Saturday, July 29, 2006

July Journeys

July proved to be fantastic for my frequent flyer account, but not as great for my posterior as I endured several long-haul trips this month that added up to 27,463 miles in the air. Leaving Singapore on July 5th, I flew non-stop to Newark, New Jersey, which is a solid 19-hour flight. Changing planes in Newark, I arrived in Raleigh, North Carolina, for a series of meetings. I left Raleigh on July 7th, and made my way back to Portland, Oregon, for a much deserved break so I could spend time with my parents and catch up with friends who I had not seen in a while. But the travel didn't stop there, as I departed Portland on July 16th bound for Los Angeles, where once again I boarded a flight for a non-stop flight to Singapore that would take approximately 16 hours. I arrived back into Singapore on July 18th at 4:30AM and worked from home for the entire day catching up on what I had missed. The last leg of my whirlwind tour began the very next day, as I departed for Saigon, Vietnam on July 19th, where I spent three days at a business conference before finally bringing my travel month to a close and returning to Singapore.

These cross-continent business trips can be tough, but it all ends up being worth while when I can see my family and friends back home. A picnic at Trillium Lake with Mount Hood gleaming in the background and Mom's good cooking on my plastic plate is the kind of combination that makes all those miles melt away and allows me to just soak in the moment.

Catching a Triple A baseball game with my friend Jonathan was so enjoyable after not being able to see a live baseball game in over two years. Catching up with friends like Morgan & Joe, Stacey, and Rose & Kevin was a delight as well. One of the challenges in coming back for a short visit is being able to see all the people you would really like to see. There were several that I was unable to see, but I am hoping that when I return again over the Christmas Holiday, I can see them all.

The last leg of my tour in Saigon, Vietnam, allowed me to do two things that I cherish, which is to see new places and be joined along the way by a close friend. Even though I had been to Saigon before, this time was unique because I was being joined at these series of business meetings that were taking place there by my friend Keith. As those of you who have followed this Blog from its inception, Keith and I first got a chance to know each other when we were two Americans who had just been based in Munich, Germany. Keith had just this Spring made his inaugural trip to Asia, and I was fortunate enough to show him around Beijing and Hong Kong, but this was his first ever trip to Vietnam.

The trip allowed Keith and I to catch up and actually work together more closely than we have ever before. As my job has recently taken on new responsibilities, Keith and I will be finding ourselves working very closely even though he will be in the US and I will be in Asia. This trip helped lay the foundation for our new working relationship, but there was never any doubt about our long-standing friendship that has now literally spanned the globe.

The three days of the conference were all business as Keith and I put our strategies in place, but luckily on Saturday we were able to get outside of the hotel and do a bit of exploring. We headed about 30 KMs from Saigon to the hamlet of Cu Chi which is famous for its network of underground tunnels that were dug and utilized by the Viet Cong to disrupt and plan attacks on the nearby American bases during the Vietnam War. Cu Chi also has the ominous distinction of being one of the most bombed areas in the world during the era of modern warfare.

The tunnels themselves are a virtual engineering feat, as meeting rooms, eating areas, and air shafts were dug with precision. But what is truly amazing is to see how very tiny and cramped these spaces underground really are. Most of the tunnels that tourists are shown have actually been enlarged, which boggled my mind because even after the so-called enlargement, they were still painfully small. For those who have claustrophobic tendencies, this was definitely not the place for you.

The Vietnamese are well known for being Asia's smallest and most diminutively sized people, but they also have been proven over thousands of years of history to be extremely resourceful and resilient. These factors surely helped the Viet Cong in the design and utilization of this underground labyrinth. We received a demonstration of how the entry points to the tunnel were camouflaged with tree leaves to protect there whereabouts just before the last man would squeeze himself in and bring the wooden lid over the top of the earthly entrance. Keith and I both went inside one of the tunnel passageways and were astonished how small, hot, and humid these places were. Our tunnel had been enlarged for tourists, but we still had to squat down on our haunches to waddle through the passage. For tourists' comfort, dimly lit lights marked the way through the tunnel, but Keith and I both wondered how one could navigate such a place without the benefit of such comforts. I was surprised to find the tunnels hot and humid, thinking that they would be more cool and cave-like since they were underground. I emerged from my tunnel tour a perpetual ball of sweat and relieved that I had come out alive from my subterranean experience.

The highlight of the visit to Cu Chi was the opportunity to fire real live rounds with some of the most famous military infantry weapons of the day. Keith and I bought 10 rounds of ammunition, at a cost of $13 US Dollars, to fire a real AK-47.(must download QuickTime from to view) We figured we would never get too many opportunities like this to shoot with the famous Soviet rifle that had won over legions of converts across the globe.

Feeling like we needed to balance out our infantry weapon trial, we then decided to pony up another $13 US Dollars and buy 10 rounds each to fire a real M-16. The targets were set up approximately 200 yards away and were in the shape of tigers, as opposed thankfully to images of foreign soldiers.

The climax of our shooting gallery foray was the opportunity to fire a real fully automatic M-60 machine gun. These rounds were much more expensive, so Keith and I each purchased five rounds each. Turn up your speakers so you can hear the sounds.

I had to say goodbye to Keith on Saturday evening and head back to Singapore, while he continued on his own little extended exploration of Vietnam. Arriving back to Singapore brought to a close an amazingly hectic travel month where I was able to meet up with friends in both familiar and uncommon places around the world. These collections of memories and experiences make the drudgery of travel seem almost bearable. I now have the weekend to recoup, because come Monday the travel starts up again. We'll see what sort of new things I will encounter next. You can trust that I will share them with you all on this, my portal to the world.