My buddy Darren is quoted as
Most of the time, I get news from other friends talking about these fantastic sites and places that they've been with breathtaking scenery and other National Geographic type stuff. What have I got to show for my experiences? A motorcycle trip back from a dinner in, once again, the middle of nowhere.
Okay I'm not quite in the middle of nowhere, I don't know exactly what that means. This town is 300K people, and it's primarily Tibetan. Which is rather cool. Ate well, ate yak meat, yak butter. And the Tibetan version of grits, or rather cream-of-wheat. they have this raw wheat that's coarse ground, such that it's still brown, almost purple. And it's mixed with tea, yak milk, and butter. And then as soon as it starts to get firm, eaten in balls with your hands. That's how the Tibetans eat it. The Chinese folk will just use chopsticks.
But anyhow, they say out here.
Children will dance as soon as they can walk,
and sing as soon as they can talk.
So in the National Geographic moment, I'm out here in this town and they're kind of standing around in the evening dancing (I guess they do this every night) so we're watching, but then encouraged to join. It was kind of a blast.
The two non-Chinese members of our team, got mobbed by autograph seekers. I couldn't believe it, and the African American woman was rather stunned. Alhough her quote for the night was this... "We were dancing around and then saw a big crowd forming on the other side of the square, and so I walked over to see what the comotion was about, and find out what? It's just Randy!" I think they thing he's Da Shan.
Okay teaching starts tomorrow. Team is good. School has a multimedia center, which I'm not too surprised, but some of the older team members are just kind of stunned at the facilities. The network closet for the school, which was funded by a UN 403 grant. Looked quite impressive.
Yesterday I went to the Beijing International Fellowship yesterday. Finding where it was wasn't too much trouble. They have a website and the bus schedule isn't too hard to understand. I walked to the main gate at Beihang University, and looked for what looked like a couple foreigners standing around, and figured that must be the bus. Between the American families and the Cameroonian's standing at the corner you could tell I was in the right place.
The bus ride was rather spirited and fun. I was so tired I didn't make too much a point to talk to too many people. Only laughing with the group, we hollered at the bus driver to wait, as we saw numerous students running to meet the bus.
Arriving there, was a mess of taxis, private cars, and busses, all struggling to enter the 1000+ person center. From what look liked cars with diplomatic plates, to the foreign students coming in on the bus. And yes they keep on reminding me that I should bring my passport to prove foreign citizenship.
The worship team They sang a common praise song of "I cry out for your hand of mercy to heal/Hold me" in both Mandarin and English, it was kind of touching. It was interesting, they made a note to acknowledge both all the visitors, as well as all the people who were leaving, in a way a fitting idea, a way of embracing the essential transience of their congregation. Sure there were a bunch of them, and yes indeed they do come from all over the world, I think the majority of people were from the states, mostly older and mostly families. Yet they endure, if not thrive through it all.
After church went out for dim sum at a really, really nice restaurant. Not only did this restaurant have a private room and a waitress standing in the back all afternoon long, but the room was so big as to have two sofas on the side for sitting, and a private bathroom on the side. Quite popular for a couple that has two kids and didn't want them traipsing around the restaurant. However, you don't get the magic of the cars, but simply a menu, which you check off things.
Since when was Sushi part of Cantonese Dimsum? What impressed me the most, aside from the fact that the salt water tanks holding lobsters and various other delicacies out front, displayed in a manner nice enough, too fool me that it might be a tropical fish tank. The restauraunt had a display of it's wine, including $1000 a first growth Bourdeaux.
Lastly, I met with one of the old Church friends, who I really didn't know until last year, she'd spent two summers in China, then she spent two years in Hohot, Inner Mongolia, and then is now studying language in Beijing. Someone asked what her parents think of this all, "My parents love me very much" was her response. I wonder if she'll ever be back to the United States. Eventually... she says.
This is where I'm going.
TianZhu is significant in that in the three counties of this is the one which is primarily Tibetan, as you can see in the attached photo. From what I was told TianZhu was the first primarily tibetan region, to accept that it wanted to be part of China. So depending on how you look at it, it's either the province which was first forced under chinese domination, or the first sign of a unified China in this part of the world.
