Thursday, November 1, 2007
All this food stuff has caught up with me. My stomach hasn't felt good the past few days. I think it was a salad I had on Wednesday. We're not supposed to eat any fresh greens, under-cooked eggs, or egg based sauces. (I've been eating Caesar salads whenever I can - I need fresh greens! I guess that was taking a chance.) Also we're not supposed to drink the water in many of the countries, especially China and Taiwan. (Both bacteria and pollution levels.) Now imagine how far you need to take that. You brush your teeth and rinse your toothbrush with bottled water. (We are creatures of habit so it can be hard to remember sometimes!) You need to wipe any water droplets off the outside of a water bottle because that won't be clean either. Always make sure you break the seal on the water bottle yourself because some places try to refill the bottle with tap water to save money. Also, salad is washed with tap water - and you know how hard it is to completely dry a leaf of lettuce before you serve it. Water droplets hide inside - so we are not supposed to eat any fresh greens. I've had salads but the one on Wednesday tasted just plain weird so I stopped. I think it caught up to me. It's just hard to sit in meetings when you don't feel 100%. I did get to eat an American burger this week. A friend from Connecticut that is living here took me out to dinner. The place was called "Malone's" and it looked like any sports bar in the US - complete with pool tables. The burger and fries were just like you'd get back home and the waitstaff spoke English. I was surprised at how much I felt myself relax once I stepped in. Good food, good company, western toilets! Just taking a break now. Meetings all day and then dinner and time to pack up.
Posted by Four Silly Ones at 9:01 PM
My day... Didn’t sleep well last night. Had a stomachache. Hmmmm… could it be something I ate? I got up early because we needed to drive out of Shanghai to get to our plant that makes optical film. (It’s the stuff used on cell phone screens, big screen TVs, PDAs, etc.) I wanted to talk to some people there about the software they use. I’m in the hotel lobby by 7:30 AM and we get picked up by a local 3M China coworker and the IT manager’s driver who is going to take us to the plant today. We just leave the hotel and our car has a collision with a motorcycle. The rider goes down. He was scraped up and will definitely feel it tomorrow, but I don’t think he was seriously injured. Fortunately the traffic in Shanghai is a much slower speed so accidents don’t cause as much injury. (Can you believe Shanghai drivers do not like to drive in St. Paul because the driving speed is faster?) I just want to say that the traffic here is INSANE! I wanted to jump out of the car and see if he was OK but I knew that would only complicate the situation. So I sat in the car. Not a great way to start the day. The other thing is that the Asian people really want to please their visitors. If you say you would like something, you will usually get it – they will find a way. So when I mentioned that I didn’t get to see any Chinese gardens over the weekend, they wanted to make sure I did not leave China without doing so. And, we were going to Suzhou today – it has the most famous gardens in the area. This took a bit of rearranging of the schedule and a couple of times I told them it was not that important, we didn’t need to do all this. They insisted it was no trouble. So the plant tour was moved to later in the day and we had free time until 11:00 AM when I had to present to the leadership team for the plant. Everyone said it “only takes an hour” to get from Shanghai to Suzhou. We even got up a little early to miss the core rush hour. Nobody mentioned it would take an hour to get out of Shanghai. So it was about 9:15 and we reach the city of Suzhou – and run right into a traffic knot. Add to this that neither the driver, nor the 3M person had ever even been here before, and you have a mess. (Plus, my stomach still didn’t feel right. This didn’t help.) They didn’t know the way to the gardens, they didn’t know the way to 3M, and they didn’t know how bad the traffic was. There was construction everywhere; roads, buildings, sidewalks, you name it. The pollution was so bad my eyes hurt and I got a sore throat – in the car. The guys asked for directions to the gardens about 5 times. I finally told them (again) that it was NOT that important and we could just go to 3M. No, “we’re almost there – it’s no big deal.” So we finally arrive. I ask how long it takes to get to 3M from here and was told we could spend at least 45 minutes in the garden. But remember – they don’t know where 3M is! I said 30 minutes max. They protested, but I was not going to risk being late to my own presentation. So, 30 minutes. We cruised through. Locals say ideally you should spend a full day there to really experience it. I agree. I would have loved to. The last thing I wanted was to go to such a beautiful place and be shown around hastily by a stressed out coworker. Oh well. It was still beautiful. I have sprinkled the pictures throughout this blog to add a little beauty to a stressful day. We leave, drive around, ask for more directions, and finally get to the plant at 10:50. I have 10 minutes to set up. From here the day continued in the same manner. The projector in the scheduled conference room didn’t work. We changed rooms. The video cable didn’t work. Finally get it all running. Present to a bunch of managers who looked like they had never seen a young lady (no arguments, please) from corporate St. Paul present at Suzhou before. Plus, I was asking their opinion. I wanted to know what they needed. This is definitely not the norm here. We had to drive about 20 minutes back into downtown to eat because there was no place close and the plant manager did not want us eating cafeteria food. (They call it a canteen, not a cafeteria.) Drive. Eat. Drive. I did realize today that I don’t even think twice now about tentacles coming out of my noodles. (Boy - THAT is definitely a weird sentence!) After that I met with some plant employees. The highlight of my day was meeting a person I’ve been working with for the last 4 years – all by email. His name is Chris, and I know by working with him that he has very little English skills and uses coworkers and electronic translators to type in English. He never types more than a few words or a couple small sentences. The best example is when he won an award earlier this year and I sent him an email to congratulate him. I received the following response… “It is no deal that is big. It is as children playing.” (No big deal. It’s child’s play.) So I finally met Chris and he’s a wonderful guy. We definitely needed a translator though. He was nice AND he would talk openly and laugh. (Many of the employees in China are quiet and shy with me – an American female that ranks higher than they do. Remember – rank is everything here.) Next a tour of the plant. This is a 100% clean-room environment so we had to suit up from head to toe. Now THERE’S a picture I bet you would like to have. (You’re not getting one.) Not one bit of skin showing through the outfit. I got to see how all the film was made, cut, and inspected. This threw me right back into my old engineering days – this is what I used to do. So, I felt right at home half way across the world. Now we’re driving back and expect it to take several hours. At least I was able to cancel our dinner engagement tonight so maybe I can have a few minutes of quiet before I go to bed. Tomorrow is my LAST day at the office in Asia! Can you believe it? I’m almost done. I sent Andy this sad little letter the other day saying I wasn’t sure I could make it. I’m really worn out. Hope you enjoyed the pictures of “The Humble Administrator’s Garden”. It really was beautiful. I would like to come back someday. Now what? I’ve told you about my day in great detail and still have a long way to drive and tons of laptop battery left. But I won’t bore you – I’ll let you go. One day left one day left one day left. Love you! Bye.
Posted by Four Silly Ones at 6:07 AM
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Yesterday Holden told me that the little police car in the blog below was a Volkswagen. I asked him how in the world he knew that?! He just knew. Today I saw another one and guess what - it IS a Volkswagen. Of course you are right, Holden. You sure know a lot about cars!
Posted by Four Silly Ones at 11:57 PM
I have a few minutes, and was actually able to get a connection to the blog site (having a LOT of difficulty from China) so I'll take the opportunity to send a little update... First – a little education on China. (Still homeschooling from the other side of the world.) A quote from 3M security… “Government surveillance is a fact of life in China. 3M travelers should assume (and conduct accordingly) their conversations could be monitored on the telephone, in hotel rooms and in restaurants.” This is definitely a different world. I was told that China does not allow any satellite communication. None. They still want all the information for the Chinese people to come from the Chinese government. The internet has opened a big door, but they still have some country level controls over that as well. I also learned at lunch today (all my cultural learning is over food) that when each person is born in China they are given a registration certificate for the city they were born in. They now belong to that city – forever. You cannot move to another city unless you have already secured employment there and your new company is willing to get you a temporary relocation certificate to live there. So a person born in Shanghai cannot just decide to move to Beijing. If they do, they can get arrested. You cannot choose to move from the city to the country. You do not have that choice. The registration is also tied to medical, school, and other social systems. A Shanghai child will not be allowed in a Beijing school unless their parents have gotten all the proper temporary registration paperwork. Interesting! Government control is heavy here. Another thing I am continuing to learn… the traffic here is TERRIBLE! It’s crazy! I’m glad I’m a pretty laid back person or my fingernails would be embedded in the car right now. It’s NUTS! I have never seen anything like it before. (Got this picture off the internet. Haven't taken my own yet.)So, today was a bit more challenging at work. People not attending, miscommunications, etc. Also, a big software deal that was nearly complete (back in St. Paul) just fell through. I’ve been telling people it’s almost done - it’s in every presentation I give. It was supposed to be a big success story. (Sigh.) Here is the 3M building I'm in today and tomorrow. It's a brand new research and development center that opened about a year ago. Yesterday I spent time at headquarters.
