a mild itch

Got into Vegas from Shanghai just an hour or so ago.

Upon seeing this shiny place ringed by desert again, I didn’t expect to have such a strong emotional reaction.  Maybe the jetlag contributed, but being here again after this summer’s RV trip, for only the second time in my life, just smashed down on me and almost made my eyes water.  It’s not like I’m remembering something that happened twenty years ago, either – we were here back in July.  I think it’s a testament to just how impactful that trip was on me.

Maybe I didn’t realize exactly how broadly the journey effected me, and to some extent maybe I’m still settling back into things and coming off that road-high.  Writing might be one example of this.  I know in my head that at some point I’m going to call this sounds familiar dead-time “the big gap.”  That I’ve already named it for future writing means I’m getting closer.  More telling still are the ideas for entries that have been jumping into my head again; on plane flights, in taxis, on the soccer field, the shower; the usual places.

It could be that I haven’t seen my family in two weeks, and won’t for another few days before we meet again in Portland.  Missing them and being here, a place where, even if we didn’t really have the best time in the world, I was last together with them on this wild transforming journey, surely plays a part.  I miss my family.

So I don’t know… but I’m going to go out and walk the strip a bit (after a shower to wash the full day’s travel off me) and see if I can catch further nostalgia.

Until later then.

busy streets & busy days

Hack hack hack

Hi from the other side of the Earth, internet.  I miss my family.  Sharaun e-mails me pictures and it makes me miss them more.

Shanghai is pretty much like I remember it.  Even though it’s been quite a while since I’ve been here, it looks roughly the same – although the seemingly never-ending construction and population influx means things look even more crowded and dense, if possible.  I swear it seems like this city sprawls as much as it crowds, both growing outward and becoming thicker inside.  The streets teem with people; people walking, riding bikes, scooters, cars, trucks, buses – all of it a quivering ball of loosely organized chaos.  The people are as hospitable as ever, and the food is always delicious.

On the plane over I started feeling some sinus & respiratory discomfort – as I often do when flying, the tight space and recycled air, perhaps – but it’s gotten worse since being here and is annoying.  I have a sporadic cough and my nose is stuffed up.  Nothing major, no fever or anything, more like allergies or a reaction to the rough air and tight spaces.  Makes for a scratchy voice and sniffles though, and the occasional swimming head.  A guy at the hotel had some generic Wal Mart cold medicine he carried over from the states, so I popped one of those this morning in hopes the decongestant component will offer a little relief later today.  Either way, I’ll maintain.

I took some iPhone pictures throughout the first couple days (funny how, the more often you’ve been somewhere, you tend to be less and less picture crazy).  They’re not the highest quality images, but I had some time this morning so I uploaded a few for your enjoyment.  Check them out below:

Tomorrow I’ll work a half-day and then take the short flight to Taiwan to finish out the week there.  I canceled the hotel and will be staying with friends while in town, so am excited to spend some time at their new place and bumming around the city with them.

And there’s been work too.  In fact, the work I’ve ended up doing has proven really valuable to me.  Likely this tells me that I should get out here more often.  I’ve been cloistered in a room with the same five other managers now for going on sixteen hours but the output from our sessions makes me proud.  I guess sometimes there’s no real substitute for locking yourselves up and hammering on problems until you end up with a solution.

In summary, then: China is busy; went shopping and ate crazy Asian food; worked hard.


beautiful and nice?

Monday night around 8:30pm. I came home and mowed at lunch, took a little longer than my usual hour trip home but I could afford it. Sharaun had an evening engagement tonight and another tomorrow night, and I didn’t get the chance to mow this weekend after being in China for more than a week since the last pass. So, I took care of it when I could – lunch hour. And now I’m here alone half-watching some Simpsons reruns and writing.