So to add a third to the interesting people I've sat next to on flights to Asia (for some reason returning isn't usually as interesting)
#1 - The Baptist Minister from Malaysia:
#2 - The Evangelist from Jerusalem.
#3 - A mid level environmental bureaucrat.
This time I'm sitting next to a mid level advisor for the US EPA. He specializes in international affairs, and is traveling to an air pollution standards conference in Beijing.
First - Yes, the Environmental Protection Agency, a US government organization, has any traction at all in China. Someone's listening.
Second - Yes, the Chinese care about air pollution. At the government level, and probably even at an individual level. Plus they're really doing somthing about it.
After talking to him for a while, it was fasinating. Looking out over Beijing with it's dust storms, limited visibility, and the man sitting next to me showed me that simply flying in, the closer we got to China the thicker the smoke and haze became.
I've been to the big cities in Asia, Shanghai, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Taipei, Seoul, and seen the traffic and pollution there. And China just might be the worst, 7 of the most polluted cities in the world are in China. Yet, there's hope for China. I'm not about to give up on it. Even the people I know in Beijing say that despite the increased traffic and the increased sprawl, the air is better here now than five years ago.
I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that China, a centralized government does have a multiple layers of bureaucratic ministries all interested in the environment, with varying levels of power, and varying enforcement abilities.
Yet talking to the man, I realized there was a calm reasonable demeanor to what he was saying. It was encouraging, concerned but not alarmed. Air quality is no longer simply a national issue, it's an international issue. Polluton crosses borders, oceans, and affecting the entire planet.
And lastly one of the things he pointed out is that global warming and pollution, although related, they're not quite the same.
It's not hopeless...
I'm on my way to China, for a vacation with the China Teaching Team, to continue what was begun last October.
Last weekend I went to a China job conference at MIT. My friend encouraged me to go, looking at the possibilities for both of us. Yet the feeling was mixed. I don't know if my friend will make it out to Shanghai as well. She talks about it, but I keep wondering if the nurturing aspect of her character, in search of comfort is coming out. Is a good business opportunity, is the same as a calling from God? The fears I project upon her, are a reflection of the same fears I have within myself. What was so clear last year, is no longer.
For me, the conference was disappointing yet I gave my resume to TSMC the most promising company exhibiting in the short hallway. After Intel and Samsung, TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation) is the 3rd largest semiconductor manufacturer in the world . Even despite the language issues, they seemed interested in me.
At the end of last year, as I returned from the same trip, I am embarking upon now. I had really thought this would be my last season here in Boston. I had the job there in Shanghai at SMIC, all I had to do was follow up on it. Now it's mid-April, and a booth at a job fair at TSMC, SMIC's competitor in China, and it has got my mind thinking again, "Have I missed something?"
Perhaps it's worth the risk to follow up and pursue this. Yet, the more I think about it, the more misgivings I have. I think it was you who told me sometimes you need to put your fears aside, and simply commit. The one thing I heard this week is a calling involves a great deal of faith in the unknown, and the uncertain.
My mind thinks I should have left by now, yet somehow I'm stuck here in Boston, the more I think about leaving, the more compelling reasons I find to stay . So part of the reason for going is a reminder, that I should keep my eyes focused on going to China.
So that's my prayer for this trip, that somehow I'll feel comfortable, and at ease. The anxiety and the longings for comfort will change to the longings for where I think God is calling me.
Although I have a reasonable car right now. I miss the old Honda prelude I bought when I moved out here almost eight years ago. Even then the car was eight years old.
My first car actually was kind of neat. It was small, and lighter than my current ride. And although it didn't have as much power, there was a bit more urgency to the way it drove. The gears seemed to slide into each other, now my current ride has a somewhat positive 'click' which isn't bad, just different.
Yet that car was the source of many stories, and a bit of heartache, and I could never tell if it was going to completely die on me.
It's amazing how many things can be wrong with a car and it still run.
If the engine starts
- and there could be a host of things that are wrong with the engine and it still starts
- and the brakes are mostly functional,
- and the tires have air in them
The car will go.
For a while that car had a bad battery, a finicky starter, plenty of rust, primer spots and unmatched body panels. It had dings in the paint and needed new shocks/struts.
Thus I'm now in possession of one rather beat up 15 year old Honda Accord.
Summary of the cars I've owned.
