Saturday, January 16, 2010

On the Road Again

Oh but folks lately I have been spotted
with a Big Mac in my breath
stumblin into a Colonel Sanders
with a face as white as death
-- Junk Food Junkie

I'm back in Los Angeles on my way to meetings in NY. Stopped in LA to attend a memorial service for Dave Smith, a very close family friend who died just short of 75 years of age two weeks ago. His children, Margi, Janet Anne, and Ted were as close as brothers and sisters to me. His wife, Georgette, who passed in 1991, was incredibly smart and may well have had the best sense of humor of anybody I've ever known (with the possible exception of Cade). The good memories of Easter Sunday breakfasts, camping at Doheny every summer, and going to Big Bear every Christmas were warm and overwhelming.

On a side note, this trip has allowed me to be reacquainted with So Cal fast food -- which is the tastiest fast food in the world (probably the most deadly as well). Being away from it only makes me crave it more -- Famous Star, Double Double, Jack-in-the-Box Tacos, and the rest -- it is all so good and so bad. I know I should be loving Thai food, but I'm not. I am, however, resolved to eat one new Thai item each time I go back home. I am so picky, but I've got to adjust in order to take full advantage of my new surroundings.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Food For Thought

I have been a stranger in a strange land
- Moses

The sounds, sights smells, tastes are overwhelming. Even the air feels filled with spice. I thought I knew a lot about Thais, but I'm learning how ignorant I am and how tolerant they are. My wife lives to eat, but eating is not about food, it is the socialization and connection with the culture that feeds them. She will travel for an hour in each direction in order to spend ฿80 (about $2.50) for some noodles with curry and fish balls and two hours of chit chat.

Chit chat can consist of ANYTHING -- politics, love, family, dreams, money, weather -- anything that touches their lives is fair game. I've discovered that there are few if any boundaries between Thais of even the most slight of relationships. "Honey, I meet her while eating noodles outside JW Marriott. She's from my city, Kalasin." and she proceeded to tell this girl our life story.

I've always thought my life was an open book, but this is beyond what I'm used to because, for me it creates an intimacy that I'm not necessarily comfortable with. For my wife, it is less an act of intimacy and more a cultural connection. The subjects of the conversation are less important than the actual act. After five and a half years of marraige, there's still a lot to learn about Thailand, my wife, and myself.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Once in a lifetime

And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself in another part of the world
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house...with a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself, "Well ... how did I get here?"

--Talking Heads

Well, this has been an incredible first week. Started with 15 hour flight from NY to Hong Kong. After a two hour layover, a three hour flight to Bangkok, another four hour layover (albeit with a shower and a change of clothes) and another hour flight to Khon Kaen and a two hour drive to Kalasin. Sounds like hell? Pretty close. Then a two day frolic of eating, drinking, and singing Karoake. And I was pretty much limited to an observer for all three.

In Thailand, New Years is a time for family to get together and when everyone in the village is some sort of relative it means I was introduced to a LOT of cousins. That's what happens when the family moves to the village 500 years ago. But I did get to spend some more time with Moht's Uncle. He is her father's younger brother and a guard at the city jail. He once had the worst day (without involving death) that I have other heard of, but that is for another blog entry.

At her Uncle's farm, I took a tour of his house, two fish ponds, and rise fields. The farm is about 50 feet wide and three hundred yards long. Welcome to Thailand. We played a Thai form of Bocce Ball and I did pretty good for my first time. The weekend concluded with a 14 hour drive (usually about 5 hours...guess there were a LOT of cousins heading back to the big city after a weekend at the village) to Bangkok.

I think I'm going to like it here.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Finally on my way

"Look, I was just on my way to pay you back, but I got a little sidetracked! It's not my fault."

-- Hans Solo

Well...after being hospitalized twice and going through an amputation (right leg, above the knee), I'm finally heading out to Bangkok. HR still has some kinks to work out, but I'm not waiting for them, they'll figure it out.

So the plan is to spend one last Christmas on the east coast (getting loads of snow today, Moht will be happy and sad at the same time). Spend it with the kids, who will all be back by Christmas Eve, pack up and go.

