Monday, July 23, 2007

OK ... I've Had Enough Rain

OK ... so it seems like it hasn't rained for about six months ... hello, this is the desert! But this past month it has been pretty hot ... about 20+ days where the high was over 110 degrees ... and wasn't even really a dry heat. We have been looking forward to the rain so much and it finally hit us today. The past week spot thundershowers hit various parts of the Phoenix valley but none came near our house. We got a few "blow & go" storms ... big swirls of dust and wind to make us go inside but no rain. Today we got our first good rainstorm and right after the "Monsoon" season officially began. When the humidity gets above 55 percent for three consecutive days is the official beginning of our summer storm season. We can expect about another four weeks of stormy weather not knowing from day to day whether it is our neighborhood that will get hit with a thunderstorm or the worst thing a "Haboo"!

The Haboo is a pretty amazing sight. It does not happen too often but about once every 2-3 years a wall of dust and dirt rises up to a mile in the sky and it can stretch for 10-20 miles across and it looks like a wall moving across the valley. If you have seen the movie "The Mummy" you saw a Haboo there swallowing the plane. It's like that here as well when the Haboo moves through your area it envelopes everything and leaves a dusty dirty place behind. It does not seem to be really damaging ... unless you are caught on the highway ... it's just a big blow & go ... but it is one of the amazing sights you will ever see!

I've attached a few photos of our backyard after the storm today looking over the back fence at the golf course and then one of Fran grilling dinner. All for now.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Some China Stories: Beijing in April 2004

My experience in China in April of 2004 was actually quite limited ... 3 days in Beijing and 3 days in Shanghai and virtually all my communication was with Honeywell China based personnel but I did have several interesting and sometimes funny experiences that I have not written down so if you will bear with me I'll put some memories to paper ...

I had one young sales manager who was basically assigned to me for the week by the local Honeywell management. He was there to help me with local language issues and to make sure I got to where I needed to go. Not in a micro manage sense but the big things ... like get to the right hotel, make sure I could find the local office, and to help with office translation as I was often speaking to 10-20 people at a time most who had limited English language ability. He was also there to report back to his boss if people were paying attention to me ... and I'm sure whether I was conveying useful information to the local Chinese sales teams. I got the sense that he felt it was a big deal for him to be assigned to support an American. First in Beijing and then in Shanghai my 'assistant' and I got to speak more freely and he was able to open up and tell me what a big deal this was for him ... to be able to travel between Beijing and Shanghai. He had to have special permission to travel between political jurisdictions ... it seemed this type of travel was forbidden otherwise. And this was just for travel ... let alone wanting to move to another area within the country. He smiled wistfully when we spoke of the freedom of travel between states in the USA or between countries in the European Union. I did not realize how tightly the Chinese controlled movement but with 1.3B people it is far easier to have order when you inhibit movement.

This story brings back memories of when Fran and I were tutoring English as a second language back in South Bend, Indiana in 1990 and I had a young female student who's husband was studying for his PhD in computer science ... she had her masters in computer science. We spent a year together and she picked up English quite nicely. She asked so many questions for things that we often take for granted ... how do we number highways? ... what are zip codes? ... what are area codes? ... how many types of political jurisdictions do we have (county, town, city, state, country, etc)? But the point of the story is that they had to leave their 3 year old baby at home for three years while they came to the US to study. It was to guarantee their return to China. Things changed dramatically during the 1990s as they were able to be reunited with their child and subsequently moved to Chicago ... we still get Christmas cards from them.

In Beijing I had a day to myself and I signed up for a tour of the Great Wall. It was AWESOME! $50 for an eight hour tour ... including lunch. I had a delightful young lady as the tour guide and she spoke excellent English. There were about eight of us on the tour ... our first stop was unscheduled ... the "Official" Chinese Jade Manufacturing Company. We walked into a little store front and the guides inside showed us about four extremely hard working Chinese workers dutifully shaving and sanding and polishing Jade jewelry and ornaments ... showing us every step of the process ... giving me the impression that it took these four workers about an eight hour shift to produce but a few pieces for sale to the public. After about 30 minutes of that we rounded the corner and it opened up into a giant room filled floor to ceiling with unbelievable amounts of Jade ornaments, statues, and artwork. It was incredible! They must have had an army of workers out back ... cause it wasn't those four workers in front who did this! I bought a very nice warrior horse representing one of the four types of horses favored by an ancient warrior emperor.

Now on to the Great Wall! Well ... almost, we got half way there when we stopped at the "Official" Chinese Porcelain Bowl Manufacturing Company. Same deal as the jade place ... four workers up front taking sheet copper, using a wooden mallet to pound the metal into a bowl shape around a mandrel, then 1,000 little hits making the copper conform to the mandrel, followed by 12 coats of porcelain each with a separate kiln firing, and then final finishing and painting. It made me exhausted thinking that these four workers could maybe turn out four bowls a day from their one furnace ... then we turned the corner ... you got it ... a huge room ... a warehouse filled floor to ceiling with the most gorgeous pottery you have ever seen. Little bowls, big bowls, ornate bowls, plain bowls. I bought a beautiful porcelain bowl that sits with my jade horse in our living room. Lunch was on the second floor of the building. A five course affair of delicious food.