187.7" long 69.7" wide 106.3" wheelbase
3010 lbs 190 hp 205 lb-ft torque
Translation - It's big, it's got plenty of power, it's smooth on the road, it's got plenty of space. However with the way I drive it gets 21 miles a gallon if I'm lucky, and 19 if I'm really lead footed.
Accord (The beater)
184.8" long 67.9" wide 107.1" wheelbase
2923 lbs, 130 hp, 142 lb-ft torque
According to the stats, Inside the Honda accord should be almost as big as the maxima, even though it's five inches shorter. I'm not too sure what's going on with that. However since it's a four cylinder engine, and geared pretty tall, with a good tune up it'll probably do about 26 miles a gallon, if not better. Hmm... Okay so I still don't know what the "Sport" mode on the transmission is for, it's an automatic.
177" long 67.3" wide 101.0" wheelbase
2566 lbs, 130 hp, 127 lb-ft torque
I hadn't realized just how light the car really was. It was quick, had a good turning circle, and was easy to get in and out of my parking space. Plus being a good foot shorter than my current ride. Man with a stiff suspension and a good set of anti-sway bars to stiffen the chassis. Oh well I guess I could reminisce, or... buy a Celica GTS, or a Civic SI. Anyhow the current accord is a lot closer in feel to the old prelude than the current maxima is and ever will be. Could be that the steering feels about the same on both cars.
I suppose I bring this kind of stuff on myself, trying to get back to Boston on time.
Let's see my saga, I guess it begins Saturday night.
10 PM - Saturday. At the end of dinner, a friend asks if anyone's got extra space to take a package back to Cambridge for him. He's going back to California, I'm going to Boston. I begrudgingly say "okay sure, no problem" I don't even bother to ask what this thing might be, just that I won't carry it on, it'll be checked baggage. He's fine with that..
1:00 AM Sunday - I decide to go out to eat and hang out... Haven't I been eating all day?
3:00 AM - I'm back at the hotel still hanging out.
4:00 AM - A friend leaves for the airport to catch a 6AM flight in the other direction.
9:00 AM - I'm woken up by someone telling me that they're going to drop the pakage at my room. I wake up, open the door, and ... half asleep ... accept a large quite heavy ripstop nylon bag with big yellow lettering on it. I don't even bother to ask what it might be, or look closely at it. I figure it's a stroller, but it's larger and heavier than I would have thought.
1:45 PM - I get to the airport, I check in at the United counter, and find that it's a US Air code share partner flight. So I go to US Air, and check in the aforementioned bag. I joke about wanting to gate check the bag. Gate check is where you bring the item all the way to the gate, and they give it back to you right at the gate on the other side. Obviously it's useful for things like strollers, especially if you have somthing which belongs in the stroller. The ticket agent doesn't laugh, he simply tags the bag. I get the claim check and head to the gate.
2:00 PM - I'm selected for the secondary screening. Sheez... So I get out and for the second time in a week have people go through my stuff, and wonder why I have so much chocolate in my bags. I don't know whether to be cordial and friendly thus try and reassure them. Or be aloof and annoyed, so that they can do their job. I'm friendly, calmly explaining where I'm going what all the things in my bag are and let them run the wand over me. The security is thorough. In the end I put my stuff back in the bag.
2:15 PM - I rush over to the US Air gate. People are getting on the plane. The flight should leave at 2:35. I talk to the gate agent she tells me that she can probably put me through for an upgrade. So sit down next to the gate and wait for my name to be called.
2:30 PM - I hear that there's thunderstorms on the east coast. The pilot standing next to me is discussing the fact that it's like traffic on the highway, even if the congestion isn't where you want to go, you get the rubbernecking effect. Sheez... So they're limiting flights into NY and DC. He mentions that Philly, the city I'm connecting through always get short shrift in the pull for space in the Eastern corridor. Oh brother... I should start being skeptical, that this might be a long day.
2:40 PM - People start getting off the plane. I'm still standing in the gate area. The announce that the plane is going to be late in taking off due to weather on the East coast, they ask people with connections to Europe to come to the counter, to be re ticketed. And that these delays could be a few hours. But could happen at any time. Oh brother.