Personally – I’m just tired. My mouth is tired of trying to pronounce the words. My brain is tired of all the presentations. My stomach is tired of the food. I’m tired of brushing my teeth with bottled water. I’m tired of working long hours and not getting much personal time before I go to bed. I’m tired of not sleeping in my own bed – with my own pillow! My brain is done with this trip but I still have a few days left. Trying not to “check out” early. That’s about all the time I have for now. Today, as well as the next two days, are filled from 7:30 AM until after dinner. Tonight is a bit more relaxing though. An American friend is going to take me out to a good burger joint. I’ll let you know how it rates. (I’m so used to Andy’s burgers – nothing can compare!) I’ll send more later if I can. Love you all.
Posted by Four Silly Ones at 1:03 AM
Monday, October 29, 2007
Really tired today. It was a very long day at work. Ate marinated ox tendon served in chili sauce. Tastes about what you'd expect. Similar texture to jellyfish tendrils - a bit chewey - but with a gamey flavor. No, I didn't request seconds. Big presentations tomorrow so I need to get some sleep. More later.
Posted by Four Silly Ones at 7:04 AM
Hi there. Just taking a quick break. I've been presenting to IT managers for the last two hours and I must say that this was the best yet. Great topics, great discussion - I really kicked... Oh, hi kids. Anyway - this was probably the work highlight of my trip so far. Lots of stuff to work on still though... On another note, I finally found the "Language" button at the top of the blogger log on web page. (I never saw it before because I can't read Chinese/Korean/Japanese.) Clicked around and was able to change my page to English, but sadly when I logged in it changed it right back to Chinese. Oh well. So, I'm learning all the features and functionality by feel. More later. Love you!
Posted by Four Silly Ones at 2:11 AM
Sunday, October 28, 2007
Hello, My Dear. I wanted to give you a big thank you for making all those drawings for me. (For all of you reading this, Sydney created special little hand-made envelopes for me to open at each stage of my journey - including one that I could open when I got on the plane in St. Paul. Inside each one were different drawings she had created for my trip. The envelopes were all labeled so I knew which one I could open at each stage of my journey.) They have been so wonderful and I look at them whenever I miss you. I love the penguin because he's so cute, but I also really like the turtle picture that I just opened as I got to China. He looks like he's laughing! You are so thoughtful. I keep the pictures in my carry-on luggage that I take on the plane with me. I want to make sure I have them with me all the time. Thank you very much. Love you! I'll be home soon. Mom.
Posted by Four Silly Ones at 7:51 AM
Tonight the IT manager in China invited us out to dinner. He's from Austin, Texas and has been here for two years. He picked us up at the hotel - actually, he and his driver picked us up. 3M does not allow non-Chinese to drive at all while they are stationed here. He asked me what I did today and I told him I headed to the Maglev and then to the temple. He replied, "So, you're adventurous, are you?" The first thing he asked me was if someone taught me how to cross the street here. (Seems like a simple task, but it's definitely NOT.) I told him I learn quickly and just tried to figure it out as I went. He said he had someone teach him. He learned quickly that you never run across the street to get to the other side quickly. The drivers don't know what to do and how to react to a running person, but they can navigate better when people walk. (They can better time their zooming in front of you without hitting you.) He said it sounded like I did pretty well. I told him that I wished I'd gone to the Chinese Gardens today as well. Then I learned that Suzhou, the place I'm visiting on Thursday, has the best gardens in China! I may have to delay our ride back a little. Anyway - we went to a dinner banquet hall. There was one room, just for our group (5 of us). I have never had a dinner, or service, like this before. It was amazing. There were several people just standing next to the table to quickly address any little thing we needed - and they anticipated our needs. We had 15 dishes, some big some small. The main courses were chicken and fish. They tried to order snake, which is supposed to be very tasty, but the restaurant was out. Just got back and will try to catch the kids on video before I go to bed. I have a VERY busy week ahead. We have 5 completely full days. I'd better get my rest.
Posted by Four Silly Ones at 7:42 AM
OK - what do to today? I woke up, did a little video session with the kids before they left for a 4H party, and got myself ready for the day. I decided on a few things - not too much - planned my route and headed out. It was not the best start since I was a little nervous about navigating Shanghai by myself (on my first day here!) and then got completely contradictory advice when I asked the hotel staff about my plans. First person said I was all wrong and second person said I was right. (Hmmm. I like the second person.) So, I decided to see if I could walk to the metro station. Left just after 10:00 am. (Since there seems to be now way to break up these blogs with new paragraphs or spaces, I'll just add a few pictures here and there. Here is the view out of my hotel room.)
First thing I learned, be careful when crossing the street - it's REALLY DANGEROUS!! People, cars, bikes, buses, taxis, motorcycyles... There's everything, and none of them seem to care about the others. The motorcycles drive wherever they want. They drive the wrong way down a one way, against the lights (all the time!) around corners as pedestrians are crossing a street, and even down the sidewalks! You can be walking along and have one come up behind you and miss you by a hair! Very unnerving. I walked down some streets and saw small markets, people hanging their clothes out, old men sitting on the steps talking, it was great. I also saw a few things that I would have loved to get a picture of, but thought it best that I keep my camera put away - I don't think they would have wanted pictures taken of what they were doing. A little gambling, negotiating, etc. Interesting, but I just kept walking. (Making mental notes: Remember how I got here - what turns I took - how long it took me.) Finally made it to the metro about 20 minutes later. Nice, easy walk though. I did realize that as I walked I was blogging in my head the entire time - like I was taking mental notes to tell you all about it. I've been blogging too much! So, I was able to figure out the subway system and hopped on. Where was I headed first?
The Maglev - the fastest train in the world. They have only one track from the station to the airport (actually 2 on tracks side by side) and I knew I couldn't leave Asia without taking a ride on a bullet train. But you'll have to hold on a minute, we're not quite there yet
On the subway I sat next to an old man, maybe 80 years old. He saw me get out my map after a few stops and check the stations. I wanted to make sure I was going in the right direction. He asked me, in Chinese, where I was going. All the Chinese I had learned (the few words) left my brain and my mouth only found English. All day yesterday I practiced how to say "I don't speak Mandarin." - Where was that now?! I told him I was OK. He understood "OK" but did not believe me. He kept at it and motioned a bit. He was asking me which stop I needed. I told him Longyang. He smiled and put his hands up - that was his stop too! He kept chatting in Chinese and I just smiled. He said "Maglev?" and I nodded my head - "Yes!" He laughed and put one hand over the other, showing me how the train hovers above the track. Then he zoomed one hand over his arm, made the whooshing noise, and let out a big laugh. He guided me off the train and pointed me to the Maglev station. We both shook hands, smiled, and said goodbye. What a sweet man! So, now we are at the station.The Maglev is the fastest train in the world. (There are several in Asia and Europe.) It uses magnetic forces to float above the track. It goes 431 km/hr (hold on, let me convert) - that's 268 miles per hour! It travels 20 miles in about 7 minutes, though most of that is spent speeding up and slowing down. You don't stay at the top speed for much of the trip. That's almost like going from Forest Lake to the Rosedale mall in 7 to8 minutes. It's fast! The ride is smooth but as you are headed out of town there are a lot of buildings close to the track and they go whooshing by so fast it made me a little disoriented. If I looked out at the land beyond I was fine. On the way back I felt and heard this "Fwoomph!" It was the other train coming the opposite direction, on myside of the train. It was so fast you could hardly even see it! Both trains were going top speed. I got a little video but it's pretty shaky. I can't upload it here but I'll show you when I get home. It looks like I pushed the fast forward button on a movie. So, the round trip was over within about 20 minutes. Back to the metro station to go to the Jing'an Buddhist temple. (Yes, I've seen a lot of temples - I love them.) Actually I was going to stop and see a little shopping first, but the ticket machine wouldn't let me buy a ticket to the People's Square, so I thought I'd just pass and go straight to the temple. I got there and found these two huge lions guarding the place. I went inside to find that it was really quite empty. I'm either early or here on a quiet day of the week. Either way, I was thankful. I walked around a bit and took it all in.
There is this metal tower thing in the middle of the square. It was pretty cool, but I didn't know what it was. (No English literature around at this one.) Later on I sat down and just watched everyone. I found a lot of people trying to throw coins into one of the openings. It's harder than it looks! People would keep trying and coins would rain down on everyone. Sometimes one would go in and come out the other side! I decided to try my luck at it and my coin went in on the first try. Does it count if it gets stuck on the little balcony outside the center? Let's say it does.I love all the wonderful detail of everyhing - the silks, the carving, the woodwork. There are many wonderful sights. After a while I decided to just sit down next to this tree and just closed my eyes and listened. There was the sound of the city that was really overpowering, but it didn't take long for that to melt into a background hum and you could just FEEL this place. It was really cool. When I was done I headed outside, not sure where I would end up. I started walking and turned a corner to find an old outdoor market. I headed in too take a look. (Making mental notes again - Remember what turns I took and how to get back! How far did I go? What street am I on?) First thing I smelled was food! I realized I'm hungry. Second thing I immediatley smelled was urine and sewage. Appetite just disappeared. I wandered around the market a bit but there was nothing I was interested in. Everything for the house and home but not much for the tourist.
