Tuesday, October 23, 2012

I feel like a modern poem is inside me...

I thought I would write a poem or two tonight...

I had my iPad out in front of me at the desk, with my leftover dinner heated up in the microwave downstairs in this Howard Johnson hotel in Salem, Oregon.  My intent was to take this free time between 7 and 10 pm and do something useful with it.

But before I start, let me check my email.  Several new ones, some that require responding.  OK, that will only take a couple of minutes.  There, done.  Now I should check Facebook, because I haven't all day...  Several new postings, but nothing important.  What's this?  An IM from my son about his interview at Microsoft today?  Things went well, but no offer yet.  Damn.  We share several messages back and forth as though we were on the phone, but of course it is the new way to communicate, through the fingers instead of using the tongue.  Whatever.  OK, let's start..

Wait, a familiar "bling" and another email is in.  Better check that, and it is from my salesman in Bangkok who is up and at it in the morning of tomorrow.  My tonight is his tomorrow morning, of course, and he has questions about the messages I sent him from work today.  Better answer them now so he can be productive with his day and I don't have to deal with them tomorrow, my time.  He is obviously up and at his computer because as soon as I send one message he responds with 2 more, and here we are off in a conversation about his projects and my recent visit to Thailand.  What should we tell this customer, and how can we move that project along, and what about the problem we are having with this installation down here, and so forth.  Normal communications within companies all over the world, and in this case it really is global in scope.  14 hours difference in time zones is just about as bad as it gets.  There is no common "good time" for us both.

What time is it?  Time to call Judy and get caught up on the day.  How about FaceTime, she on her iPad and me on my iPhone?  It turns out she is just back from a dinner out and is ready to talk.  We get things set up and we chat for about a half hour with the cats wandering through the camera's range from time to time.  Both cats, which is unusual.  I think Judy's voice and stationary pose draws them in.  They don't respond to my voice even when I do the normal kitty, kitty stuff we all do.  Apparently the ability to understand FaceTime takes some sort of higher brain function that cats don't have.  Maybe the guys at Apple need to work on making the interface even more simplistic?

We end our conversation and I see that there are several new emails, including ones from Thailand.  It takes only a few minutes to dispatch these.  The wine is having an effect at this point and if nothing else, my will to be creative and write the poems I had in mind is fading.  It is not gone, but it is fading.

"Bling", and new emails are in.  Judy has taken my advice and checked my blogs which I updated earlier this evening.  She has commented which generates an email for me.  OK, now she is up to date not only on the things we talked about in our phone conversation but also with the things I put in the blog which are beyond normal topics of discussion.  My "Inner Voice" which drives me to write the blog in the first place has been absorbed by her and she has processed it and responded.  Good.  Now she is really up to speed with where I am and what I am thinking.  No response is necessary this time so I just read them and smile.

So, now it is 10:21 and I am finally ready to write a poem.  What was it going to be about, I wonder?

How about, "How does technology today impact our free time?"

Yea, that sounds about right.

Salem Reflections

With the beautiful summer weather now a fading memory, the fall rains have started to fall and I've even seen snow on Mt. Pilchuck down nearly to the bottom. Over the weekend the snow level fell to 2,500 feet, low enough to remind us all that winter is real, and is just around the corner. I need to get the Blizzak's out and ready for installation on the trusty Prius.

Here in Salem the rain is falling and the temperatures are cool.  I'm wearing the pullover nylon tops I favor at home when the house is cool during the day.  In the office the temperatures are OK and I take it off, but when I am out and about it is a comfort, and here in the room I leave the window open a bit to let in the cooler evening air.  It helps me sleep.  This week I am at the Howard Johnson's, selected on Hotwire.com for $35/nite, with an all-in price of $135 for 3 nights.  The room is spartan but clean, the shower is hot, and they serve a breakfast that includes cereal and a banana which are my favorites.  I tell Judy that I live like a monk when I am here, and that is almost literally true.  A monk might have more to do in the evenings than I do.