2:45 PM - I'm worried about making my connection, so I walk over to United. And realize that I've missed the flight to Chicago by about ten minutes. I might have connected through it. That one did leave on time. So I walk back, and try and see what's going on at the US Air counter. There's a line of people getting in line worried about their connections, particularly to Europe. I'm waay back, so I decide to walk back to United, and see what's available. The agent for the Denver flight isn't doing anything, so he checks and seas that there's s bunch of Continental flights which might get me to Boston, including a direct flight at 3:50 PM.
2:50 PM - Debating for a moment I decide to go back to the ticket counter, dreading leaving the security zone, but seeing no other alternative, I walk out to the lobby of Terminal A at George Bush Intercontinental. There's a line of people at the US Air counter rebooking. Since the ticket was on United I go there, because there's no line. The agent calls over to Continental and confirms that there's a seat on the Continental flight to Boston, all I have to do is get myself unloaded (in the computer) from the US Air flight, and that I should be able to get a seat on the direct Continental flight. A simple task, but it has to be done at the US Air computer.
2:55 PM - I go over to US Air they've got 3 people manning the counter, and are swamped, with about 30 people all waiting to do the same thing. Although I walk to the front, the people behind me look agitated, and politely say that there's a line. I realize that, and don't quite know what to do, as the agents aren't moving that fast. I don't want to be rude. It's an airport, the flights has been effectively canceled, there's a hundred people trying to rebook tickets.
3:00 PM - I walk back to United, there's still nobody there. The United Ticket agent walks over to USAir herself and prints out the e-ticket so I can get on the Continental flight. She tells me that Continental usually stops issuing tickets to check in a half hour before the flight departs. That leaves me 20 minutes to get to Terminal C. Gasp... That's three terminals and a hotel away, and I have to take the shuttle. I ask about the bag I've checked. The United ticket agent says, she thinks it might be down at Carousel 4. I go down there don't see the stroller, even though they've offloaded about six bags, and there's a couple of people waiting. I walk back up to United, the ticket agent doesn't know anything about the bag, but hands me the claim check. I go down again, make one more scan of the carousel, and decide that the bag will find it's way to Boston somehow, it's not even my own bag, and I don't really know what it is. Given the distinct possibility of being stuck in Philly overnight versus, the chance of getting to Boston actually on time. I go down another escalator and wait for the tram.
3:10 PM - I get on the tram to get to the Continental terminal. I'm dripping with sweat. I look over excited. The woman next to me is eyeing me suspiciously.
3:20 PM I get to the Continental terminal, hand the ticket agent my ticket. I ask about the bag, she says it'll probably get on the right flight, otherwise take it up with Continental. I wonder do I take it up with Continental, US Air, or United? Oh brother... I'm on the direct flight to Boston. I've got 30 minutes to get on the flight. And I might actually arrive at about the same time as originally scheduled.
3:25 PM I go over to the security, and am again put through the secondary screening. Now I'm agitated and annoyed. I take off my shoes, my belt, my coat, the change from my pockets, and my phone. I tell the agent that I've got a tight connection. They're un-amused. I tell them to call the gate. They say I'll be okay. I just sit back and try to hang with it. They take their time.
3:35 PM I get to the gate. They're still boarding, so I get on a bit reassured, thinking that it's a direct flight and might be unaffected by the other problems. At least I know I should get on the plane, and I will be in Boston tonight.
3:50 PM - The door should be closed and we should be pulling away from the gate. However nothing's happening. The flight crew admits that there's a bit of delay, they don't know how long it's going to be, but will keep us informed.
4:00 PM, the last two people get on the plane.
4:30 PM - They still haven't closed the door yet. The pilot say's he'll give about hourly update about how long we'll be sitting there. He admits that it's a software glitch, and all the computers and communications are down. And they're struggling to do things by hand. The pilot even admits he's trying to get information using his own cell phone. I shrug, look at the woman sitting next to me, and we start talking about the open spaces of Texas versus her home in New Hampshire. I sigh, open a chocolate bar, offer he a piece and then note that chocolate is now like wine. I read the back label of the bar. "deep, rich, single variety, from a single plantation. Light citrus notes with a touch of bitterness, to compliment the deep smoky finish." Is this chocolate or wine?
