I saw Mt. Fuji from the air! :) I love sitting by the window, so I can see the world go by. Generally I see lots of “typical” landscapes, and a lot of clouds. But every now and then you get to see something spectacular, like this! Sorry the photo quality is weak. The skies were very hazy, and this took some pretty heavy processing to get to this point.
Archive for January, 2010
I took an airport shuttle, on my way Seoul for home. It was about 120 degrees in there, and the 70 year old driver was still wearing a jacket and gloves. I guess this is just training for Hawaii. :) This has been a long trip, and I’m anxious to get home…but there’s still a lot of travel yet to come.
I’m writing from the Korean Air lounge, where I’ve had a spot of breakfast, and will be boarding shortly. I’ll check back in from Tokyo.
Last Saturday morning I got up, finished packing, and took a bus to the airport. I met-up at the airport with a friend from college who I hadn’t seen in probably a decade. We took a local train to Narita-san. There’s a big temple on top of the mountain, with a gazillion vendors at the bottom, mostly selling food.
I made it safely to Seoul on Wednesday morning. We took a red-eye flight out of Hong Kong, arriving just after 05:00. After gathering bags and getting through customs, we waited about 20 minutes for a bus to take us into Seoul. There are some buses that stop at only hotels, and some that stop only at subway stations. We took a bus to the subway station just a couple blocks away from our hotel, the Provista Hotel. We dragged our bags through the bitter cold and got checked-in, even at such an early hour; very nice of them. They didn’t even charge us for an extra night!
I got some work done and crashed for a couple hours before heading out for business and dinner. Time was tight, so we grabbed a sandwich at Subway for lunch. The menu was identical to the US menu, and the meatballs tasted like I remember them. It snowed a good bit. Not a whole lot stuck, and it turned to rain by the evening. Meetings were good, but cold. Many office buildings here don’t have central heat. They have big in-room HVAC units, and their tolerance for cold is higher than mine. Brrrr. Dinner was some OUTSTANDING Korean BBQ (it’s actually “grilling” not “BBQ”, but I digress). We had beef this time. In the past I’ve always had pork, which was rather fatty. That made it messy to cook and eat. The beef was heavily marbled, but grilled down nicely and was just delicious. I also tried mixing soju (mild distilled liquor) with beer. While I’ve never liked beer “bombs” before, the soju added some nice sweetness to the dry lager.
I got back to the room around 9:00, had a conference call at 23:00 with folks in Europe and the US, then worked till well after 01:00. Thursday is a full day with customers.
Off to the races…
Apparently my red beard is screaming “I’m a foreigner, please rip me off” louder than usual today.
I crossed the border from Hong Kong to Shenzhen, and managed to come out a different door than I usually do. I think they may have re-arranged a bit since my last visit. So anyway, I’m looking for the taxi stand an don’t see any signs. There’s a cop standing a few feet away, so I asked him where it was. He asked where I was going, and when I told him he said “wait right here”. My antenna immediately went up, but hey…it’s a cop, right? So this guy comes running over and says “this way” and reaches for my bag.
I follow him around the corner, then into a parking garage to some shuttle buses. I figure maybe the guy drives a bigger shuttle but doesn’t have a client. Nope, we walk out the other side of the garage onto a nearly empty side street. At this point I pull out my trusty translator and said “wait, how much?” He asks where I’m going and types into his cell phone 250 RMB. I hit the stratosphere. I literally shouted at him “WHAT?!?” I knew I was less than a mile from the hotel, and that was an outrageous number. He was obviously shocked that I was so outraged, and asked me how much I wanted to pay. I just took my bag back and walked away. He ended-up following me back to the station and pointing me towards the taxi stand. I’m not sure if he felt remorse, or was afraid I might turn him in to somebody. In any case, I waited in line for a “real” taxi, and made it safely to my hotel for 13 RMB. Yea, this punk (in cahoots with the cop) was trying to take me for 19x the proper rate. What a scam.
I should never have gone with the guy in the first place, but I’m very glad I confronted him about the price before we got to his “taxi”. Unless you really know what you’re doing, stick with government approved taxis, and be sure they use the meter. That’s true whether you’re around the corner from your house, or around the world.
PS On my way to the taxi stand, I stop to buy a Coke at the 7/11. The guy rings it up at 4 RMB, just like the shelf said. I hand him 4 RMB, he kinda rolls the change back in his hand and gestures with his other hand that I owe him more money. I looked at him very confused, pointed to the 4 RMB on the register, pointed to his hand which he opened and I spread out the four 1 RMB coins. Sheesh.
Thursday was uneventful. The highlights were food. :) I’m not sure how the Japanese came to love curry, but they seem to eat a lot of it in “fast” food. At lunch today I had pork curry, with a panko breaded pork cutlet, served over rice. Good stuff.
My colleague and I had dinner at a good Italian restaurant adjacent to our hotel. The spaghetti and meat sauce was really quite good, but it was a small portion for $12. It wasn’t much larger than the side of pasta you’d get with an Italian entree in the US. Food prices seem generally high here, but maybe it’s just the weak US$. When I was last in Japan (2002), we were trading at 135 yen to the dollar. Today we’re at 90 (-33%). If the pasta had been $8, I would have thought it to be much more reasonable. I hope Congress stops ratcheting up our national debt, so I’ll be able to afford more than cat food on future trips.
One thing you may not have thought about if you’ve not been out of the US a lot is that it can actually be quite tiring just listening to people talk all day. When people are talking in English, you brain can filter out other conversations pretty well. But when they’re not speaking English, your brain is constantly trying to process the sound, and it wears you down. It’s not “I ran a marathon” tired, but it’s noticeable.
Here are some photos of/from my hotel room. It’s the smallest room I’ve ever stayed in. There are no drawers for your clothes, and not even a luggage stand for your bag. The “desk” is deep enough for my laptop, but that’s about it. Notice that the bed touches two walls, with about 1′ gap on the end. The only usable side of the bed is so close to the desk that I have to turn sideways in my chair to stand-up. It’s convenient to be so close to the convention center, but I next time I’ll look for a place with bigger rooms. This would be fine for one night, but it’s very cramped for four.
Wednesday was a long one. The nap never happened, so I was awake from 03:30 till just after midnight. The trade show was brutal. There was no carpet on the concrete floor, which is tough on the feet for such a long time. The Japanese are so safety conscious, I’m honestly surprised that they’re not required to have some sort of other flooring. Oh well. So good meetings at the show, then off to a great little Japanese restaurant for dinner, then the bar across the street for a nightcap.
I was very glad to be able to sleep in today! I’m feeling rested and ready to take on the day.
An early alarm had me up at 06:40 for a shower and last minute packing. The car showed-up early, at 07:40, and waited patiently till I was ready. Being MLK Day, the roads were nearly empty and we made record time to the airport. There were no lines at security. I literally walked right-up to the TSA agent who checked my ID; at 9:00…felt very strange.
I’m off to the airport! Today I’m flying from Atlanta to Tokyo, non-stop. Thankfully I was able to get an upgrade on this flight, so I’ll be rather comfortable for the 15 hour flight. I’ll be on a Northwest 747, in their World Business Class. They’re not “lie flat” seats, but on a plane I sleep better in a recliner anyway. No flight this long is “easy”, but I know I’ll get no sympathy from you knowing that I’ll be on the upper deck. :)
I like this route, as I get to see lots of the Canadian mountains, and I’ve even seen Mount Rainer from the air. Hopefully the weather will cooperate so we’ll gave good views today, too.