Since getting back in town, I’ve watched two TiVo’d episodes of the new Discovery Channel series Planet Earth – which I’ve found pretty engaging. I’ve always enjoyed “nature” shows when they’re done right, and this one is spectacular, just like all the hype said. One thing it does do though, is increase my yen for a high-definition television – I can already tell the thing would look incredible in HD (even though it probably would be all ugly and stretchy-squashy because nothing seems to be the right shape for the rectangular HDTVs). When are they gonna figure that out anyway? You know when I’ll spend two grand on a TV? When the picture being broadcast “fits” without A) clipping the edges, B) letterboxing, C) squishing people to look all fat, and D) squishing the extreme edges to marginally improve over (C). Yeah, eat that HDTV manufacturers… or TV broadcasters… or filmographers… or whomever is responsible.

While we’re on the topic of TV shows, I was reading a buddy’s blog the other day and hit upon a seemingly simple statement that he and his wife had been reliving some 1980’s moments watching The Wonder Years on TV. He even mentioned the name of the network, something called “Ion.” I was immediately drop-jawed. I’ve pined for Wonder Years reruns ever since the VHS copies I taped off Nick at Nite in the old days were plowed into a landfill. I immediately opened multiple Firefox tabs to kick into high-gear in my search to see A) what the hell the Ion network is, and B) do I get it on DirecTV here in California. Turns out, I freakin’ do get it… and I already had the channel mapped (I think it used to be the WB or UPN or something?)… anyway, two minutes later I had a TiVo season pass setup for the best show on earth, and one that shaped my tween years like none other. Oh Mike… you know not what you have done. Now, if we could just meet somewhere between that snowy place where you are and the sunny place where I am to catch the premier of The Dark Crystal II, I’d be in clover.

Now for some dispatches from last week in China:

My first night in Shanghai, I decided that were I to sleep immediately after getting to the hotel, I’d wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to get back to sleep. My plan was to retire to the bedsheets only upon complete exhaustion. For that reason, when I got to the hotel I showered, redressed, and called a buddy of mine who lives in town. “Beers?,” I asked, “Beers,” he affirmed. Twenty minutes later and we were walking down a pub-lined Shanghai street in search of hoppy goodness. A few pints and a plate of french-fries later, I was climbing into a taxi and handing the cabbie my room keycard to express my desired destination. Now, I’ve been to Shanghai once before, and I’m moderately familiar with certain areas – so I knew enough to recognize that the driver was headed in the right direction. As we neared the area where I knew the hotel to be, I stopped paying attention assuming he’d got it right and wasn’t taking me for a ride (I know that, literally, he was, but I’m using the expression here… well… if you didn’t get it you don’t deserve the explanation).

Soon, we were pulling into the taxi loop at the hotel. The driver stopped and said something to me in Chinese, I glanced at the meter and handed over the requisite 16 yuan. Stepping out of the cab I walked toward the large revolving doors of the hotel. In the elaborate glass doors there were little “pockets” with shrubbery and Chinese-style decor, the whole thing being a large rotating circle split down the center by a glass partition (you’ve no doubt seen the type of door, which is actually harder to describe in words than I’d’ve every thought). Anyway, I remember thinking that I didn’t remember the little pockets of decorations coming into the hotel earlier. Then, as I stepped into the lobby, it hit me: this was not my hotel. Confused for a moment, I walked around thinking I’d perhaps entered through and alternate entrance and was just approaching from an unfamiliar angle. Nope, wrong hotel altogether.

Not knowing what to do, but knowing I was relatively close to my real hotel, I walked back outside and surveyed my surroundings. My head was telling me my hotel was just down the road somewhere, and the way to my right looked most promising by virtue of some big buildings. So, I struck off to the right and soon found myself between two hotels, the wrong one I’d just left and another, the name of which I could not yet see but which ended up being mine (I guess the cabbie had simply dropped me between the two assuming I’d walk to the right one). As I walked in the darkness, a man appeared from the curb and began approaching me with quickness.