4:35 PM - I finish the chocolate, and debate whether to try another one of the varieties in in my bag. I pass on getting more Valhrona, and instead break off a piece of 70% cacao Lindt.
5:00 PM - The pilot goes to the bathroom. The door to the gate is still open. The pilot comes back on the comm and admits that without their computer system, they can't calculate the total take off weight and center of gravity of the plane. Without that calculation they can't get the plane signed for take off... Maybe this delay isn't caused by weather. I start regretting the decision not to stick on the US Air flight. I might have been in first class. The flight attendant comes around with water.
5:30 PM - we pull away from the gate, but the pilot admits that we're only pulling away, so another plane can move into the spot. Oh brother. We move to a parking spot, the engines go off. The flight attendant says we're free to use electronic devices. I start hearing cell phones booting up. People start calling their friends explaining the delay. I get out my CD player, and my computer. I want to close my eyes and sleep, I wonder if I should take a pill.
6:00 PM - We're still waiting, it's getting hot on the plane. The guy sitting on the other side of me admits that even after his vacation in Phoenix where it was 90 degrees he's hot right now for the first time..
6:30 PM - It looks like we might actually be taking off.
6:40 PM - We finish taxi-ing and are accelerating down the runway for take off. The people in front of me start to applaud.
7:30 PM - Tired, I decide to take a benadryl, so I can get some rest.
8:30 PM - I'm still wide awake, so I start typing out this travelogue.
11:15 PM - We begin the descent into Boston.
11:30 PM - We arrive in Boston (only three hours late!)
11:45 PM - I get to baggage claim - the surly lady at Continental baggage service says I have to wait to make sure the bag has not been loaded on the plane. She won't even look up the bag in her system. Thus I have to wait till all the bags have been unloaded before I can make a claim. I ask how they'd know it was supposed to be on that flight. She says she can't do anything about it.
12:00 AM Monday - The bags are still being unloaded from the plane. I give up and don't expect to see the bag. So I walk over to the US Air baggage service, they look up the bag, and say it's still in their system and they can see that the original flight left Houston 55 minutes late, thus the bag might on the next flight into Boston from Philly, that flight arrives in about a half an hour. I decide not to wait, the agent gives me the phone number at the desk there and says I can call the desk directly in a bit to see if it's arrived.
12:30 AM - I walk back over to the Continental desk, and now they're willing to process the claim. I shrug, I could have done this initially almost an hour ago. Apparently the system is set up so that the airline which takes you to your final destination is responsible for tracking down the lost bag. Thus it was Continental's responsibility, even though all the work was with US Air, and the ticket was issued with United. Great, at least it's not finger pointing, and the airlines have agreed that no matter who's fault it is, one of them takes responsibility for getting it to you. The same surly agent from Continental takes the lost bag report, and says if they find it they'll deliver it tomorrow. I request that they deliver it to my office. They say okay.
1:00 AM. I finally get home. I call the US Air baggage service, they've got the bag and tell me it's not a stroller, but a playpen. They're sending it over to Continental. Oh brother...
I should have known not to accept bags which I have no idea what's in there. I could have been an accomplice to smuggling some sort of contraband. After all you never know quite what strange ethnic delicacies could be sent from someone who's been on a tropical island for the last three months. But I figured I should be able to trust the "friend" who gave it to me. After all, he's my neighbor. But given that I hadn't seen him for months, he looked a lot skinnier, darker, and had grown a beard. Rationally I should have been suspicious.
2:00 AM I go to sleep.
7:00 AM the alarm sounds. I don't feel too bad about strolling in at noon.
10:30 AM - the delivery service delivers the bag to the my office. The receptionist seeing the big yellow "GRACO" lettering, knows exactly what it is. It seems that this bag has beat me to the office.
Noon. I get to the office. I walk to the receptionist, and ask if there's any packages for me. It's sitting in the lobby next to her desk. I'm surprised it's not back in shipping. She knowingly looks at me and smirks... I realize that I've set myself up for a good ribbing. I've been off on a business trip for a while and nobody at the office has seen me for the past week and a half.
I walk to my cube with the bag, everyone with kids recognizes the brand, and I get the expected comments
"Justin, I had no idea you could use something like that, when did that happen?"
And the - less subtle:
"Justin, we knew you were going out there for a wedding, but we hadn't expected it that quickly."