Friday, November 25, 2005

Around the World in 3 Weeks

Sun Setting on Sentosa Island in Singapore

In the last three weeks I have literally circled the globe with a busy schedule of business trips that have tested my physical and mental endurance, given me opportunities to re-unite with old friends, and a chance to take stock in what I truly have for which to be thankful.

My travel began with a visit to the San Francisco Bay Area for a series of meetings, and as you can see by the previous post, the weather and scenery did not disappoint. The trip to the Bay Area also provided a chance to re-connect with some old friends as well. My friend Thinh, who has been my friend and co-worker for the last five years, met me during my stay in her brand new BMW Z4 convertible. She even offered for me to drive and for someone that never gets to drive too often when living back in Singapore, I jumped at the chance to put my foot on the floor of this fast and nimble roadster. We dropped the top of the convertible and headed up the famous Pacific Coast Highway, which winds its way up the California coastline. Along the way, we stopped at a scenic beach and took in some amazing views.

One of the wildest sights we encountered on this day was a massive congregation of seagulls the likes of which I had never seen in one location. I told Thinh to go run through their midst and wake them up and was able to capture this amazing photo.

That same weekend, I was able to connect up with my friend Vanessa who just happened to be visiting relatives in the Bay Area.

Vanessa has been one of my friends since moving to Singapore, as she and I were both new transplants to the city at roughly the same time and were able to learn the ropes together. She has since left Singapore in early June and moved back to her native Taiwan. Vanessa had been doing some world traveling of her own since quitting her job back in Taiwan. She had recently completed a visit to France, Spain, and her old college stomping grounds in New York City. She was currently in the middle of a stay with her relatives in the Bay Area, so it was just by chance that the two of us were able to meet and grab a nice lunch to catch up.

Another good friend I was able to see before my meetings commenced was Jonathan, who had traveled down from Oregon to the Bay Area for a business meeting of his own. Jonathan writes a fantastic website dedicated to Portland, Oregon's Triple A minor league baseball team, the Portland Beavers. I encourage people interested in baseball and snappy writing to check it out. It was great to see Jonathan again face to face, opposed to our back and forth email snubs that we throw at each other just for fun. I look forward to seeing him, Nicole, and their ever-growing little one Alex when I return to Oregon for the upcoming Christmas Holiday.

Seeing three good friends before the onset of business meetings was great, but my face-to-face sessions for work were not so bad either. Our meeting was held in Santa Cruz, California, along the coast and we had a perfect venue for our worldwide gathering. It was great to see co-workers from the States and from Europe who I had worked with previously.

To break up the monotony of these all-day meetings, we took one afternoon off to enjoy some team building exercises which included a sand castle building contest. Our sand castle, above, looked pretty sad, but it was fun to get outdoors and enjoy something non-work related with our peers.

Two inspiring individuals were also on the beach that day. The gentleman on the right is the former director of my group who had battled back from two bouts of cancer just in 2005 alone. The man next to him is also a recent throat cancer survivor and as the photo shows, they share a special bond, not to mention being an inspiration to us all. I have learned recently of a few people that I know quite well who are facing their own battle against this enemy. Our thoughts, prayers, and strength are with them each and every day.

The weekend following our face-to-face event in Santa Cruz had me zipping quickly up north to Oregon for a brief weekend visit with my Mom and Dad. We decided to have Thanksgiving Dinner that weekend, since we would not be together on the actual date of the holiday. It was great being back home and having turkey, dressing, cranberries, mashed potatoes and gravy, fresh corn, home-made zucchini bread, and pumpkin pie made things all the nicer as well.

From Portland, I then flew to Raleigh, North Carolina, for a few days of meetings. To get to Raleigh however is not a direct flight, and I was forced to transfer in Chicago. What started out as a one and half hour transfer stretched out to over five and half due to weather delays. I was lucky to make it out of Chicago as our jet was just minutes away from having to turn back to the gate as we had burned up so much fuel just by sitting on the tarmac.

From Raleigh, I then flew to Newark, New Jersey, for what was by then becoming a brief five hour lay-over until I could catch my Singapore Airlines flight back to Singapore. Now this flight from Newark to Singapore is very special because it is the longest non-stop direct flight in the world. At over 18.5 hours in the air, I really think they should give you some sort of medal or certification for having the aptitude, endurance, and adequate blood circulation to your extremities for being able to last through a flight like that. Touching down at 7AM on Saturday the 19th of November, I had approximately three and half days before my next trip, which was to take me to India.

