In Beijing

We safely made it to Beijing today, arriving about 7am after a restless redeye from Singapore. Given the choice between catching up on some sleep and seeing a few sights before our 2pm meeting, we chose to head to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Our rooms weren't ready in any case, so this was an easy decision.

There's a lot to say about Beijing - more than I have time to write tonight. A few random thoughts are in order though:

  • The weather is brisk, sort of like a late winter / early spring day in the midwest plains (like Omaha). Today the skies were clear blue but it was very windy. In the summer, these winds often result in sandstorms from the Mongolian plains.
  • Compared to Singapore and KL, Beijing is very culturally homogenous. We stand out like sore thumbs here.
  • English is clearly not a priority here (nor should it be for most, of course) - taxi drivers in particular speak zero to little English. The kind hotel stuff were helpful here, writing down instructions in Chinese for us to hand to the tax drivers. That still didn't help in one case as we drove around for over an hour looking for our partner's office building. The driver had to ask for directions four times.
  • There are cranes everywhere - perhaps in preparation for the summer Olympics? Reminds of when I was in Barcelona in 1990.
  • There's lots of greenery in the city - for example, many of the major thoroughfares are lined with trees.
  • Bicycles are everywhere. I read that over half of the world's bicycles can be found in China.
  • These folks understand capitalism. I'll explain later how efficient they are at separating tourists from their RMBs.
  • Summary - this is a beautiful city, with beautiful people, and I'd love to have more time to explore it in depth.

Tomorrow is all-day business meetings, and I'm staying through Saturday to allow time to see the great wall.

In Transit to Beijing

I am sitting in the Singapore Air lounge in Singapore right now, waiting for my flight to Beijing. It is about midnight here, and we arrive around 7am. Things went well in KL - we had a great customer conference and I was able to spend some valuable time with our integration partner based in KL.

Scott, Trevor, Chris, and John having dinner in Chinatown in KL.

The days and nights were fairly busy after the first day, so the tourist activities were limited to one evening spent wandering around Chinatown looking for some good shopping deals and having dinner.

Depending on how much rest we get on the flight to Beijing, we may be able to go see the palace before our first business meeting at 2pm.

A not-so-great view of the crowded market in Chinatown in KL.

Day 1 in KL

After a breakfast here in the hotel this morning, I went for a stroll to see what is near the hotel. I wandered into the KLCC shopping complex, a very modern western-style mall with an interesting mix of local flavor and name- brand stores. I managed to resist the Starbucks - who needs a hot latte when it is 90 deg outside?

My friend Trevor took some time out of his Sunday to get me acquainted with the area. We talked for a while about our business plans for the week, then proceeded to visit some of the tourist spots near my hotel.

The twin Petronas towers.

Trevor has a new office (he shares with our regional partner) in one of the Petronas towers, so we took the elevator up to the 50th floor for some fantastic views.

Trevor and I hopped in a taxi to go see the Menara Kuala Lumpur, a very impressive telecommunications tower. At the top I listened to an audio tour that describes the skyline from various vantage points.

View of Dataran Merdeka (Merdeka Square) from Menara Kuala Lumpur.

One of the interesting views was of Dataran Merdeka, named after the Malay word for independence. You can see the very large flagpole to the left of the field - it was here at midnight on August 31, 1957 that the Union Jack was lowered for the last time and Malaysia (then Malaya) became an independent state.

Another view of the Petronas towers. To the right (the big white complex) is the KLCC shopping center. To the right of that is the Mandarin Oriental hotel, where I am staying.

The rains come like clockwork here each day around 3-4pm. At 3:15pm today, a tropical thunderstorm rolled through. As of 5:00pm, it is mostly clear again.

Portland to KL

Yesterday (2 days ago?) I made the long journey from Portland to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I departed PDX about 9:45am on Friday morning, flying to SFO. Thanks to United's much improved wireless access (thanks TMobile) I was able to catch up on quite a bit of work in the Red Carpet lounges in both PDX and SFO. At about 1pm I boarded the 747-400 in SFO to fly to Shanghai, China. It has been over three years since I did a flight of this length - over 14 hours.

We arrived in Shanghai about 6pm local time (did you know that all of China has the same time zone?) - this is where some confusion set in. The kind flight attendants on the United flight assured me that I wouldn't have to clear customs in China if I was simply transferring to another international flight (turns out I was the only one on this flight doing so!). So I didn't bother to fill out the immigration and customs paperwork. The agent that processed my check-in at PDX had been a bit ambiguous about what would happen to my luggage in Shanghai; I think it is unusual for people to connect to China Eastern.

Upon departing the plane, I was pretty worried about my luggage and I had a couple of hours, so I proceeded to baggage claim to see if it showed up there. Of course it did, so I grabbed it and tried to follow the signs to international transfers. The agent there insisted that I need to go through customs and check in upstairs at the desk. I am heading to Beijing after my stay in KL, so I have a Chinese visa in my passport - this made clearing immigration and customs very straightforward. But what if I didn't have a visa (which would have been the case if I had only been traveling to KL)? I was able to check in for my flight, but before heading to the gate I had to come up with an airport tax of 90 Yuan RMB. This seemed much more complicated than it needed to be, and I'm still wondering if there was a way to deal with this without passing through immigration.

Still, I made it to KL without a hitch, arriving at 2:15am local time, and finally arriving at my hotel around 4:00am. I had managed to sleep for about 6 hours total on my two flights (over a 24 hour period), so I didn't need a ton of sleep. This was good, as my rest was, well, restless but at least I managed 3 hours of sleep.

We are in the tropics here, so things are quite warm, and I woke up to a fairly hazy Sunday morning. Today is a day of rest and, hopefully, some recreation with my colleague Trevor who is stationed here.

Family Gaming

Julie's mom Jan was in town for most of the week, which is spring break for the kids. Papa David also arrived in town today, and Jan/David headed for the coast for an overnight stay. Tomorrow morning I head to Malaysia and China for about a week for some business travel. I'm taking the new camera with me so needed to empty the pictures off the memory card. Here are some of the results!

One of Matthew's favorite pastimes - lounging on the recliner while watching a soap opera.

I recently picked up a copy of Union Pacific from my friend KC - a remake of the great game Airlines that I was able to play about a year ago with Doug and Mimi. We are all very fond of these stock acquisition games (very reminiscent of Acquire), so this was a winner. Jacob gives it a 9, Matthew an 8.