“Hi!,” he said. “Oh crap,” I thought, what now? “Beautiful girl, sir?” Ahh… the outside-hotel hustler shtick, a simple pimp trying to move his merchandise, a common occurrence for westerners in China. “No thank you,” I said as I walked on, not stopping to give him more conversation time. “Nice girl, sir!” Nice girl? “Hold the boat!,” the little devil-looking me on my left shoulder began, “Beautiful and nice?!” I turned towards the approaching little man. “Don’t you even!,” harped the the little cherub-me perched on my right shoulder – as he shot a lightning bolt of righteousness at the devil-me opposite him, causing devil-me to explode in a poof of red dust. “No; no thanks anyway,” I mutter as I shuffle away.


getting out of a rut

Let’s clear the air here first, before we do the standard blog fare: For about two weeks now, I’ve been pretty disappointed with the blog. I haven’t been able to put the right amount of time and effort into it, and it’s shown with multiple-day dry spells and bad entries. I know exactly why too – I’ve just been doing too much of everything else: hanging out with friends, yardwork, playing with the baby, reading – just to name a few. I don’t think this is a bad thing at all, but I would like to get back into some more meaningful writing (not because I feel guilty but because I actually enjoy it). So, I’m hoping to get out of the rut here soon – maybe you’ll decide to see me through it, sit with me through the doldrums and wait for the other end of the tunnel?

Hey, before you read more – go check out the big ol’ backlog of pictures I uploaded to Keaton’s gallery, you won’t regret it (she’s cute as crap!).

Sitting at the gate awaiting my flight from Shanghai back to the US. There is a brilliantly beautiful girl sitting not far from me, traveling with her family. She looks to be part Western and part Eastern, apparently the best bits of each. I’m pretty much in love with her right now. Seems she’ll be flying to San Francisco as well, so perhaps between napping, reading, watching some TV, and stealing an occasional glance of her – I’ll have an enjoyable ten hour flight. And now, much to your amazement and sure-thing applause, I bring you the next sentence from some fifteen-hours later: Sitting in San Francisco waiting for that last puddle-jumper home. The brilliantly beautiful girl is also going home, it seems, and her home is the same as my home. Although, I must admit the long flight has dulled her edges just a bit – but I must look even worse than my fresh-and-clean best too, so I’d say the mutual chances of a clandestine hookup have at least gone down proportionally. It’s OK, though, because I’m about to be home with my wife and daughter – and I’m ready ready ready…

Ahhh… the relaxation that can only come from being on one’s own couch, a full weekend ahead of him, having just returned from China (yes, it’s a rare form of relaxation indeed). Keaton’s here too, just dad and baby – while mom man’s some event up at church (she’s become quite Mrs. Involved lately with all manner of “mom’s group” doings, which I think is wonderful – and probably appeals to that sense of responsibility she cultivated and then had to leave when she started, then departed from, her teaching job). All this means dad’s got Keaton for the morning, up until her afternoon nap. After that, I plan to try and get my garden planted (providing the clouds break). I’ll get what I can as living transplants up at the Home Depot, and if I can’t find the exact breed of what I want there I’ll do seeds over the ‘net and start that way.

Speaking of my garden, the folks in Shanghai were quite astounded when I told them that I was trying my hand at the trade. Seems their notion of American suburban backyards doesn’t include gardens (wonder why) – and my desire to “farm” had them somewhat befuddled. I liked it, added to my Western sense of mystery, I’m like a storybook figure: A rich American engineering manager with two cars who can have limitless babies if he desires and grows vegetables in his backyard. All I need is a blue ox and a loom that spins gold and I’d be a timeless legend. Now I have the added pressure of a few Chinese coworkers imagining my bounty of homegrown vegetables to deal with as I tool my crop to success though – if it’s a complete bust now I’ll be letting an entire nation down.

Anyway, Keaton and I are sitting around watching the sun try to break through the morning clouds. We’re listening to the astounding-sounding MFSL version of Yes’ calssic 1972 album Fragile, which I just put on my iPod this morning after discovering, after getting a sudden and strong yen to rock out to it during my flight home, that, much to my horror, it was not already thereon. (Man, I re-worded that sentence like four times before I decided I’d placed all the comma’d-off portions correctly. If you do that “it has to make sense without the comma’d parts rule” it should read: “…after discovering that it was not already thereon,” sounds right to me). Anyway, the omission made me realize that my Yes collection is somewhat lacking, so I ran out and picked up both 1971’s The Yes Album, and 1972’s Close to the Edge, which are both sounding mighty fine to me right now.

