Sunday, June 23, 2013

the first week's observances and food

i'm here in kuala lumpur on business, so most of my waking hours have been in meetings and day-to-day business.  so, i'll focus on the hours outside of work.

i've gone out to lunch every day.  my co-workers always ask me if i miss western food or if i want to eat western food.  i quickly say no.  i want to try pretty much anything that is not western.

the first day we ate a place called dragon-i.  it was chinese.  i was explaining to my team about the east side cafe where i grew up (orhpan annie's now) and how my family always ate mandarin chicken.  of course they didn't understand what mandarin chicken is ... so i said it was a lot like sweet and sour chicken.  then they understood.  they ordered for me at dragon-i.  we ate something very similar to sweet and sour chicken.  we also ate a kailan bowl as well as a roasted duck plate.  a lot of places here will bring the food in bowls and then everyone serves themselves the food on the plate.  i loved the chicken, the kailan and the duck - it was really delicious.  and of course we had dim-sum - always so tasty.

oh - chopsticks ... i was a bit nervous about the chopsticks, but i didn't want to be the wimpy american who couldn't eat with chopsticks.  so i did my best.  my team told me that if i could pick up a roasted nut, then i was good.  i was able to pick up the roasted nut quite easily.  i'm proud to say that i've not once requested silverware when there were chopsticks to be used :-)

the second day was a team builder day.  so my team along with a sister team went out for lunch at a very nice restaurant located in the hotel at which i'm staying.  it was a dim-sum spread with rice and salads.  the conversation was really nice and we all got to know each other very well.  for desert, they ordered me some durian pancake.  durian is a local fruit - they call it the king of fruits.  but apparently it has a very strong smell to it.  i had heard rumors from my boss and other people to not try the durian.  but i tried the durian pancake anyway.  to me it tasted like a strong onion with a hint of mango.  they all gave me strange looks when i told them it tasted and smelled like an onion.

after lunch, we did some team-building exercises: building legos, marshmellow tower and chinese pictionary.  it was a lot of fun.

after work on the second day, i went for an hour-long walk around the central park.  the walk was very nice and had spectacular views of the twin towers.  one thing i thought was quite odd was seeing someone take a picture of a woman who was dressed in a full-body burqa - i mean, what's the point of taking a picture if you don't know who you're taking a picture of?

the third day's lunch was with my team's old team lead as well as the team's current team lead.  she took us to this chinese place - i had some noodle dish and really enjoyed it.

then on the fourth day - friday - we all went to an indian restaurant.  it was very delicious - we ate some fried cauliflower, shark meat and then some spicy lamb.  the lamb was good, but too spicy for me.  i ended up sweating for 10 minutes!  there was also some flat bread to eat along with the meal.

yesterday was saturday - i was going to go to batu caves, but my ride fell through, so i stayed in the hotel catching up on my chess tactics.  i couldn't go outside because of the very thick haze and smoke from all the fires in indonesia.  i ate a full dinner on saturday at the hotel.  i had hainanese chicken, cheese sticks and pistachio cheesecake.

then today - sunday - i went with a friend and her family to visit the genting highlands.  we were going to go to malacca, but the smoke and haze is even worse down south.  so we went up into the mountains.  the road was steep and curvy.  our first stop was at the chin swee temple.  i really enjoyed walking around the temple and reading of the many levels of hell.  we even walked up the pagoda half way before we decided we had enough climbing.  after the temple, we headed on up to the top of the hill.  when we got there, we walked around a bit, ate some brunch, then walked around some more and then decided we'd see enough.  after that, we drove back down the hill a way to a mushroom farm.  seeing how the chinese grow mushrooms was quite interesting.  after that, we drove back down into the haze to visit batu caves.  we climbed the 300 or so steps and walked around the massive limestone cave.  it was pretty amazing.  i liked the chinese temple better mainly because it was cleaner.  batu caves was quite dirty.  after batu caves, we went to central market and did some shopping.  i got some gifts for my kids and wife.  and then they drove me back to the hotel - i was very tired.