Last night was Monday, the day of the last Presidential Debate.  I watched it.  The pundits on NPR today confided that Obama supporters thought he did well, and Romney supporters felt their candidate also did well.  If that is true then all it really showed was people's ignorance about the Middle East in terms of the geo-political and geographic relationships there, and how impotent the USA is in affecting lasting change there.  Obama was the better of the two, and seemed Presidential in his command of the facts and actions taking place there.  But he would.  I have been in this position before: a Republican candidate scares me with his conservatism and naivete, but when elected the mantles of the office are so constraining that he is actually rather limited in his ability to make changes.  It is true on both sides - Democratic Presidents have the same problem.  It is devilishly hard to make anything happen in DC.

Dinner tonight is leftovers from home.  Same as last night.  I went to Trader Joe's last night and picked up some spicy hummus and crackers for an appetizer, which is good, and some sushi in a plastic box.  I ate half of the sushi last night, and about 1/3rd of the hummus.  Tonite I finish off the sushi and dive into the Moosewood Cookbook noddles with a small pork chop on top.  I'm looking forward to it.

I just checked on the posting from my fellow bloggers, at least those that I follow.  It is good to see that there are some that are as remiss as I.  Together we make a readable blog but individually we are too infrequent to keep a reader's interest.  I have the ideas in my head, I just don't get them out the way I like.

BTW, I signed up for a free trial of SalesForce.com today.  As a key part of the software they acknowledge the Facebook and Twitter-ish nature of the way people connect and they integrate that into the way the software works.  And Google.  When you want to find something you need you call on your contacts to share their experiences, to make recommendations, etc.  Knowing this, why not mine the social networking sites and turn them to your advantage, or at least that what they are trying to do.  I signed up and logged in, but I immediately saw that this is something my kids understand far better than I do.  As usual I am behind the curve.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Crossing to Safety

I got home again just fine and don't really have much to say about it.  I have had "sinking spells" where I just want to close my eyes for a few minutes a couple of times, especially on Wednesday when I traveled and returned to Seattle to face the complete day still to come, but other than that the jet lag thing doesn't seem to affect me much.  I am fine today and things seem to be back to normal.

I wanted to blog today about a book I read on this trip called Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner.  This is the guy who wrote Angle of Repose, his first novel I read, and both Judy and I were blown away with his writing style and command of story development.  Angle of Repose was a wonderful book, and I didn't really know what to expect from this other one.  Would it be the same?

The story revolves around the friendship that formed between 2 couples, and the many ways in which people interact.  It takes place in many places, but the central theme is the annual summer pilgrimage to the Lang Families' summer home on a lake in Vermont.  The way the couples meet as new PhD's recruited into the Univ. of Wisconsin - Madison's English Department as instructors, the pressure to be accepted into the department and get started on a tenure track in 1937, the year that they arrive, and the many ways the story unfolds.  Different characters have obvious and hidden traits, the relationship between the men and women is hugely important, and the interplay within the married couples. 

I could see parallels in my own life with the stories and friendships that were portrayed here, and it brought to mind old friends I have not seen in years, and old friends I see all the time.  I have often said that for Judy and I there was a critical time between ages 17 and 24 where we made friends with people where the friendships lasted a lifetime.  It is true - we still see certain people we met at UNH and Mizzou, travel to see their kids get married, go out of our way to see them when we are on vacation, keep current on FB (the modern equivalent of writing letters), and call them on their birthdays (Happy Birthday, Anne!).  In Crossing to Safety there are seminal events recounted in painstaking detail at times, with the benefit of hindsight to identify the critical elements and interactions that will carry the story into the future. 

Stegner's writing in this book is as good as it was in Angle of Repose.  The story is not as hard to read, and the characters are both familiar and engaging.  You feel the losses, celebrate the triumphs, and cheer for them at every turn since they are so easy to identify with and make your own.  But it is the writing that keeps me from putting the book down.

