your choice).  I've been trying to wrap up our fiscal month, finish up some audit reports, get ready for my road trip to the other side of the world, work through some minor catastrophes  support our own internal audit, figure out how to save the company billions of dollars while buying the best stuff.  Typical week - trying to save the world.  Seems like it has been consuming my week.  When I get home I have no real desire in even going on line.  Just come home, take care of the children (play, walk, pick up dog poop), watch some lame show, go to bed, repeat.  And since it has been brutally hot (99 degrees now) down here, there hasn't been much interest in wandering outside of the A/C zone.  On top of that, with all of the chaos at work, I haven't been able to squeeze in a run for two weeks so I am feeling really cranky/lethargic.  I need some serious motivation (translation:  ass kicking) to get me out of my mental rut.

The weekends seem to fly by but my brother did try to kill me last weekend.  OK, maybe it wasn't intentional, but I got recruited in helping him pick up and assemble a new lift for his garage.  Some 3500 lb contraption that will allow him to work on his old cars.  Turned into another adventure where my back is not speaking to me and I wound up sweating like a old horse.  

He plans on christening it this weekend.  I guess it is nice to have a hobby. 

I am still keeping busy with my own plans.  Working in the yard (who cares if it is 98 degrees?).  The old lawn mower finally bit the dust last weekend.  Looking to find an alternative to keep the yard in check.  I could always follow the path an old co-worker did years ago (paved over his back yard) but that just seems like the easy way out.

Getting ready for my road trip around the globe next week.  I love to travel and see the world/new sights, but, honestly, a 23 hour flight is not really something I am looking forward to.