Oh, I’ve been wanting to write about all the things Keaton can now do – more for my own recordkeeping than bragging, although a mite of bragging ain’t never hurt no one that I heard of. Anyway, Keaton can now say the following things: “bye-bye,” “hi,” “dog,” “ball,” “hat,” “night-night,” “wow,” “mom,” “dad,” “bread,” and most recently, “no.” She can correctly point to the following body parts when asked: eyes, ear, belly, feet, nose, and tongue. As of tonight, she’s taken eight consecutive steps while standing, so on the road to walking. She can make a roaring sound when you ask, “What does a lion say?” Sharaun thinks she’s a genius because of all of this, I just think she’s regular.

Just finished my taxes. I had put in Keaton’s SSN yet because I couldn’t find the card. Found it, put it in, and saw my Fed refund go from like less than $200 to just over a grand. I thought that was hardcore awesome. Goodnight.

racing the clock

I’ll have to come back and add a picture to this post later, as Google and Yahoo image search seem to be dodgy within this communist firewall… apologies.

Thursday morning in Shanghai and I don’t have much time. I need to shower and dress and be downstairs to put away some breakfast before my ride comes to get me at 7:30am. That gives me precisely one hour to write and do all of the above. After that, the local team I work with here has treated me to a “day off” event in honor of the Chinese Tomb Sweeping holiday. We’ll hop aboard a bullet train (yes, I’m pretty pumped about that, although it’s not as fast as the local maglev) and rocket through the Chinese countryside on our way to the city of Hangzhou. In Chinese, I’ve been told that there’s a saying: “There is Heaven in the clouds, and there is Heaven on earth – and it’s Hangzhou.” Supposedly it’s stupid-beautiful and, according to the local men, well-stocked with good-looking Chinese women. Too bad I’m not in the market.

(Well, hope the Wikipedia links work for you… I couldn’t check them because the national firewall here blocks access to most pages – communism, you know. Maybe I’ll go read them when I’m back at home…)

As I sit here I’m sapping the hotel’s bandwidth by doing some torrent work (of course encrypting traffic so not to alert the Red Police and come back to a tossed hotel room and angry M16-toting guards). Grabbing the new Nine Inch Nails album, and some TV shows I missed while away for the plane. Once again, I love the internet for things like this – so easy and so simple and I don’t have to feel “disconnected” at all even thought I’m halfway around the globe. It’s cool, I can leave the client running all day while I’m off tromping through the Chinese countryside. Sorry, everyone else at this hotel who needs bandwidth to do work…

Gotta go, really short on time. Love ya.

on the ground in china

On the way to Shanghai, some seven hours left to go – and I can’t sleep. For the first time in over a year, I’m stuck in coach – rubbing dirty elbows with the steerage because I didn’t fly enough last year to keep my 100k status. It’s OK, because I didn’t fly for a very good reason (my #1 thing: Keaton), but I’m almost wishing I used my miles to upgrade. Luckily, a stewardess took pity on me and rescued me from my original middle seat, placing me instead in a row where myself and my rowmate got an empty middle seat to spill over into. That was nice of her, and even nicer were the two bottles of vodka she provided for my Bloody Mary. I mean, so far it ain’t been that bad.

Last night I had two of the strangest dreams I’ve had in a long while, and they were the vivid memorable kind so I decided I’d write them down. First, the cow dream. I’m sure there was more in the way of exposition, but I only remember from a certain point on.

I was on a farm, in a pen with cows. A friend of mine who’s from ranch-family stock was there with me, along with her husband. They were showing me how to feed cows. They had a machine which looked like a shop-vac: a little R2D2-esque container with a long hose attached. We hooked the hose into the stomach of the fattest cow (this meant “plugging” it into the cow’s underbelly, a process which I did not find odd at all as I dreamed it).