Judy purchased a copy at the Upper Case Bookstore in Snohomish for $6.50.  I'm sure you can find it elsewhere, even at the library.  I haven't checked on the Kindle Store, but some of Stegner's works must be there.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Nana Nights

Mark met us (Dale and me) at the Nana train stop for dinner last night.  This is 9 train stops away from where we have been staying, so maybe about 12 miles or so.  He was staying at the Ambassador Hotel, one of several large western-style hotels in Bangkok which are clustered in this area.  There is a famous alley called No. 11 that they all share, and this small road hosts numerous restaurants, stores, and massage parlors of various types.  The tourists come for the massages and the locals are glad to provide them.  We were there to spectate, and there was quite a spectacle to see.

Mark has been stying there all week and he knew the various haunts.  I was a bit concerned as he demonstrated his breadth of knowledge, but he said it all had come from just walking in the evenings and having a look around.  Nothing so personal as actually getting a massage, he said, and I tend to believe him.  Anyway, short skirts and fancy hair were everywhere.  It was what Bangkok is famous for providing, and the Australian and UK accents on the tourists said it all.

One small note for my American readers:  this area, and most in Bangkok, at street level was filled with the various odors for which the tropic is also famous.  Up through the gutters comes sewage smells.  Passing by a street vendor selling fish grilled on an open fire you get that aroma, or the next stand stir-frying garlic and noodles together.  A converted VW Microbus sits to the side of the road decked out in flashing neon lights, the top hinged back exposing a mobile bar complete with beer on tap, a liquor shelf with under-shelf lighting, loud music blaring, and European customers sitting on patio furniture drinking around it.  Prices from the van bartender are a fraction of the prices for the same drinks inside the hotels, so it is an attractive option if you want to take in the street scene from a comfortable seat.  After all, it is a sort of parade that walks itself by for your amusement.

Dale and I had traveled over from our hotel to meet Mark at 7:00.  We walked up and down the street once and settled on the Shangrila Restaurant which had an island motif and a tourist menu.  We sat inside the glassed-in area in AC comfort, but there were lots of patrons in the warm night air.   We shared several Thai dishes and a couple of beers.  I had Tiger Beer from Singapore, and they had Singha Beer, a local product.  We finished about 9:30 and strolled the walk again.  Dinner was good but not spicy and featured fried wantons, chicken satay, very tame sauces, a duck dish that was very good, Phad Thai (Dale's favorite) and a seafood medley.  Mark's flight was at 5:00 am this morning, so he turned in and Dale and I headed back.  We made a stop at a rooftop bar Chris had taken me to earlier in the week and I had a screwdriver made with fresh squeezed oranges, and Dale had a gin and tonic.  I was back to the room at about 11.

I would note that getting to the rooftop bar is not for the timid.  It is necessary to enter a street level stairway that looks like the kitchen entrance for the bottom floor restaurant with slick nasty concrete stairs at the bottom.   Graffiti in the stairwell is graphic but not violent and features dragons and spiders on different landings, including a metal Spiderman near the top.  The top bar is on the 6th floor so you have lots of stairs to climb and there are other bars on the different landings as you go up.   Once on the top floor there is a balcony with tables and chairs (all filled when we got there last night) with a good look over the train station and the city.  There is no AC.  The bar is about 8 x 8' area where a very small Thai girl is mixing drinks (nobody bigger would fit).  Three small Thai guys chase up beer for patrons from boxes they carry up from the bottom floor, including the ice they use to keep them cool.  This is not a "chrome and glass" glitzy place, this is an Authentic Thai place that is bohemian in the sense of the 1950's beatniks, where talking revolution and treason sits side by side with reviews of the newest Samsung cell phone.

One small note from the evening.  At the Nana train station exit there were many, many street vendors selling goods, including knives, hunting rifle telescopes, bootleg DVD's, and all sorts of durable goods that we did not see at the Weekend Market at Mo Chit.  Some of the knives had brass knuckle handles with spikes on them.  These were very nasty.  So far this is the only place we have seen anything that resembles the sort of violent weaponry we are used to seeing in the USA.  Thai people seem to be a gentler sort that than this.  I'm sure they sell this to the tourists, but I didn't like seeing it, all the same.  I suppose people can check this on the airplane to get it home?

Here are the two guys who made my time in Bangkok so much fun.  Mark Moriarty and Dale Gremaux.  Thanks guys!