Walked around and saw the popular shopping area. Literally crossing the street you went from downtown China to Fashion Island USA. It was really strange. Grabbed a bite to eat and headed back. Yes, I made it back just fine. Remembered all the turns, streets, and subway stops. Just enough time to blog before going out on a dinner engagement at 6:00. Hope you enjoyed Shanghai.
Posted by Four Silly Ones at 3:12 AM
I wanted to remember to tell you about a Korean family I saw in the airport as I was leaving Seoul. Mother and father, about our age, sitting with their two kids. The girl was about 7 or 8, had long hair in ponytails, was tall and thin and wearing jeans that were way too short for her legs, and she was absorbed in a Korean comic book. The little boy, maybe 3 or 4 years old, was jumping around excitedly and running back and forth to the airport windows pointing at the planes and shouting enthusiastically. He was never still for one minute, even when his father sat him on a chair, and he refused all forms of food given to him by his parents. Sound like anyone we know? Weird.
Posted by Four Silly Ones at 2:58 AM
Saturday, October 27, 2007
Made it to China. Yes - Shanghai is big and busy. The funniest part was that my two Chinese coworkers who picked me up from the airport (Jerry and Kelvin - no, not their real names) could barely drive in the traffic. it was pretty bad. Not sure what tomorrow will hold for me. I am on my own (and actually like it that way) but I must admit it is nice to have someone show me how the public transportation system works before I give it a go myself. No opportunity this time. I hope the subway has good English instructions. I must say that I am a bit stressed out by the language situation. When I have no knowledge of Chinese (or Korean, or Japanese) beyond, "Excuse me", Hello", and "Thank you" it's pretty tough. Singapore was the only place that I got a break - almost everyone has a pretty good grasp of English. I was spoiled. Here I can't even ask "Do you have any chocolate for dessert? Chocolate? To eat?" I know it sounds like I've gotten a lot of chocolate while I've been here. In the four weeks it's just been a few buffets and the wicked chocolate tart in Sinapore. Asians don't seem as big on chocolate. I actually brought a lot with me to give away as gifts - and haven't touched them... yet. Off to bed.
Posted by Four Silly Ones at 7:53 AM
Friday, October 26, 2007
For those of you that want to see how to make that honey snack, kkultarae, here is a video from youtube with the exact same group of guys I saw yesterday! This is a little different skit - and you have to listen for the English, but it does a good job of showing how to make it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m22Os15miSQ
Posted by Four Silly Ones at 6:59 AM
Thursday, October 25, 2007
My day yesterday… Up early and in the hotel lobby at 6:30 AM. Drive for an hour and a half to get to work. Worked a long day with a great Korean lunch tucked in the middle. It was a traditional lunch where you sit on the floor. This was a wonderful little restaurant that was impossible to see from the road but we ducked between some trees and took a tiny trail – in the middle of the city – and there it was. Worked all day and left at 5:30 PM – just in time for rush hour traffic. Drove for two hours bumper to bumper. 3M tells people NOT to drive in Seoul and I can understand why. We headed to a restaurant that was near our hotel. There were four of us including Sunny and my host, Jong Inn. This was the high-end Korean restaurant and everything from the food to the décor was traditional. I heard the music being played over the speakers – sounded traditional – but it “Over the Rainbow” and songs from the Carpenters being played on traditional Korean instruments! I will add at this point that I have surprised even myself at trying each and every food that was provided in every country (with different results, as you may know). I wasn’t sure I could do it everywhere, especially in Japan and Korea. I may not take seconds, but I’ve at least tasted everything. So the Korean restaurant meal starts out with about 20 little dishes of stuff – each one has something different. (Sunny said at home they have 5-8 small dishes.) These are all just side dishes to the main meal. They also provide lettuce leaves so you can put a bit of stuff into the leaf and roll it up to eat it. For lunch we had a big bowl of beef soup/stew with rice noodles – it was delicious! You get a tiny little bowl for your stew and maybe some rice, then everyone just picks what they want from the middle – all shared – you don’t get a plate for your own food. The real test of my chopstick skill is to see if I can reach all the way across the table for a bit and carry it all the way back to my mouth without dropping it. I’m doing pretty well, but in Korea the chopsticks are different and harder for me to handle. (They changed to stainless steel many years ago to save on wood and then they make them thinner and flat.) I can do most things with chopsticks, but the one thing that I can’t do yet is pick up mango slices – way too slippery! Fresh mango… yum! The little dishes of food have everything from fruit and vegetables to Kimchee (fermented style vegetable dish) and hot peppers. There was one I reached for and it looked like a very skinny, long, red pepper that had been candied or something. Looking at the color, I was cautious. I asked what it was and was told “dried fish”. It looked again more closely – it was a tiny little fish! Very delicious. I must admit I had a little bit of a hard time when I would pick up a piece of seafood and ask “How do I eat this”, and the reply starts with “First you chop off the head…” We had octopus soup for dinner – they were tiny and you eat them whole. (Yes, they were dead but I heard that you can get them live. I was told when you put them in your mouth they grab on to your tongue and the sides of your cheeks and you have to work to pry them off before you eat them. I think I could NOT do that one.) My hosts were kind enough to not order the dog stew for either meal. We had beef. Yes, the dog platters are common and are on the menu right next to beef and pork. (Not many strays in town. I only saw one tiny dog on the mountain.) A few notes about Koreans. First, they are always looking to find a way to connect – even with foreigners. If you have a connection through a town or common acquaintance, if you both have kids, like ice-cream, whatever. Also, there are certain things that raise your standings in the Korean eyes – having kids is one of those things so I automatically start out on good footing. My host, Jong Inn, is always talking to me about his kids, but he usually only addresses me when he does this, not my childless coworkers. Also, I met a young lady that was on her first day back from maternity leave and talked to her at length about her baby, how it’s going, etc. She extended great courtesy to me through my stay and gives me warm, personal greetings. Back to dinner… So when the spicy octopus soup dish came out – lots of peppers, I was dished up a spoonful by Jong Inn. He was very surprised that I liked it! (Up one notch for me.) Then he asked if I ever ate raw fish – he couldn’t believe I had! (Standings going up again.) It was definitely spicy, but I could still handle it – and it was actually delicious. So I thought I’d push it one more time… I reached over and dished myself ANOTHER big spoonful. Jong Inn’s eyes got huge and he got very dramatic. “Ohhhh – she like it! I cannot believe it! We could be relations!” I finally made it – he now considered me like-family. We also had traditional Korean wine for dinner. (100 year wine – named not for it’s age but for how long it will make you live.) Sunny was kind enough to order the mild version for most of us (still quite strong though – more like our dessert wine) and Jong Inn had the more potent version. Now for another lesson in Korean business culture… They like to drink! I’ve read a lot over the years about the drinking games that can go on after a business dinner. I only experienced this to a minor extent (thankfully!) but it was interesting to watch and navigate. In Japan if you empty your saki cup it means you have had all you want and you are done. If you leave a little left then you are saying you would like more. In Korea it’s opposite – officially. (All these rules!) If you drink it all it means you are not satisfied and you want more. But then they add different rules and find some excuse to top off the glass anyway. Several times they would joke that I had gotten a “penalty” for some reason and needed to have my glass refilled. (I really don’t think there was an actual reason to the penalty.) I realize that they want to drink with their guests – and many people get smashed in the process. I had my tiny cup constantly refilled and was not wanting much more, but found a little way around the situation… I kept up with it until HE got smashed, then he never realized I wasn’t drinking anymore. What a deal. (The best part is that in Korea they have a system where you call a service and they come to you and drive you home in your own car – so there is no excuse for drunk driving. It works very well here. Yes – we used it to get home.) At the end of the meal there was a delicious pomegranate tea, which seemed just like warm juice. It was wonderful. Over dinner I got huge lessons on Korean culture and naming conventions. We laughed a LOT – which was great. They’ve been wonderful to work with. After dinner we walked by the little shops in the area and saw a vendor making a traditional cake called Kkultare. There were two of them and they put on quite a performance as they worked, describing what they were doing the whole time. I was the one foreigner in the group and thus was the source of many jokes and laughter – they built it into the performance. The would be describing something and then say, “for the American it’s called…” and then say something in English just for me. It was very funny and we were all laughing, but there were moments were when they were talking in Korean and then everyone would laugh and turn around to look at me, but I was not privy to what the joke was. The cake starts by using “cured honey” cakes that are hard and look like a big hockey puck. They have a bin of cornstarch that they dip it into so it’s not too sticky, then they press a hole in the center. He starts to make the hole bigger until he has a circle “rope” of honey. Then he dips it into the cornstarch and doubles the loop over to have two loops. Stretch it, work it, stretch it, dip it, loop it, and now you have 4 loops. He did this very quickly and within a minute he had 60,000 strands of honey – thinner than thread! Then they cut off a piece, roll a tiny bit of almond paste in the center, and it’s done. Very tasty little treat! We bought some and after everyone had their fill there were three left – which they gave me to bring home to my family. One more side note… It started raining and I was given the one umbrella we had. “For the foreigner.” I offered to share it with the eldest of the group (showing my knowledge of Korean culture and good manners) but he refused and Sunny came up to me saying “Well then, the girls will use it.” She reached over and held the handle with me so we could both be under it. THIS was one of the first times I’ve had real touch since the trip started! We walked slowly – hands, arms, and shoulders touching the entire time. At one point she even put her arm around me gently to guide me onto the correct walking path. Just a gentle touch, nothing else. It was so amazing how you miss it – even for just a little while – and how much it means. It was a very sweet moment. So, up early, long day, late night, up early again. Then we got some sad news. Jong Inn’s oldest brother died last night and he needs to go home to his family for the ceremonies. He’s taking us to the office but will leave early at some point. Off to Shanghai tomorrow - may blog more – may not. Andy – we can skype tonight. Love you!!!