Now on to the Great Wall! Well ... almost, we were almost there and we stopped at a location where many of the emperors from the last 3,000 years were buried. Incredible buildings and sights. The most impressive building was held up by tree trunks a 1,000 years old! These trunks were well over 60 feet high and 10-12 feet in diameter and straight as an arrow. The architect of the building specified these trees as the only way that this great building could be built. One small engineering challenge ... the trees only grew in southern China ... over a 1,000 miles away. But like many things in China's history, when the emperor wanted something he gathered enough people and made them do it. There were about 20 of these huge tree pillars each the height of a five story building and they had to be carried, pushed, and floated for over 1,000 miles ... it must have been an incredible sight!

Now on to the Great Wall! Yes, we finally made it. The wall ... its pretty big. If it was hard to picture moving those 20 trees 1,000 miles now I'm looking at a stone wall several thousand miles long 20-30 feet thick and 30-80 feet high and built over 1,000 years ago. But the invasions by the Mongols must have provided plenty of incentive to build the wall so over a period of a few hundred years and with the blood and sweat of over 1,000,000 slave laborers the wall was built. I was able to climb over about a 1 mile stretch of the wall as it traversed steep hills and ravines ... it basically follows the nape of the earth. Sometimes the climb is so steep it took my breath away! At one point I was stopped by a large crowd and they one by one gave me their babies to hold so they could take pictures of me holding their children and with my arms around them. The line was five deep at one point. They loved it. Not sure why but I'm sure they didn't get to see many foreigners and I had a good time sharing a smile and a laugh with them.
After the Great Wall! After climbing around the big wall I thought our tour guide would bring us back to the hotel ... but there was one more stop. The official Chinese herbal medicine center. Seriously, we were brought to a "hospital" with multiple buildings in a compound. It was actually quite pretty and had multiple pictures of "eminent" doctors who had discovered various treatments to benefit the citizens of China. We were asked to choose between viewing the displays and pictures among the halls or to have an opportunity to talk with one of the eminent doctors. Naturally I wanted to meet one of the doctors ... we were led to a small room with little tiny wooden chairs where we waited for about 20 minutes and a nurse who spoke english entered. She asked for a volunteer from among the 10 or so in the room and when no one stepped foreward I raised my hand and became the doctors first "patient". I went to the front of the room and was introduced to the doctor who had a long robe and a long white beard and sat down across from him. He held my hand looking at my palm and asked me if I was feeling any back pain ... well after travelling across the world, visiting the jade and porcelain factories, climbing across the great wall and then spending about 20 minutes on a smal wooden bench I had to admit my back was feeling a little sore. Long story short ... he offered to send to America a special blend of herbs guaranteed to remove impurities and cleanse my kidneys and solve my back pain ... for $50 per month ... and they take Visa. I politely declined and after a short while ended back up at my hotel with some great memories. To this day ... I wonder if the eminent doctor really had something that would make my back feel better ... :-)

That's all for now. Hope you enjoyed the stories. It was fun writing them down.

Next installment ... Shanghai!

Some China Stories:

July 2007: Turns out I'm heading back to China on August 3rd for a week stay in a city called "Tianjin" just outside of Beijing.

I was in Beijing and Shanghai for about one week and in India for a week several years ago. Pretty interesting ... between the two countries China (1.3B people) and India (1.0B people) they contain about 38% of the world's 6B population. U.S. is the third largest at about 0.3B population and represents about 5% of the world's population. Contrast that with the respective gross national product (a measure of wealth) of the countries; U.S. at about $13Trillion, China at $2.3Trillion and India at about $0.8Trillion. So with 5% of the world's population we have over four times the wealth of China and India combined and they collectively have almost eight times our population.

I've also spent some time in Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan, and Australia and I think it is fair to say ... with the exception of Australia, Korea, Japan, and Singapore, the Asian countries have a long way to go to meet what we or the Europeans would consider acceptable levels of water quality, available electricity, roads, schooling for their children, adequate housing, etc. It is absolutely staggering to see the levels of poverty that exist in these countries and yet in the midst of the poverty is a fast rising middle class and an even faster super rich class driving the globalization of their major industries.

It is quite exciting to watch these giant countries find their way forward as their populations become more educated and their standards of living increase. Contrast that with many of the European countries and Japan where populations are shrinking and populations are aging rapidly. It is no wonder that the U.S. is reaching out to China and India so strongly as when we look 20 years from now the countries that will be replacing our European partners in terms of population are currently the source of much of the world's angst ... Pakistan, Indonesia, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Iran ... and they will increase rapidly to represent 20% of the global population, they are all impoverished and they are all being radicalized. In 20 years we will be down to about 4.3% of global population.

A very interesting and very disturbing phenomenon that is very apparent when overseas looking at the U.S. is the fact that for all the good we do globally and the tremendous influence that we have on virtually every country in the world ... and with all our wealth and education and military strength we spend very little time and effort trying to truly understand other nations ... at least not nearly at the level they try to understand us. My goodness ... a good example of this is the fact that we have over 20% of our population in the southern U.S. is of Hispanic origin and we can't even be bothered to learn Spanish in our schools or study their cultures.

I am absolutely fascinated by this topic as well as global energy ... but that is a whole different story that gets pushed off the national discussion ... to talk about Paris Hilton.