Bangkok Market Visit

The Open Air Market in Bangkok was HUGE!  The Three Musketeers here, Dale (Beaverton, Oregon), me, and Mark (Boston) walked it for 2 hours and I bet we didn't see more than 10% of it.  We all bought things to bring home, Mark especially, but it is just plain overwhelming.  I've been to similar markets in China, Australia, and Seattle, but this one beats them all in terms of sheer scope, breadth, and numbers of people involved in selling and buying.  It was incredible.

Despite Mark's silly grin we had nothing to drink at this point.  We were totally sober.

That didn't last long...

Friday, October 5, 2012

Bangkok Baijo Dinner

My dear readers,

Your traveling correspondent has been terribly amiss in his duties over the past month. I have been traveling, indeed, but failing to chronicle my exploits, some of which have been fairly noteworthy. The now routine 265 mile commute from my home in Snohomish to my new employment home in Salem OR does take up the time I might have used to communicate with you all, but that is no excuse. My intent was to journal my thoughts and experiences, and I have failed in my self-assigned task. Let me make amends!

I write this on Saturday morning, Oct. 6, from my hotel room in the Vic3 Bangkok Hotel. I arrived here just after midnight on Monday, Oct. 1. Tuesday I helped set up a trade show booth and generally hung around, and Wednesday through last night I have been manning the booth, talking to Thai people (and many others) about biomass processing, and doing little else. WSM has an employee here in Bangkok who is a Caucasian that speaks Mandarin and some Thai, who has lived here for 15 months, and knows the city well in terms of places to eat, where to shop for the best bargains, etc. He and I have been spending a lot of time together, as well as 2 folks from the Oregon Trade group sponsored by the State of Oregon. It has been fun, and productive.

One of the objectives I had when coming was to sit down and hammer out the final details for an order for one of our larger pieces of grinding equipment, along with ancillary components, which had an aggregate total value of about $740,000. The customer has been working with the WSM home office for quite some time to get this in place, and Chris, the local guy, has been smoothing things over, selling the value of the equipment, etc., and the customer has been asking lots of questions, and pounding on price (which is what they do here on everything). To make this long story somewhat short we signed the contract yesterday, and now we are off to the races to build this thing. Chris wanted to celebrate with a special dinner so last night 4 of us headed out into the teeth of a monsoon to find his favorite Chinese restaurant and drink some baijo (pronounced bye-joe), a Chinese liquor that tastes like gasoline. 

We took the train to the appointed stop and stepped out into a torrential downpour.  We had to go about 2 blocks through huge puddles which drenched our feet and the rain soaked us from above.  We ducked into a restaurant that was not unknown to him but wasn’t the objective one either, but the weather made that decision for us.  We sat at a round table with the ever-present glass Lazy Susan in the middle, Chris ordered in Chinese, a large glass bottle with a clear liquid inside appeared with a price on it of 3,000 baht ($100!), and the dinner was on!  We shared 8-10 dishes of different sorts including a delicious lamb stew, spicy tofu on rice, seaweed salad, sautéed bean sprouts with garlic, and dried beef.  There were others but I can’t remember them just now. 

Through this all we toasted our success with very small glasses of baijo chased with beer.  When the food was done the glass bottle was only half empty but we sat there talking, telling stories of the road, arguing over who won the presidential debate (which only 2 of the 4 had seen), and finished it off in about an hour.  I won’t say we were quiet while doing it, but the other patrons were respectful and I didn’t see any harsh looks or upset faces.  Amazingly I didn’t feel at all smashed, and we were able to negotiate the Bangkok train system just fine and made it home without incident.  Chris had received a message from his Thai buddies and left to join them, so one other guy and I made it back to the hotel at about 11 pm, at which time I fell into bed and straight to sleep.  I feel fine today, so maybe “The Good Stuff” which Chris called our particular bottle, actually was better than a kick in the head.

It is raining today, but only a sort of misty rain.  I have plans to visit the Open Market with 2 of the three guys from last night.  I just want to wander around and see the sights.