Just because I have nothing else to do, and I can... I am posting a map of the path I took ot the tower yesterday. The hotel is to the far right and I walked the entire yellow path. The tower is the area just under the name - that's the top of the "Mountain".
Posted by Four Silly Ones at 2:48 AM
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Wish you were able to taste one! Love you both. Mom.
Holden - I know I told you a little about cars... The car situation is different in each country I've been to, but they are all overcrowded and have too much traffic. In Japan they drive on the left and you cannot buy a car unless you have a legal place to park it. In Taiwan they drive wherever they wish (supposed to drive on the right) and lots of people drive scooters so they can find more places to park. In Singapore they drive on the left and there is not as much traffic as in the other places, but it's getting worse and there is little room to expand on the island. In Seoul they drive on the right and the traffic and parking is terrible. Yesterday when we left the 3M parking lot we saw a line of cars bumper to bumper - touching. Someone was pushing the front car. I thought is was due to car trouble. Actually, I was told that's just how they park and get their cars out. They go to the first car in the line, open it, put it in neutral, then push it about a car's length. Then they co to the next car in line and push it up to the first car. They continue doing this until they get to their own car - then they drive out. I saw a guy push 4 cars to get his out. It sounds like this happens everywhere! My friend told me he pushed over 14 cars to get his out. So everyone leaves their cars open so they can do this. Very interesting - and very crowded! They also have lifts to park cars higher. This one works like a ferris wheel for your car.
Sydney - I know you are enjoying mushrooms lately. I have discovered more varieties of mushrooms than I've seen in my entire life! In both Japan and in Korea I've had an entire dish of just mushrooms all sauted together. There might be 8 diferent kinds of mushrooms in one dish! They come in all shapes, sizes and shades of color. I have a favorite one that looks like a little umbrella when it's sliced - very yummy. Also, do you remember me writing about a very yummy little fruit in Taiwan that nobody knew the English word for? I had one in Korea. At first I just picked up this little ball that looked like astrawberry with hard, alligator like skin. I asked the chef what it was and he told me Lychee (or Litchi) fruit. I thought I'd try one. I cracked open the leathery outside and found the same fruit I had in Taiwan. It's very prized in China. Here's a picture. The fruit inside is whitish and juicy.
Posted by Four Silly Ones at 9:56 PM
Today, Holden and Sydney went to visit Jodi, Nolan, and Evan. They had a great time! Thanks Jodi! They really loved her paved circular driveway. Holden brought his scooter, which he loaned to Nolan on the condition he use it on the flat part. Sydney honed her driving skills in the battery powered car. She's really starting to get the hang of it if you don't count the time she nearly drove into the trees, or the time she almost ran Nolan over. Fortunately, in that instance, Evan saved the day. He said the rule is "no crashing." Thanks, Evan! When we got home, we decided we needed a change of pace. So, it was decided that tonight, Holden would cook dinner all by himself. Dad only helped (but really very little). So, believe it or not, Holden made dinner. He put on my burgermeister white chef hat and a green apron and got down to business (I got pictures!). First, he got his step stool so he could be at counter level. Then, the first big decision... what kind of pasta to select. It was close between fusilli (sp?) and elbow macaroni. Ultimately, he liked the idea that you could pretend the elbow macaroni was like a teeny weeny phone. So, he filled a pot with water... added a touch of salt, and a gloop of cooking oil. After the water was boiling, in went all the little phones. Then, he was off to pick a vegetable. Green beans and broccoli were dismissed out of hand, making peas and carrots the clear favorite. After I voiced my opinion that we might need to add something to the pasta, he helped clean, kiss, and chop up some mushrooms. That's what I call cooking with LOVE! Next, he sauteed them up, which includes listening to them sizzle. But the master chef was not done. He also set the table and said we had to have parmesan cheese on our pasta. So, there you have it, Holden's buttered pasta with parmesan cheese and mushrooms with peas and carrots. Oh yes, he wanted slice banana as a garnish. Okay, so he picked all the carrots out of his carrots and peas, but he DID eat a spoonful of peas. A big spoonful! Okay, so then he made a face. But he managed to get the green goop down. And remained in good spirits. Then, it was all about toasts. We toasted his meal, being together, and Mom's coming home soon. Here's to you, Mom.
Posted by Four Silly Ones at 8:05 PM
I land in Korea after a six hour flight and we have another hour to get to the hotel. I have been looking at the different kind of city landscape wherever I go… the mixture between apartments and businesses, how compact the city is, how tall the buildings are, etc. It tells you a lot about the city. Here in Seoul it’s a very heavily populated, compact city. There are about 49 million people in South Korea and half of them live in Seoul. As with all of the other cities I’ve visited, driving and parking is an issue. Lots of traffic jams. So we get to the hotel. I need to say that they have been putting me up in the most expensive places I’ve ever stayed in. They are luxury hotels – and VERY expensive. Too bad I can’t actually spend more time in them! This time I get to the room and it’s the biggest yet. They bring up my luggage and the gentleman asks me if I want a tour of my room. I figure that if they even ask if you want a “tour” then you should take them up on the offer. So there is the standard stuff, but lots of extras. Since many US phones don’t work over here, they have a cell phone in each room for you to use during your stay. Two huge closets, shower and bath, two desks, couch, lots of extra room. There is a sound system that they turn on to quiet music as you enter. (Trying to figure out if I can hack in and play my iPod on it.) A BIG bonus is they have a couple of US 110 electrical outlets! This is a huge plus for me since I didn’t bring many power adapters and plugs. There is some wonderful Korean furniture and the huge windows have sliding covers that are covered in rice paper to look traditional. But finally, there is this box of gourmet chocolates on the coffee table. First I must digress a bit for backstory… (Yes, a chocolate back story.) I am doing much of my traveling with a Japanese co-worker. He is very hard to get to know, but we are starting to be a little more comfortable with each other. Whenever we eat out together he will always check the menu for the noodle dishes. He doesn’t seem to prefer other foods as much (but he likes Italian!) so he always tries to get one Japanese noodle dish so he has something he likes. Thus, I call him the “Noodle King”. On the other hand, I always look at the desert menu first to see if there is any good chocolate. If something on the dessert menu looks good then I will order dinner accordingly to have enough room at the end. When we go to a buffet (most hotels have one at night) then I walk straight to the dessert area before checking out the dinners. Twice I have actually had one small chocolate dessert before I go get my dinner selections – I do it backward. He finds this quite funny and calls me the “Chocolate Goddess”. Now when we sit down, I find that I’m finding noodle dishes for HIM and he is finding chocolate desserts for ME. So back to the hotel. I asked the hotel person about the chocolates and he said they were complimentary! What a deal. This place has just jumped to the top of my list! At this point I realize that I have an hour to type on the way to work today – and I can type fairly fast – so this may be a very long blog! Worked in the Seoul head office yesterday. The Korean people seem much more energetic and upbeat than the other places I’ve visited. We are laughing a lot more, there is a lot more energetic exchange, more joking, etc. It’s a nice change. (Except that there were a few jokes about the Japanese, in front of my Japan coworker. This has been a huge issue during this trip. I will NOT digress on that right now.) The corporate world anywhere can just be too stuffy – and it’s even more so in Asia. I did ruffle a few feathers yesterday though. I held up a meeting for almost half an hour because I thought the IT manager should be attending – and specifically set up that time to meet with IT staff in Korea – but he thought he didn’t need to attend and that the topics to be addressed were not his responsibility. So, I sent people out to go get him and we waited. He did come back and we covered the topics, but I realize I was pushing the boundaries for both work politics as well as Korean culture. It was one I chose to stand my ground on. We’ll have to see how this one plays out in the end. One of the people I’ve been working with is a young lady named Sun-Hee, but we all call her Sunny. I’ve worked with her