Thursday, May 7, 2009

Airplanes, Sushi and Beer

It's been a while since I posted anything. I've been keeping pretty busy at work. In the last two weeks, I've been to Kochi, India, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Yokohama, Japan.

The trip to India was interesting. We've opened a small office there doing work supporting my department in Singapore. I've got one of my guys stationed out there training and supervising a few Indian engineers. They've been operating for about eight months now and we're finally at a point where the office is paying for itself.

Visiting India was a first for me. I arrived at the small Kochi airport late on a Tuesday night. I was told that a driver had been arranged to take me on the 35 minute drive to my hotel. As I walk outside, there is a guy standing there holding a sign with my name on it. It turns out that Tuesday was a holiday, so the usual ABS driver hadn't been sent. The replacement driver wasn't exactly what I expected.

When I said 'Hello', he took my bag and smiled the, "I don't know English" smile. We started walking across the parking lot, right up to a 25 year old Datsun that was about the size of a large doghouse. He tried to put my small suitcase into the trunk, but it doesn't fit because the huge speakers he'd installed take up so much room. Thankfully, he kept the radio off during the trip. If Indian music came blaring out of those things while I was in the back seat, my head may have exploded.

So, I squeeze into the the back of this clown car and we start our way toward the city and my hotel. The roads (and I use that term loosely) that we took we not exactly the main roads in town. We're driving at 11:30pm through deserted old neighborhoods and construction sites. I'd like to ask my driver if this is the only way to town, but of course, we can't communicate. After about 20 minutes of this, I start to wonder if I'll ever see my family again. I never thought I'd die by getting mugged in India, but at least my obit would be interesting.

Out of nowhere, we pull out of an ally into a bustling town center type of intersection. Not two minutes later, we pull up to a metal gate in the middle of a large brick wall. Thankfully, the sign says, "The Gateway Hotel" on the wall. As we pull through, the car is stopped by two very serious looking security guards. They check with a mirror under the car and in the trunk for bombs and weapons before they let us through. It turns out that the Gateway is owned by Taj Hotels. That's the same company who's hotel was attacked by Pakistani terrorists in India a few months ago. They take security very seriously now.

The hotel itself was actually very nice. The service, room and food were all wonderful and I'd definitely recommend it to anyone.

There's not much to say about the office there. It's an office with engineers in it. If you've seen "Office Space" just imagine the same thing, except everyone is a bit darker in color and talks kinda funny.

As far as a country, I can't say I was impressed. The major impression you get after you visit India for the first time is, "Gee, it would look a lot nicer if everyone would just spend 20 minutes picking up the garbage." It's not that there were any huge piles of trash laying around, but everywhere you looked, there was trash on the ground. If it wasn't plastic bags, or papers, it was broken concrete pieces. I can't quite describe it right. I've been in places with worse poverty. It wasn't just that there wasn't enough money available to fix what needed fixing. It was that it seemed that no one cared. If I owned a storefront on the main street, the sidewalk in front of my store would be clean. All it would take is 10 minutes a day. Pick up the trash, sweep up, maybe a coat of paint every few years. Not here. It was kind of depressing. India just struck me as a country with a lot of potential that will never be realized. All of the best motivated people get out as soon as they can. Guess what that leaves behind.

The next trip was to Malaysia. This was a quick one day visit for a meeting with an oil company. They are planning on building a new offshore facility and a few of us from ABS had a meeting with them to talk about the project and explain our services. The meeting went well and I expect that we have a good chance at getting the job. One thing I was looking forward to was getting some local food while I was in Malaysia. We were only going to have time for lunch, but our Country Manager was taking us out to eat. The great local lunch I was looking forward to turned out to be....The Hard Rock Cafe. At least it was a respectable burger.

The last trip was to Japan. It's the third time I've been there this year. I really know my way around Narita airport at this point. Kind of like the trip to Malaysia, this was another instance of trying to win a contract for a new project. I could go on about the business parts of this trip but it would be boring for just about everyone (including myself). The only thing I'll say is that this would be one of the biggest single contracts that my company has ever signed and it looks like we're going to get the job.