Then we will spend New Year's Eve in Kalasin (Moht's home), have a big Isaan Karaoke, drinking party and hangover day (not teetotaler me -- "...thank God I'm only watching the game -- controlling it"), then go back to Bangkok to find an apartment. I'll be travellig for much of the first couple of months, but nothing new there except a new home base. Moht and I are very excited and can't wait to make the jump.

Finally, this blog's purpose is coming to fruition.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

All my bags are packed I'm ready to go

Airports are ugly. Some are very ugly. Some attain a degree of ugliness that can only be the result of a special effort. This ugliness arises because airports are full of people who are tired, cross, and have just discovered that their luggage has landed in Murmansk (Murmansk airport is the only exception of this otherwise infallible rule), and architects have on the whole tried to reflect this in their designs.

-- Douglas Adams

I'm at the beginning of yet another business trip.  I don't complain about trips because they satisfy the explorer in my soul.  However, airports are a different matter.  Airports are, by their nature, way stations where thousands of people pass through every day.  They can be the starting point to an adventure and the final destination after a grueling journey.  I'm going to list a few of the more memorable airports I've visited.

John F. Kennedy International Airport used to be my least favorite airport.  It is difficult to get to and often traffic can become do bottle necked that a short 45 drive can become a two plus hour nightmare.  More than once I have had to call while stuck in traffic to reschedule a flight that I thought I had plenty of time to get, but missed.

It's also massive and spread out over several acres of land.  There are EIGHT separate terminals connected by a monorail.  Again, if you have connections and need to take the train, give yourself plenty of time.

I said used to be my least favorite.  But they rebuilt the American Airline Terminal (terminal 8) and very nice.  That, combined with the fact that Heathrow has fallen to crap has raised JFK to a tolerable airport.

I hate this place.  It never fails to bring new standards to bad service and horrible layout.  I could spend an entire blog on Heathrow but I just focus on a couple of egregious ones.  They just opened Terminal 5 that they are very proud about.  I don't who designed it, but they obviously didn't think it all the way through.  It is a half hour bus ride from Terminal 1.  You could literally take the express train into downtown London (15 min.) quicker than from Terminal to Terminal.

BAA, who runs the airport does all kinds of crap in the guise of security, but are really cost savings (or income producing) activities.  For a long time, they only allowed one ITEM.  So if you had a purse and a roll-on, you had better fit the purse in the roll-on or you had to check a bag.  They also have the smallest carry-on allocation in the world.  Want to watch frustrated travellers some time?  Watch them miss the size limitation by 1/4 inch.  Too bad, so sad.  Check it.  Finally (not really finally, but it depresses me to even think about it), customer service is atrocious.  They simply don't shiv a git.  Instead of helping you, counter people will gossip with their friends and when you finally get some response, it is generally unhelpful and nasty.  Who needs these guys?

Suvarnabhumi International Airport 
The gateway to the Land of Smiles.  I actually like this airport a lo.  It's huge, but pretty easy to navigate.  The shops are nice, but I understand that there has been a problem with the King Power Duty Free shops.  Some sort of scam where tourists are accused of shop lifting and extorted by the police.  I've never understood the attraction of the duty free shops.  Probably because I don't drink or smoke, but the rest of the stuff does not seem like it's on deal.  There has also been a problem with unauthorized taxis.  But I've seen that in every airport in the world.

The immigration area in ENORMOUS and makes it so much easier to get through than in Don Mueang International (the old airport).  There are two spas (one at each end of the terminal) where you can get a message for a moderate price.  When you're about to begin  20+ hour journey, it's a nice way to start.

One big complaint -- the security area is right before you board the plane, so it is impossible to take any water on to the plane.  This is VERY annoying a little short sighted.  There is one trick however.  If you buy water at the duty free shop, they'll seal it in their plastic and you can get that on the plane.  Make sense?  No, not at all.  Welcome to Thailand.

Hong Kong Airport
The airport in Hong Kong is exactly what you would expect: large clean efficiently laid out.  You can walk the entire length of the terminal in 20 minutes, yet they still have an underground train that will take from end to end.  Immigration is painfully slow, but you still generally beat the bags to the carousel.  They have a decent assortment of restaurants and eateries, from Burger King to noodle joints and sit down dining.  
The only problem with the airport is that is sooooo far from the Island.  That means you have to plan for a long car ride out to the airport (with possible traffic) when leaving.  