for several years now and am so glad to meet her. She is just as beautiful and personable as her name would indicate. I’m very glad I finally get some time with her. I will go out to dinner with her on Friday and will get a picture. I had asked my local coworkers about the tower that I see on this hill outside my hotel room. They said it was an observatory with a rotating restaurant on top – like the Space Needle in Seattle. (It didn’t’ look THAT big.) They said you can walk around “the mountain” and visit the tower. My ears perked up and as soon as I got back to the hotel I asked for a map and directions. The nice gentleman behind the counter said I did not want to walk, I wanted to take a bus. What do I look like, a wilted flower? I can handle a walk! So, it was 7:00 at night and I headed out for a walk before dinner – knowing in advance I could be a couple of hours if I really wanted to reach my goal. It was a beautiful night – the moon was out – clear sky – and I was headed to the mountain. It took about 15 minutes just to get to a starting point… stairs. Acutally, 314 stairs to be specific. (Sydney and Holden have taught me to count them as I go.) Then, you walk on a wide paved path. There was a black side, regular blacktop, and a green side, which I quickly found out was cushiony. Must walk on the cushion side. It was beautiful walking through the woods. There were lamps the entire way and other walkers and joggers on the path. Then I caught a smell I loved. Leaves were just starting to change colors and the wonderful smell of decaying leaves on the ground smelled of fall! I missed this in St. Paul and it was wonderfully comforting. Toilet update on the mountain: Squat toilet with little hood. The ones here face the door – the ones elsewhere all faced the back wall. Not that you really need to know. So, I walk. A lot. Up and down through the rolling hills. I walked for 3000 meters (power walking mode – fairly fast) when I finally came to the end of the path. Then? Stairs. Millions of them. OK – 831 to be specific. They started out small but kept growing the whole time. Finally reach the top an hour after I started. The tower was pretty impressive. Sorry no pictures or postcards. I only took my room key with me – no camera, cash or anything. Headed back down the shorter, steeper route. Still lots of stairs and steeper, less paved paths. Half an hour to get down and another 15 minutes to the hotel. Two hour walk total. Have you made it this far? I’d better stop or nobody will actually read this entire thing. I have a big presentation to the technical community here and I just realized that I didn’t put deodorant on. Hmmmm… Let’s hope THAT goes well. (This falls into the “Things you really didn’t need to know” category.) Sydney and Holden, I loved seeing you last night on the video. Sorry I interrupted your breakfast. I wanted to see you though. I miss you! Kisses and hugs to you both – and give Dad a big hug for me. Love you, Andy! More later.
Posted by Four Silly Ones at 6:48 PM
Will have to tell you more about Korea later - just taking a break. (My blog pages now come up with the Korean characters - cool.) I was doing something I shouldn't today. My coworker was presenting and I just thought I'd take a minute to check the blog and my email during the meeting. Yes - during his presentation. I've heard it before so I really didn't need to hear it again but I should have at least pretended to pay attention. So, I read about Holden eating oatmeal in the bathroom and I almost LOST it - I did everything I could just to hold back and not burst out laughing in the meeting! No more reading of blogs during serious presentations! I'm SO glad he liked it so much though. Put a string on the front peg and hea can pull it around - in the tub, pond, on the lake, wherever he wants. Love you all!!!
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Well, yesterday was packed full for the Froemke homefront. We ran a lot of errands in the morning, then stretched our legs out in a pumpkin patch. Holden and Sydney were getting concerned that we weren't ready for Halloween. So, each of them scoured Tom's Pumpkin Patch for just the right pumpkin. Holden, finally, settled on a tall thin one. Sydney really scrutinized the field before finding a nice, fat, round one. The Abbott and Costello of pumpkins. We immediately went home and carved them up. Sydney's pumpkin sports a more traditional face (triangle eyes and nose, and a smile with one tooth showing). Holden opted for two circle eyes, a triangle nose, and two front teeth showing. Now, that we have the pumpkins and Holden's Halloween costume (Spiderman), I think the kids' minds have been put at ease. Today, we are headed for the Minnesota Orchestra and their folk music concert. Holden is looking forward to the train-inspired "Orange Blossom Special." Sydney is excited to hear one of her favorites "Greensleeves." This morning, since Julia landed in a new country (Korea), we got to open another one of her surprise bags. Holden got a wooden toy boat. He LOVES it! So much so, in fact, that he requested to eat his oatmeal in the bathroom, so he could watch his boat float in the tub while he ate. So, if any guests come to our house and find oatmeal on the toilet, you'll understand why. Sydney loved the pirate pieces of eight that she found in her bag. She is really into pirates! We have watched Douglas Fairbanks "THE BLACK PIRATE", Errol Flynn's "CAPTAIN BLOOD," and are looking forward to "TREASURE ISLAND" and Flynn's "THE SEA HAWK" this week. I'm late, I'm late. Gotta go. Love you Julia!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Posted by Four Silly Ones at 8:45 AM
Monday, October 22, 2007
So there won't be much blogging today. I got little sleep last night due to the heavy rains. There are big windows in my hotel room and the raindrops sound like giant marbles being tosses against the glass. So - little rest, long day at work. Just got back from dinner and did a little video skyping with the family. Now it's off to bed and an early flight to Seoul, South Korea. More later...
Sunday, October 21, 2007
Hey sleepyheads. Are you still in bed? Sorry we won't be able to blog today but I need to get to bed now. Read about my "Day in the Rainforest". We'll try to catch up tomorrow at this time. I love you all so much! (Yes, Holden, I know I say that "all the time"!) Love, Mom.
Posted by Four Silly Ones at 8:32 AM
Thank you Andy! So glad to hear you went to see the train yard. I've driven by many times but didn't quite understand what part of it meant "museum". Sounds like a good place for Holden.
Last night we did a night safari at about 9:30 PM. I think they do stuff at night cause it's just too darn hot to do in the day. You take a drive through dimly lit rainforest in an open-air tram. The thing is, many animals are allowed to roam free - like the many kinds of deer. So our tram was stopped several times and they had to shoo animals off the road. Then you see rhinos and tigers and hyenas and you assume there is something out there to keep them off the road, but you can't really see it because it's dark. There is a walking path too, so you're protected from the larger animals, but they do a good job of making it look good. It was interesting. Lots of great animals. (The tarantulas were not part of the exhibit though!) Got to bed around midnight. Here's a link if anyone wants to take a look... http://www.nightsafari.com.sg/index.html
Today was a little sad but a very wonderful day. I got up and did my Qigong and ended up crying my eyes out in the middle of it all because I missed Andy and the kids! And Mom and Mike sent me roses in Singapore which was so thoughtful and they smell beautiful! But, I got emotional over that too. I was just having one of those days where I guess I just was homesick - so I had a good cry. I can't wait to see everyone.
After that I was out of here by 10:00. Now, I know I've said enough about the weather here, but just a little more and you'll see why after you hear about my day... It was around 95 degrees with 96% humidity. So what do I do? Head outdoors for the day. But it was great because I was on my own. I turned down all offers to show me around and even turned down an offer for an extravagant dinner. I really needed some time to myself. So, I take a subway to the Chinese and Japanese gardens. First thing I do is promptly sit down on a bench and my entire left butt cheek was soaked. (There's a lot of rain here too.) It never did dry out the entire day, but it didn't really matter because I was soaked by the time I got home anyway. Here's my first stop.
Short story - I walked around the Chinese gardens. I walked through a park. I walked around the Japanese Gardens....
I walked around to find a bite to eat for lunch. I was hot. I did spend some time sitting by the Japanese garden waterfall. It was nice, but I didn't sweat less just sitting there. I did learn to slow my pace down though. I walk faster than most of my coworkers, especially in Singapore. I had to slow down and take it easy today - and buy water at almost every opportunity! So after lunch I grabbed a cab and headed a few miles to the Bukit Timah Nature Preserve. This is the tallest hill in Singapore and I the only piece of rain forest left on the island. I also heard you could see monkeys! So, I head toward the entrance, crossed this bridge, and I was in...