We then turned on the machine, and sucked food from the fat cows belly through the hose, which we moved in turn to each of the other cows to eat from. Everything was going fine, the hose was belching a thick mixture of half-digested alfalfa and grass, and the cows being fed were happily slopping it up. Suddenly, there was a clog in the process. We inspected the hose, reaching down to unclog the mess. As we did, we pulled out handfuls of white stringy mess, a goo-covered fibrous stuff, like long mucous noodles. We pulled and yanked, confused as to what this material was. After some more pulling, we finally reached the end of the mass of cords and yanked out the clog-causer: a larger organ attached at the end to the fibers. My friend turned off the machine as we stooped to examine the thing, a massive tumor of tissue.

Our resident cow expert cut into the mass, which turned out to be thin-walled and hollow – and on the inside (and this is the big finish, by the way) were several (four or five) little “creatures.” The looked like Chinese dumplings with rows of sharp teeth, and they were attached to the inner walls of the nasty mass that’d been clogging the hose. The little parasites were obviously malicious in nature, I knew this in the dream. They were attached to and eating whatever it was we’d pulled out. About this time I looked to the fat cow, the one we’d hooked the hose to – and noticed it was nothing but a deflated mass of skin. Then I realized, we’d sucked out all the cow’s entrails, right down to it’s diseased heart which we had then dissected. We’d gone to far, killed then thing by sucking it’s guts out.

Seriously, what is that all about?

Well, I’m on the ground in Shanghai and, against better judgment, am all cleaned up and dressed to go meet an old buddy for some beers and food. You’d think that any sane person would step off a thirteen hour flight and fall straight-away into bed. Yeah. You would think that. Tomorrow is a full day at work, and a packed evening afterwards as well – so I’ll try and sneak some bloggin’ in where I can. I left our camera at home with Sharaun so she can take pictures of Keaton, and I plan to either borrow a friend’s camera here or just use my cellphone if it comes down to it. Either way, I hope to get some pictures up later in the week.

Until tomorrow, I’m off to drink Chinese beer and eat Chinese food in China. Goodnight.

breakfast for dinner

Monday and my hands ache, both sore and bruised from gripping and using tools to move around dirt and rocks over the weekend. At work, each word I typed out gave a little satisfactory burn in those underused muscles, and made me want to be back tinkering with my project instead of sitting at a desk doing e-mail. Don’t get me wrong though, I don’t get paid to fiddle in the garden – I do get paid to sit on my butt and do e-mail – and I’m gonna go where da money at. Now, if I could solve my money issue by, say, getting a lot of it or simply removing the need for it – I’d be all over a career in gardening and garage organizing and baby playing-with and mowing and and and…

Turns out I was kinda half-right about dodging my upcoming trip to Shanghai and Taiwan. Looks like the trip has turned into a shortened version, seeing me in Shanghai only (which I much prefer), and for only about four days. For some reason, I’m able to stomach this abbreviated version of the trip much better than I was able to in its previous incarnation. Actually, with the added stress of the between-travel taken away, I’m now sort of even looking forward to it. A few days in Shanghai, get some work done, go out in the evenings with friends, some good Sichuan food… yeah, I’m kinda looking forward to it after all. I’m even thinking about spending a little money and getting a custom suit made – my only suit is the one I bought to interview for jobs with out of college, and, while it still more-or-less fits, its service is about over. Plus, tailored suits there are less expensive than “stock” ones here, and the fabric is good quality if you go to the right place. We’ll see.

Tonight Sharaun made breakfast for dinner. Normally, I don’t like that, some sort of breaking-tradition thing or something – plus I really don’t like meals that feature “sweet,” I’m a “savory” kinda guy. But tonight it was welcomed. I used it as some sort of mental “reset” ritual, trying to pretend it was the real beginning to my day in hopes it might help me erase the banality that was my real day. It worked, to an extent, I had good post-breakfast “day” playing with Keaton and listening to music. It was raining outside, so I didn’t get to play in the garden (I still need to route the drip). Some days, breakfast for dinner is totally cool.

I updated Keaton’s pictures today, you can check them out here.