Friday, September 18, 2009

Death is nature's way of telling you to slow down

Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and
dreadfull, for, thou art not so

In one crappy week, we lost Henry Gibson, Patrick Swayze, and Mary Travers.  People die all the time and we try not to think about it.  But these three were special people to me.  Henry Gibson, because he was funny at a time in my life when I was beginning to understand what funny was.  Patrick Swayze, because he was as cool and tough as you could be while still being sensitive (plus he was close to my age).  Mary Travers, because as the Mary in Peter, Paul and Mary, sang songs that touch my soul.  Every time I begin a business trip "Leaving on a Jet Plane" rings through my heart and reminds that even though I'm far from those I love, in my heart they're close.

As I move into my second half-century, death seems to be a more constant companion.  My sister-in-law and my mother-in-law both have been diagnosed with cancer, but are taking remarkably different approaches.  My sister-in-law, in California, has an awful prognosis, but is attacking it aggressively and is determined to be remembered for how she lived, not how she died.  My mother-in-law, in Kalasin, Thailand, is, to the best of my understanding, basically ignoring it.  She was taking radiation treatment, but it was painful and so she stopped.  

My wife worries, but insists that there is nothing she can do to get her mother to understand.  I don't know if this is cultural/religious resignment or pure ignorance.  I try to explain that cancer will not go away with a pill (I have found so far that the definition of modern medicine to a farm village in Thailand exists in the form of a pill), but to no avail.  

 I can't dwell on my demise too much because I can't function in the melancholy of impermanence.  But a week like this forces the thoughts inward and reinforces my desire to not put off adventures and plans until I "retire."  To make sure I don't leave issues unresolved with those I care about.

Just keep moving forward in the circle experiencing what I can, learning what I will, loving those that I'm able to.

One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Corporate Transgressions

If you are going to sin, sin against God, not the bureaucracy. God will forgive you but the bureaucracy won't. -- Hyman Rickover
Dealing with what seems to be the turtle slow pain of PepsiCo bureaucracy can be very frustrating at times.  I waited over a week, calling every day for HR to get back to me.  I need some sense of timing so I can move this thing forward.  Today, I sat down with Annette, my HR generalist to go over the details necessary for the move.  She was actually quite nice and seemed helpful.

If I seem qualified it is because in 20 years of dealing with the corporate world I have dealt with exactly ONE HR person who was honest with me.  I don't know what it is with those guys (and gals).  Maybe everyone lies, but my experience is that these guys do it straight faced even if they don't have to.  They'll lie just about anything and with a very sincere and kind smile.  A bit of advice to the naive -- NEVER sit down and have a friendly chat with someone from HR.  It will wind up in a file somewhere and the good stuff never seems to benefit you, but the bad stuff will haunt you forever,  Maybe I've been really unlucky.  Anyway, Annette may be the second honest helpful HR person I've dealt with, but I just met her so time will tell.  

Everything still seems to be on track for a November move, but now it's maybe later in November, possibly early December.  I need to clarify my job description so as to facilitate the offer sheet from ... Compensation & Benefits.  Comp & Ben are the truly evil part of HR.  Even the HR guys are afraid of them.  I wonder what the Thai HR guys are like.  I could definitely see them not being completely forthcoming in order to avoid conflict or to save face.  Maybe this entire 20 year experience was to help prepare me for Thailand.  Ha!  Guess I'll find out soon.  All of this  has to be blessed by the Thai office HR.  Shouldn't be a problem, they won't be paying for me and I won't be reporting to anyone out there.  I just need an office and a phone (which corporate pays for as well).  I met him a couple of months ago, he seemed nice (he also wasn't Thai, an expat from India.

As much as I may rail against them here, in person, I am smiling and cooperative.  I used to be forthright and up front with them, but Rickover was right, they never forgive.  While they can't fire you or hold back your career if your boss is in your corner (and my boss is GREAT), they can make your and her life miserable.  I can handle the pain, but I refuse to put her through it.  She's been great to me, and I owe at least that much.  So, today I'll write up the description and try to keep the process moving forward.  LOS here I come.