I thought it was a little odd, but the place was TINY. There was almost no walk and it wasn't to the top of the hill. There were a few little places to go but it was not what I expected. I walked around while and sat - keeping my eyes out for monkeys (and tarantulas). Nothing. I found a little reflexology path where they embedded rocks in an area and you walk barefoot over it. Why not? So I strip my shoes and socks off and walk around for a little while. All of a sudden I was startled by a huge lizard (OK, huge in my experiences) near my path. I wasn't sure what do do since I didn't know his temperament - plus I wasn't running far barefoot on bumpy stones. I watched him for a while and got a few pictures. His body was about 2 feet long and his tail was longer than his body. He was pretty mellow.So I headed out of the park after a while. There were some loud groups coming in and I thought I was done. Then, I looked to my left and saw that I was not even in the actual park yet! I was just on what I would call the rainforest bunny hill! I had the whole thing to do... So, up I go. Now this was the real deal. Thick rainforest everywhere and deafening sounds at times. There were different varieties of cicadas, birds, and even a few monkeys that could be heard. I didn't see much though. There were also Malayan Colugo flying lemurs (no, I didn't see one of these) and little red cheeked flying squirrels. I DID see one of those come down and it was really cool. It was really light and graceful. I also think I saw a Crested Serpent Eagle flying overhead - very endangered. It was beautiful! So, I walked. Up. A lot. It was a pretty sharp incline. Very hot, dripping with sweat, and red-faced, I reached the summit. Took a picture of the rock. Headed back down.There was actually more hiking that you can do there but I was done - or so I thought. On the way back down I decided to take the road less traveled and took "Rock Path". It was a bit more challenging and at times I wasn't sure I was still on the path. I finally made it though. Total time spent outside today was about 6 hours. Total time in the rainforest was 3. The only thing was - I didn't see any monkeys! I did almost get bonked on the head by both a coconut and a lime that were falling out of the trees - aka Gilligan's Island. They missed me though. There were a lot of lizard sightings and some weird bugs. One big lizard startled me as it ran right across my path. Gotta keep your eyes open!
So after that I got back to the hotel, peeled off my clothes and jumped into the shower. THAT felt very good! Then I headed down to the spa and got a Champi massage - an ancient Indian technique for the upper back, shoulders, face, and scalp. Very nice. Too short though. After that I headed up to my room and ordered a Caesar salad and a chocolate tart! I didn't realize how hungry I was after all that walking! Now I've got to take care of stuff - Skype with the kids, iron, check my agenda for tomorrow, etc. (I let that go all day so I need to attend to it now.) I want to thank everyone that's emailed me - I've really needed it! Love you all!
Posted by Four Silly Ones at 6:39 AM
No... it's not an apocalyptic event, I'm alluding to. Today, as we were getting the television tuned to watch the conclusion of CAPTAIN BLOOD with Errol Flynn, we happened upon a PBS show called Austin City Limits (is that right??). Anyway, they were in the middle of a musical concert. Alternative music. The Decemberists were playing and Holden locked onto the guitarist immediately. The reason... the guy jumped off the stage and strummed himself into a laying down position. Holden dug that. Next up, was an instrumental band called "Explosions in the Sky." Three lead guitars and a drummer. Holden really liked that. The music started out really quiet and meditative... then they thrashed for a minute... then got really quiet like the song was over, then they really went bezerk... thrashing in unison. Cue Holden to run and get his guitar. Before I know it, he's out in the yard with his six string. Just strolling in the green grass, strumming, singing to the trees (some of which was caught on video). Then, he keeps going toward the ditch until he disappears behind a pine tree. I called out, "Holden, where are you going?" He said it was secret. I told him I wanted to get a little video of him playing. Sydney also came out with the camera and set up for a shot. He breaks into a big smile. Now, the stage was set. Holden goes into his act and starts really playing to the camera. He strums for about a minute, then he drops down onto the ground and does some posing for Sydney, pretending to be playing while lying down. What a rock star. After that, he said he could name his band anything he wants. Incidentally, just for posterity, he says he's going to have two bands. After the musical portion of our homeschool day, Sydney and I decided to surprise Holden by taking him to see the railroad museum near our house. HOW we have lived next to this place for years and never gone is ASTONISHING. Although, to be fair, the place is very well hidden in the middle of nowhere and you kind of feel like you are driving into somebody's yard when you pull up to it. Whatever the reasons, I guess today was just meant to be THE BIG DAY. So, we went. The place is definitely a work in progress. This is clearly the work of a father and a son (and not many others) who have been collecting and putting this thing together by themselves for forty some odd years (a why wait for someone else approach). They essentially do everything themselves. The place is littered with works in progress. The museum proper, basically consists of a small depot they rescued from up North somewhere. It has a few photographs and some memorabilia. The kids were in and out of there in about two seconds. They had their eye on the "bumblebee," a little mini-tram like thing that rides the one or two miles of track they've laid out. The guy made this thing to look old-timey and it does. The tops are intricate woodwork. Anyway, the son (Eric) took us on a personal tour of the place. This included twice around the track in the bumblebee. He was a wealth of railroad knowledge and I can see Holden hanging out there in a couple of years if he's still interested and they're still operating. He let the kids go into a lot of the old cabooses, etc... Oh yeah, he said he'd love for someone to film a movie there. Hmmm...
Posted by Four Silly Ones at 12:02 AM
Saturday, October 20, 2007
OK - I have a few mintues to blog and I'll just have to tell you more later. I can't even BEGIN to describe all the sights, smells, tastes, textures, colors that I saw today. I had a great time. I'll write till my dinner companions call.
There was a lot do see and do. I'm off for dinner now - I'll doubt I'll have time to fill in the gaps here. Yep - it's a lot of work to play this hard!
First, I must comment on the weather. There should be another word for "humid" because that just doesn't adequately describe it. Take a shower, walk outside, and you will still get wetter. Yesterday I would get out of the car or the building and my glasses would fog up. (Not a little, tiny fog, a huge thick layer.) Yesterday it was 96% humidity. That's just plain wet. Today it was (still is?) 90 degrees with around 70% humidity. That means it feels like around 100 degress with the heat index. You just dress knowing you're gong to feel damp all day. Unfortunately I saw that "Singapore will be 85 and sunny" and brought a few short sleeved shirts. I had no clue.
Last night we went out to dinner and I got to visit the Singapore national emblem - the Merlion. Afterward we took a long walk by the Singapore river. There are VERY strict fines here for breaking the law - and there are a lot of laws. If you ride your bike on a sidewalk designated for walking there is a $1000 fine. Chewing gum is less. Jaywalking is more. So what did I do on my first day there? Jaywalked. Ummm... twice. We didn't get caught though :-)
Here's a picture of my Japanese coworker, Kumakura-san, overlooking the Southern part of the city. Please excuse the hairdo. My hair definitely does not like Singapore.Today we got a tour of just a small part of Singapore from my coworker, Dennis Sim. He and I have been working together for over 6 or 7 years I think - and I finally got to meet him! He.showed us around the Thai area and had an authentic Thai lunch. It was very good - a little spicy but I could handle it. There was one soup that I had - I took a bite and it was a wonderful sweet and sour flavor. I took another bite and then the spice from the first bite hit. It was like a little time bomb - a delayed reaction! Quite interesting. The green curry chicken and pineapple rice was also amazing. (I can't even beging to write about all the foods I've had over the last few days - but at least I can say it's all been cooked.) Here is a picture of Dennis and me.We walked around all day long - of course during the hottest time of the day - from about 11:00 AM to just now - 6:00 PM. We saw the Thai area then went to Sim City - a 4 floor mall just for electronics. I tried to buy something, really I did, but my research showed it was really no bargain buying it here. I was told there would be a big price difference but found that not to be the case for the items that I had my eye out for. So, no electronics to bring home. Side note for Andy... all that cash you see me pulling out is mostly for taxis - 3M will reimburse me. It's just a pain to do cash on the corporate card. Taxis, yeah. That sounds good.
Toilet update... squatting. No TP and no soap in many places. Paid to do that in some locations. Oh - and I saw this place but didn't eat there. I'm sure the translation is accurate but it doesn't sound tasty to me.
We headed down to Little India and it was amazing! Sights, sounds, open markets, lots of spices! We went to several wonderful Hindu temples - old buildings set in the middle of the skyscrapers. A few picutres... The first is one of the temples (see the buildings in back?) and the second is the Monkey God guarding another temple.
Posted by Four Silly Ones at 4:52 AM
Friday, October 19, 2007
They have two types of weather in Singapore... hot and humid and VERY hot and humid. Singapore is actually just 1 degree North of the equator. (I have yet to make it ACROSS the equator.) I searched the internet to see just how close 1 degree is. I found this: Question? How close is Singapore to the equator? Answer: Bloody close and hell its hot here in SG! We are definitely in tropical rainforest here. Beautiful sun in the morning (have not had much sun this entire trip - in either Japan or Taiwan) and a huge rainshower over lunch. It moved in from nowhere. It is VERY humid though. Everything is just damp - even in airconditioning. They air condition agressively and can freeze you in a conference room and then you get hit with the warm, moist air when you go outside. Meetings next. gotta to.