On the way back toward Yokohama (the meeting was in Tokyo), the Japanese business manager I was with asked if we wanted dinner to celebrate the successful meeting. "Sure," I say. "What do you have in mind?"

"How about the CEO's favorite sushi restaurant? It's not a fancy place, but it's good."

"Let's go!" I say.

It turns out that this place is in the middle of the Yokohama fish market. It's tucked into a little spot and seats about a dozen people. As we're sitting down, my host says that reservations usually require 2 weeks. We just got lucky and they squeezed us in because we're good clients.

As this place is in the middle of the local fish market, they get the best selection in the city. Trust me, if you like sushi, this was good stuff. We started out with a small, mixed sashimi plate and moved on from there. Maybe a dozen different items. We washed everything down with a few bottles of sake and needless to say, this was a great meal. I was thoroughly impressed...until I saw the bill. Quality doesn't come cheap, my friends. But it's definitely worth it for a one time treat.

After the late flight back from Japan the next day, I had plans to go to "Beerfest Asia 2009" in Singapore. I wasn't quite sure what to expect because beer in Singapore tends to be overpriced and short on quality. While Beerfest wasn't exactly like the movie (which I loved), it turned out to be a pretty good time.

I met my friend Kris at the entrance around 4:30. I was supposed to be there by 4:00, but I'd taken the subway and it took longer than I thought it would. Kris had already bought tickets, so in we went. The set up was basically a huge tent with beer vendors all around three of the walls. The 4th wall had a pretty big stage set up for the concert planned for that evening.

Kris and I wandered around before we settled in at a table with a beer. After about 3 more, we decided it was time to take a walk and see if there was anything else going on at the other side of the tent. After he'd kicked my butt at a very quick game of foosball, we stopped at an Austrian vendor to see what they had. Of the 9 or 10 beers they had listed, I picked the one I thought looked the most interesting. I should have looked at the prices first. She quickly opened and poured it for me and then told me the price. S$26. Yup. That's about $17usd. For one beer. When I opened my mouth to complain, she told me she thought I knew and pointed at my hand. It was sitting on the price list that I hadn't even noticed. S$26 in big red letters. Damn. At least it was good. At 12% alcohol, it was more of a barley wine than a beer. A bit too sweet though.

After that experience, Kris and I decided to sit back down and drink a few cheap local beers until the concert started. I was looking forward to the concert because the band was one I'd actually been to see before in Houston and liked. Vertical Horizon.

Later, on the way back from recycling some of the beer I'd been drinking, I saw the band making their way toward the stage from behind the tent. I took the opportunity to work my way to the front of the 'standing only' crowd, right in front of center stage. I got there just as they dimmed the lights and the band took stage.

The show was awesome and I (after 4 hours of beer) was feeling like a college kid again. I was singing along with the band and jumping around like an idiot (and like everyone else) in the crowd.

Let me tell you what I learned the next day. I'm not a college kid any more. I'm an old, old man who can't handle his beer and should be in bed with a nice book by 10pm. I can't believe Melissa puts up with me. I was basically luggage for the remainder of the day on Sunday. It took a lot of effort to keep from climbing back into bed. Instead, Jack and I did some errands and went for a swim. I guess this is a good reminder that there's a big difference between being 25 and 35.

After that busy two weeks, I'm looking forward to things quieting down. Unfortunately, next week is my company's annual technical meeting and it's in Singapore this year. This means next week is full of meeting and business dinners. In an effort to try to relax a bit, Melissa, Jack and I are going to take long weekend vacation starting on Saturday. Jack's school has Monday and Tuesday off, so we're jumping on the ferry to Indonesia and spending the long weekend at Club Med. I have to head back a day early for meetings, but I'm looking forward to three days of umbrella drinks and sandcastles.


Joe said...

Great post man!

Andy said...

LOL...Isn't Carter Beauford in that band?