Going to India is not the easiest task in its own right, but getting a visa so that you can start your journey there can be even more demanding. The Indian Embassy in Singapore requires a four-day turn around time for all visa requests. Now to be fair, I hadn't been in the same city for four days in the last month and half, so when I encountered this requirement I began to get nervous. To process a visa, you must surrender your passport to the embassy during the visa process. Well, I couldn't surrender my passport, because I needed to travel, and now I was being told that I could not travel unless I surrendered my passport. You can see how this circular chicken-and-egg scenario was spiraling out of control. What I needed was a Indian visa issued to me in one day, so that I could make my flights and be present for my presentation in both New Delhi and Mumbai. To do this, I had to run down to the Indian Embassy on Monday morning and camp out for a number which would then be called by an embassy official, who I would then plead my case. In the meantime, I had to secure two Invitation Letters from both my company and the partner company who had requested my attendance at these meetings. I also had to procure two photos of myself and complete the lengthy application form.

I arrived on Monday morning with all my paperwork in hand and waited, waited, and then waited some more for my number (16 - seemed low enough) to be called. When I was finally called, I explained my plight to the staff member, who then called over their supervisor to which I had to explain once more why they should break every regulation and guideline they had for processing visas. Because my paper work was in order, and that my presentation could not be delivered by anyone else but me, and maybe because I was very respectful and courteous to the embassy staff; I was given my visa in one day.

On Tuesday afternoon I made my way to India, but first had to fly to Kuala Lumpur (KL) , Malaysia, to make my connection. From KL, I had a non-stop flight to New Delhi, a city I had never visited before. Upon arriving in New Delhi's airport, I found my bag and walked towards the exit where I was to await for my car service transfer to the hotel. Only problem was, there was no one holding a little sign with my name on it at the meeting point. I called the hotel and the man at the other end of the line said he had no record of my reservation. Generally speaking, that is not a good sign. I then called up our travel agency's after-hours support center and explained the situation. They resolved things with the hotel and a representative with a car showed up in about an hour. I felt very thankful to have a room that night for sure.

After giving my presentation on Wednesday morning, I literally had to thank the audience and then run out the door to an awaiting car that was to take me to the domestic airport. I had practically no breathing room to catch my flight that was leaving for Mumbai (formally known as Bombay) at 2PM.

My presentation and meetings in Mumbai went quite well and I am constantly enamored with the Indian people's spirit and enthusiasm. I thought it was very appropriate that I spent the actual date of Thanksgiving in Mumbai, India. It is a city within a country of amazing disparities. A huge developing middle class and highly technical and proficient population, but also one that has some of the worst poverty in the world. You cannot help but to see both Indias when you step outside the confines of your hotel each day.

As I sat back in my hotel room in Mumbai, I paused to think of all the things I truly have to be thankful for. I may complain about long plane flights, delays, miscommunications, and corresponding frustrations. The reality is that the number of these items pales in comparison to the number of positive attributes I am allowed to live out and experience each day. These are the things I have to keep in mind when things look down. I only had to step outside onto the streets of Mumbai to have that reminder stare me right back in the face.

Mom and Dad will soon arrive into Singapore on the 30th of this month so there is not time to waste. We will begin a wonderful Asian trip together that has been created just for them. We will head to Phuket, Thailand; Hanoi, Vietnam; and Hong Kong before we all return back to Portland on December 16th to begin the Christmas season together.

This recent journey has now come full circle as I arrived back into Singapore this morning at 8AM after a red-eye overnight flight back from Mumbai. This three-week trip put me over the 100,000 mile marker for total travel this year in 2005, and I still have a month left to go. It is good to be back to my Singaporean home. I have covered a lot of ground in the last few weeks both figuratively, physically, and mentally. Seemingly like a shark that must continue to swim in order to survive, this demanding travel schedule and the perpetual motion that it creates has become more consistent than I probably would like. But the travel has brought me closer to friends both old and new, showed me situations and people I would not normaly encounter, and forced me to take a look at myself. I am looking forward to the end of this year, but oh what a year it really has been.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Slipping Away in San Francisco

I haven't posted a new entry in over a month due to an exhausting travel schedule. Currently, I am in the U.S. for a two week business trip. I decided to spend the weekend ahead of my business meetings getting reconnected with friends and with the beautiful Bay Area around San Francisco. I have posted one of my favorite photos from today's scenic drive. Feel free to click on the Photo Archive link on the upper right hand side of the Blog and scan the listing for photos entitled "San Francisco" in order to see more amazingly beautiful shots. I will update this section as more fun ensues. Stay tuned!