besides seeing all the neat attractions, i also really enjoyed hanging out with and talking to my friend and her family.  she has two kids the same age as my two youngest.  they treated me very nicely and even called me uncle.  the youngest taught me a complex version of rock, paper, scissors.  what made it so extremely difficult to win was the ever-changing rules.  as soon as i would win, he would come up with a new weapon to play.  he is a smart kid and it was very memorable playing chage ... that's charge without the 'r'.

and that was the first week in kl.

i have four more days here and then i fly back to houston.  i miss my wife and kids.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

the way over

i got to bush intercontinental, checked in, got my boarding pass and walked to the gate.  the goodbyes to my wife and the kids was a bit emotional, but we all survived.  the security check wasn't so bad.  this was my first time in janet napolitano's naked machine.  then i headed for my gate and when i arrived, i found that the flight was going to be late - 90 minutes late.  my layover in los angeles was only going to be for two hours - that's a problem.

i waited in the terminal.  got my book out, read a bit, walked around, checked the flight status, read my book, walked around, checked the flight status, read book, walked, checked status, read, walk, check ...

the flight really was late.  we boarded - i was in business class - my first time in the leather, comfortable seats with lots of leg room.  i sat next to danny brassell phd - america's reading ambassador.  i had never heard of this guy, but apparently he's pretty popular around the nation.  he gave me a bookmark / business card.  we talked about the book i was reading (the savior generals), the author of the book (victor davis hanson) and who he is.  i think danny wrote the name of the author down.  then we chatted about things; travel, hometowns, etc.  then the flight took off and danny fell asleep while i read.

i get to los angeles and i need to get to the tom bradley international terminal.  i hadn't been to lax since 1997.  in hindsight, i could have and should have just walked from my landing terminal to tom bradley.  but instead, i waited for the bus to pick me up and drive me over.  the bus, which was supposed to come by every 10 minutes, didn't come by for over 20 minutes.  when i finally get to tom bradley, i have about 20 mins before my flight to hong kong leaves.  i get to the cathy pacific counter to check-in and they say that everything has been closed down - i can't get on the flight.  even if they let me, the security check-point has closed - bummer.  she gets me on the next day's flight out of lax.  i'm in dis-belief and i walked around the fairly empty terminal in a daze.  i call my wife, let her know what's going on.  then i find a quite place to relax.  i end up sleeping on a restaurant soft bench for the night.

i wake up around 6am local time, i get up and walk around.  the terminal is pretty quiet.  the other 50 or so people who also spent the night are starting to wake as well.  some people came really prepared - they found a nice spot on the floor next to the windows overlooking the tarmac and then made a nice bed of blankets and bags and fell asleep.  the morning goes by slowly.  i found a spot and read my book.  soon it is afternoon; i get some lunch at panda express.  after lunch, i head down to the cathay pacific counter and see if i can get on standby for the 2pm flight.  i get on, wait two hours and then come back to see if they will let me on.  they do!  they issue my boarding pass and i proceed to the security check.  there is some more waiting outside the gate and then i'm finally on the plane.

the business class is full of quasi-cubicles with a seat that fully reclines.  there is also a 15 inch computer screens built into the cubicle for watching movies and listening to music.  the flight supplies a very nice set of head phones too.  the flight is over 14 hours.  during the flight, i read, listened to music (depeche mode's new album), watched two movies (argo and the hobbit), ate a full course meal, a full course breakfast and then i slept for a few hours.

the flight arrived in hong kong at around 5pm sunday local time.  after i got off the plane, i had to go through another security check before they let me into the main hong kong terminal.  i walked around a bit, checked the place out and then found a nice place to rest.  i was able to connect to the wifi network and then talked to my family via tango (like facetime).  then i dozed off for a few hours.