Posted by Four Silly Ones at 12:58 AM
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Alarm went off. Too tired. LOVED seeing everyone on the Skype video last night - in real time! After that I had to iron clothes for the day and unpack a little. Went to bed too late. Was going to reset my alarm and skip Qigong this morning - then I remembered that I didn't get my presentations ready for Singapore! I've spent the last hour on that. Now it's off to the shower
Posted by Four Silly Ones at 5:18 PM
Hello from Singapore. I've been reading about this place and it's pretty amazing. The size of this entire island is 12 miles North to South and 20 miles East to West. There are 4.2 million people living here. This would be about the distance from Forest Lake to St. Paul one direction and Maplewood Mall to Rosedale Mall the other direction. It's also the cleanest, most well manicured city I've ever seen. Did you know you can get a really heavy fine for littering, jaywalking, chewing gum, and not flushing public toilets?! I'm going to have to watch myself here. Sorry to hear about Holden's glow stick (and Andy's back). Glad to hear you had a good time though. I need to iron a shirt and get myself to bed. I've been traveling all day and need some sleep before work tomorrow. Love you all!
Posted by Four Silly Ones at 7:55 AM
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Well... today, we were planning on staying home. But we were lured into town by news of the 1st ever Vietnamese Mid-Autumn Harvest Festival... which is also a moon festival. It was held at the landmark center by Rice Park. We invited Steve and Josh to join us, then got Gary and Ada to tag along, as well. We arrived around 5pm and dove into crafts. The girls made bamboo fish lanterns (later to house glow sticks), painted wooden dragonflies, and constructed a booklet with the harvest festival story. Later, we also got to see traditional dancers, listened to a storyteller, and learned a festival song (which sounded much better in Vietnamese, than in the English translation). Holden and Josh weren't really into the festivities, but horsed around a great deal, which seemed to make it bearable for them. Afterwards, the entire group took their glowing lanterns and had a foot parade over to Rice Park and sang the song we learned. Then, the kids just played in the park. It was a beautiful night to be out in the city. And we had great parking karma! Got a spot really close. Of course, the night ended on a somewhat somber note. Holden took his glow stick and thought it might be interesting to stick it in the hole on the back seat that is meant to house the head rest. Glow sticks check in, but they don't check out. He could see it glowing, but it wasn't possible to get it out. When I got home, I even took off the seat and shook it upside down trying to get it out... to no avail. Back did not appreciate that. In any event, Holden cried all the way home (despite Ada's grand gesture of giving him her glow stick). All he kept saying was that "I'm really worried about my glowy thingy." Then, he'd collapse into more tears. Life is difficult when you're four.
Posted by Four Silly Ones at 10:03 PM
Sorry to report that there was no adventure tonight. My friend decided he would drive us to the tower AND back. I told him we would be fine, but he insisted. So, I was driven to the tallest building in the world - Taipei 101. The engineering is really amazing. The elevator is the fastest in the world and goes to the top of the tower in37 seconds. You barely feel it but your ears pop. Here are some stats if you're interested... http://www.emporis.com/en/wm/bu/?id=100765
Driving in Taipei is very intersting. The lines painted on road seem just like mere suggestions more than anything else. Nobody pays attention to the lanes unless it's on a freeway. Also, there are MILLIONS of these scooters (no motorcycles) and they swarm around all the cars and busses, like a million busy bees. It's quite crazy. Here is a picture of one...
And here is how they park. They line up on every street and sidewalk...
So, no adventure for me tonight. I really need some excitement - besides the food, that is. Which reminds me, I've had some interesting fruit here. One we still can't identify an English name for, but another one I like is Dragon Fruit! This is a cactus fruit and it can have either white flesh or red. I had the white. It's very mild and soft - delicious drizzled with chocolate sauce. (OK, what isn't.)
So tomorrow I'm off to Singapore. I have a little time to catch up on St. Paul work in the morning and then off for a 4+ hour flight (and an additional hour traffic and 3 hours in airports.) See you in Singapore.
Posted by Four Silly Ones at 7:15 AM
This is so funny. I stress out my hosts. Yesterday I stepped toward a cab that was cruising around a corner. I was just testing to see if he would stop for me or if I was going to have to stop for him. Not a big deal but the person I was with got a little excited about it all. He kept fairly close to me the rest of the walk. Today it looks like a coworker will drop us off at the Taipei 101 tower and I told him I'd walk back to the hotel. He says I scare him! He's worried that I will get lost forever in Taiwan! It's really about a straight walk - maybe 30 minutes. I NEED the walk. He's currently printing maps and lecturing me about getting directions. Kuma will be with me and he's concerned as well. He asked "What if we don't find our way?" I told him, "Then we'll be on an adventure!". He shook his head. Everyone is so uptight! I mean really - if I get lost I just need to stop one of the hundreds of cabs cruising around the city and have them take us back. I'll report on the status when I get back.
Posted by Four Silly Ones at 2:59 AM
Hello all. I'm at the Yangmei site today - just on my lunch break. Not much time before the afternoon session starts. I'm trying go convince my coworkers that we should skip out early and go visit the Taipei 101 tower. (I'm a great influence!) Not sure that will happen. I'll report more later. Other than that, I feel like I have very little time to spare. I get online to get my St. Paul email during every break. I get up early to blog or email. Work is busy. I stay up late to call or skype with Andy and the kids. The dinners out in the evening are nice but I have to admit that much of the conversation is work for me too. When you aren't the main focus you can sit back and allow everyone else to talk. When you ARE the main focus you have to converse. I can do it, but it's work for me. I'm starting to crave a little alone time - but even when I get it I spend it reading up on the next country. (Did you know that possession of marajuana can be a death sentence in Singapore?! No, that's not an issue for me, Mom.) That's all for now. More after dinner.
Posted by Four Silly Ones at 12:05 AM
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
So, I'm wondering why I haven't heard from anyone. I mean, I've been blogging all day (instead of working... hmmmm.) And then I realize, oh yeah - YOU ARE ALL SLEEPING! I guess I need some home base contact. Today I was at the Taiwan head office in Taipei. Tomorrow we drive to the Yangmei site just outside of Taipei. I spoke with the IT staff today and I'll be working with R&D all day tommorrow. Working on customizing presentations for tomorrow. (Why I do this, I really don't know. It's that personal touch thing, but it does take extra time. I should learn to give the same presentation to everyone whether they need it all or not!) Dinner was Thai food - VERY good. They guys said I had excellent skills with the chopsticks (yeah, sure) and asked me how long I've been using them. I said, "about a week". They say I'll be a certified user by the time my trip is done. Had a wonderful little fruit that only grows on Taiwan island. It actually looked like a large scallop - white in color. Yummy. Andy - I'll just give a quick call tonight. Network is too bad and I actually want some quality time with you guys. I'll call around 7:30 your time. Love you.
Posted by Four Silly Ones at 6:26 AM
I’ve been meaning to write a few words on touching… I had read quite a bit, and have learned over the years, that people in Japan do not prefer touching. They normally bow when they meet – they do not shake hands - and there is very little physical contact, especially in the workplace. I knew this going in, but I was still amazed at my personal reaction to all of it. I didn’t ever realize just how much touching I do on a daily basis. There’s home – constantly wrestling and kissing the kids, snogging with Andy, petting the dog when I walk by. Even at work I’ll touch someone’s arm or hand, or even touch their shoulder to let them know I’m passing as I need to get around a group of people. In Japan, there is so little contact I can remember nearly each and every time it happened. The person on the subway who fell asleep and leaned up against me (this happens a lot, I guess). Shaking hands, which they will do with foreigners if we visit but they aren’t comfortable with it. The two little girls that I gave tiny felt pixies to – touching their hands as I wrapped the little doll around a finger. These were such isolated instances. Since I’m not getting touch after work hours it’s actually wearing on me! I need a HUG! I have pushed it a little bit but since these are work relationships I don’t want to make them uncomfortable. I automatically reached out and grabbed someone’s hand once as I suddenly remembered something I needed to tell him. His hands pulled back a bit and his eyes nearly popped out of his head. I know what this feels like though. There was the time at work when a guy from Mexico said goodbye by giving me a kiss on the cheek – in front of my coworkers (which they thought was a great show). I’m sure MY eyes popped out of my head too. You just don’t do that at work in St. Paul. So, I’m trying to respect their personal boundaries. I saw a group of Italians staying at my hotel in Japan. They were being gregarious and laughing/touching – having a good time. I considered jumping in the middle just to see if I could share! I really wanted to hug my friends after they showed me around all weekend – but I couldn’t. What I do instead is extend my hand to show them I want to shake as we part – then I hold on to their hand with both of mine as I tell them how much I appreciate what they’ve done for me. Even this makes them very uncomfortable - I can see it in their faces. I didn’t even see much public display of affection except in the more modern areas of town. The most I saw was teenagers holding hands. Even Takashi and Junko didn’t hold hands. A few times he put his hand on her waist for just a moment, but that was it. Taiwan seems different on a casual basis but work is still pretty non-touch. I’ve read that in Singapore the males and females keep at a large distance (arms length) and do not even shake hands. This is due to the fact that there’s a mixture of cultures (Indian, Malay, Chinese, etc.) and Muslim men and women do not touch. Since you don’t know who you are meeting, you just bow your head slightly. Handshakes are less common. I’ve found that 3M people are more willing to shake hands than the general population though. I guess we’ll just have to see. I’ve been thinking I would get a massage on this trip. Now I want one more than ever . Be ready for hugs when I get home – I'll have some catching up to do.