i woke up around 3 or 4am monday morning local time.  i couldn't sleep anymore.  got up, walked around some more, then charged my phone and read some more of my book.  i went to my gate and waited some more.  while i was there, i logged on to my work computer and made a couple of phone calls - one to my wife and kids and another to my parents.  after a while, this lady comes and sits across from me and starts talking - it turns out she too missed a flight and now she was catching the same flight to kuala lumpur.  she is from penang.  nice lady, but her english was a bit rusty.  the plane arrived, we got on and then 4 hours later at 12:30pm kuala lumpur time, i finally arrived.

i made my way off the plane, caught a tram to the main terminal, then made my way to immigration, had my passport stamped and then proceeded to the baggage claim.  the people looked very different - even from hong kong.  malaysia is a muslim country and so i saw lots of women dressed the the full body burka.  i stopped at the currency exchange, then got my bag.  from there, the mandarin oriental hotel 'limo' picked me up and took me to the hotel.  the drive was about 45 minutes.  i was amazed at all the construction going on - it was everywhere!  the roads were nice, but that was expected as we stopped every 15 minutes to pass through a toll booth.  the hotel is in the city center.  as soon as i stepped out of the car, i had someone getting my luggage and escourting me to my room.  check-in was in my room! i didn't have to go to the front desk.  someone was waiting for me the moment i stepped out of the car; they escorted me to my room and let me in.  the room was nice and clean.

i unpacked, showered and then logged on my my laptop to see if my team could receive me at work.  then i walked to the office and met everyone.  my host showed me around the office and went over safety protocols and then introduced me to many people who i've worked with before, but never met in person.  it was fantastic finally putting a face to people i've worked with for so long.  my head was spinning from the jet lag, but i survived those first four hours.

at around 6pm that evening, i logged off, went back to the hotel, called my family, talked a bit and then ordered room service for dinner.  then i crashed for 3 hours, before getting back up for an 11pm meeting (with people in houston).  i was so tired, i was able to get right back to sleep.

my first day in kl was over.

Friday, June 14, 2013

waiting for a full day of travel

i thought i'd do a travel log of my trip to kuala lumpur.

my flight from houston leaves for los angeles at 9:30pm; which will begin a 26 hour and 4 minute journey to the opposite side of the world.  it's 6:00pm here on a friday night, while it is 7:00am there on a saturday morning.

i've got my bags all packed; i've got two books ready to read - my goal is to have them read by the time i come back - 1 book for the trip over and 1 book for the trip back.  the first book is the savior generals - the latest from victor davis hanson.  the other book is david mccullough's 1776.  i'll (hopefully) post a book report on them when i return.  i've got one other book i need to report on - peak performers by charles garfield.

while i'm in kl, i've got a full schedule of meetings and one-on-one and all the various teams and groups ... pretty much everyone in the company that works over there.  i've been working with some of these people for years, and i'll finally get to meet them in person.

i'm staying at a really nice hotel: the mandarin oriental.

handling jet lag should be interesting.  i'll get into my hotel around 12pm sunday afternoon, but my body will feel like it's 11pm saturday night.  i've been told that when i get to the hotel, to NOT take a nap or anything like that - rather, i should start walking around.  the hotel is right by a large park and a large mall - so i was told to go walk around the mall.  i figure if i can stay awake until around 7:30pm sunday kl time, then i have a chance at beating the jet lag fairly quick.

while i'll be plenty busy with meetings all day, reading email at night as well as having evening meetings with houston people, i still plan on keeping up with my chess goals.  i will have all day saturday and sunday next week as well.  i'm behind on my 52 game quest this year, so i'll be trying to get several (at least 10) games in (30 5 time).

i'm a little leery of going outside the city for sight-seeing.  the one thing that really interests me are the batu caves and it is just north of where i'll be staying for the two weeks.

well, that's about all for now ... just dumping some thoughts for now.  next post (hopefully) will be when i get to kl.