Posted by Four Silly Ones at 3:51 AM
Monday, October 15, 2007
Taiwan. It’s about the size of Massachusetts and Connecticut put together and has 23 million people. They currently have the largest building in the world - called Taipei 101. More rules here. It's against the law to take pictures in the airport or on the plane. Have to watch where I point my camera. Driving is on the right side of the road. Money is the Taiwan New Dollar. MUCH cheaper here than in Japan. Any shopping requests?
OK - I'm in Taiwan now. Very interesting. Sometimes I can't believe I'm actually on this trip!! Sometimes it's overwhelming (like the airports) and other times unbelievable. I have a lot to tell you but I need to get my presentations ready for tomorrow. All the other countries feel like old friends but I've only recently started working with Taiwan so I don't know the people very well. I also feel like I'm here for such a small time that it's difficult to get a feel for everything before skipping off again. The network here is terrible so I may have to call if skype doesn't work well. I didn't get a picture of you at all today. Miss you.
Posted by Four Silly Ones at 8:14 AM
Sorry for being out of touch. I'll send a few blogs if I can tonight to catch up. First, Mount Fuji. You are correct, we did drive there in a little red car. Uno drove and we went top down. It took a couple of hours to get there. Driving in Tokyo was busy, but not too bad on a Sunday. There were a few tense moments though as they get REALLY close to each other. As we drove the city started getting smaller and smaller and we saw more mountains. They aren't big, but the sides are steep. Japan uses every bit of available flat land that they can and they terrace other areas, but they can't do much with most of the mountainous regions. It was getting colder and colder as we drove. We still kept the top down and cranked the heat. We were getting a few looks though. We saw Mount Fuji from the road and I got a picture, but you have to look really hard through the mist to see it. (The network is terrible from where I am now so I can't upload pictures. You'll just have to imagine.) You are correct about your personal account up the volcano, there are stations that you walk to and get a sticker for your staff. We cheated. You can drive up to station five and there is a little market and a cafe. It was about 3 degress Celsius - maybe 35 degrees Fahrenheit - when we got to the top. Uno was thoughtful enough to bring an extra jacket for me. (I had long sleeves and a leather jacket but had not brought winter clothes!) It was SO foggy at station 5 you could barely see across the street. Thus, I knew where I was, and I had a great drive up, but I could not see the mountain. The drive was sort of like the switchbacks on the Beartooth pass, but not as steep. It was nice. You are not supposed to climb this time of year unless you are a professional, plus all the other stations are closed. I was definitely NOT prepared for it this time around, but it gave me a good idea of what I will be in for when I actually get the opportunity. We ate a noodle lunch and went back outside. There were some horses you could rent and Uno was ready for his very first ride ever, but the deal was they take you to station 7 and we weren't up for that today (and we weren't dressed for it) so we passed. Toilet update. Most of modern Tokyo has at least one or two Western toilets along with about 30 Japanese toilets. So, when ya gotta go... It's actually not difficult. It was starting to rain a little so we headed back down. Not far from the volcano is an amusement park - and though Uno likes rollercoasters he's never been to this one. So, we go. The first one was in the previous blog. It was the biggest rollercoaster I've ever been on. We were waiting in line to go in and Uno said it looked like I was getting excited. I said yes and asked him how he was doing. He patted his cheeks and said, "A little pale." It was SO much fun. I could barely catch my breath from both the drops (4 big ones) and the fact that I was laughing so hard at all the "ooohhhhh" noises that Uno was making. It was hilarious. From there we went to the Eejanaika. This is completely indescribable! Here's the official website: http://www.eejanaika.jp/ You can always tell how fun a coater will be by the type of harness they use to strap you in. Little lap belt gives you a little ride. This thing had what I would call robot arms to hold you in. I had never seen anything this industrial before. We waited in line forever, but it was the craziest experience I've ever had on a roller coaster. This has the world record for the must number of loops. Plus, you go backward, upside down, twisting the entire time. It was great! One side note, I stood in line for a LONG time with a six year old Japanese girl. She went on the first coaster and then waited in line so her parents could go on the second one. We were fast friends and played while we waited. She had a little magnetic/erase notepad and I wrote math equations for her to solve. She knew a little English but it took all she had to say "Hello" and "Bye bye.". She drew a portrait of me that I got to keep. From there we took a little tamer ride on a freefall tower. You sit down, the tower takes you up, then you freefall. The best part of this ride was the big Japanese man sitting next to me. His scream was approximately the pitch of Sydney's - and he couldn't stop. It was quite funny. So, then after that we get back on the freeway and hit the traffic jam. It was at this point I wish I had Gary's conversational skills. We did chat a bit, but it got a little long - plus there were those awkward moments when we just couldn't figure out what the other person was saying. At one point he asked me how many Japanese Kanji characters I knew. I thought about it for a minute and then said, "zero". He laughed and told me I should really learn a few. I asked him for recommendations and he said (in the polite Japanese way), "Maybe 'Danger'?" I got to see a lot of cars on the drive there and back, but the one thing that looked the strangest, and just didn't fit in with Tokyo, were these tricked-out cars that looked like 1970's Caddilacs. They all had tinted windows and this same sign in gold lettering on the back window. I saw them on the drive there and back. It was when I saw about 5 or 6 in a row that finally asked Uno what they were - a car club maybe? "Yes" he said. "Maffia." Ah - I had heard about this. They're called the "Yakuza" and they are highly trained gangsters known for overall body tattoos, flashy cars, and missing the tip of their little finger - their signature. Police just accept their existence and don't get involved much. At this point I was trying to think of exactly how many of these cars I'd seen. Maybe 12 or 15? So, it was home late because of traffic and then off to bed. I'll blog again after dinner to tell you about my trip to Taipei.
Posted by Four Silly Ones at 3:13 AM
Sunday, October 14, 2007
Okay, here's what we know. You got in a red sports car and raced down to Mt. Fuji. We were led to believe you weren't able to climb at this time of year, but no Skyping and some lame excuse that you have to get up early to go to the airport??? Sounds a bit suspicious. Knowing you how we do, the kids took one look at your photos and guessed that you went to Mt. Fuji and climbed it... or at least part of it. So, we decided to do the same. Embarking from Otsuki, we took a train and then a bus to Mt. Fuji. Then, we bought our walking staff, replete with bells (significance?) and set off under the arch toward the summit. Along the way, we got seals put on our staff to mark our ascent. At about 10,000 ft. (on our way up to 12,000) we got to thinking that this was not (puff, puff) as good an idea as we thought. But the views... above the clouds... awe inspiring. So, we trudged onto the summit and then listened to a crazy, romantic sounding Japanese pop song as the sun set. Of course, we set a record on the mountain, summiting in a little under 4 minutes (and that includes a train and bus ride). So, did you climb it??? Okay, to recap yesterday, we woke up early and crossed the border to go for a walk. As we descended into the valley to cross the river, we entered a fog bank. The kids really liked that. It turned out we were the first ones in the park. We hiked the loop by the river and the lake. Crisp autumn weather made it quite lovely. We even got to see the steamboat rev it's engines. At the lake, the kids snuck up on a whole gaggle of geese and they, one by one, abandoned the shore to us. Then, Holden managed to spy a baby painted turtle in the water. What skills of observation! Finally, we retired to the nearby bakery for a mid-morning treat. Then, it was home to build a bonfire. Holden took this opportunity to practice drumming outside with me, while Sydney did crafts. Fun and relaxing day. Today, we are just getting to ready to go for our morning walk. We have been invited by Gary, Clare, and Ada to go to a movie, so we have that to look forward to this afternoon. If I don't answer your call, that may be the reason. But I'll try to pick up. Have a good flight! We love you!!!
Posted by Four Silly Ones at 9:18 AM
Hi Sydney and Holden. I'm so sorry but I won't be able to skype today. It's about 5:30 in the morning for and it's evening for me. I'm exhausted! I really need to go to bed. I have to get up early tomorrow to ride a bus for two hours through Tokyo before I catch my flight to Taiwan. I'll get settled in when I get there and we'll skype tomorow. I'll try to call Dad when I get up in the morning. I'm getting up EARLY so I should be able to catch you. Remember, you can't open another bag until you KNOW I've reached Taiwan. I get there at 2:00 PM China Standard time. (Mom, here is the link to help with time conversion... http://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/ Click on "Personal World Clock" and make your own personal page.) So, until I am awake enough to blog more, I'll have to leave you guessing with three images. Enjoy! Love, Mom.
Posted by Four Silly Ones at 5:41 AM