Two little trips before the big trip

Starting music: Various Artists - The Rough Guide to the Music of China

It's been a while since my last post. I'm very sorry to all those who've been holding their breath. You may exhale now.

Last week was a week of travel. Small travel compared to what's ahead, but it did involve jet planes. I had three days of meetings in Phoenix, both getting up to speed on the plans for Beijing and wrapping up my current work projects. I won't discuss details, of course, since I signed a contract that involves not divulging the company's confidential information. Still, I got to meet some of the people I've been working with for years, as well as some who will be involved in my future work. It was warm there (for what little time I was outdoors), and the hotel's noisy air conditioner made sleep a challenge. Oddly enough, there was very little of the "play hard" that goes with the "work hard" I'm used to. What has happened to my employer?

I got home from Phoenix late Thursday night, and Saturday, D & I took off for a couple days in San Francisco. This was our last chance to do something together before I leave, since D is taking a class this fall and will likely be busy for the next few weeks. We stayed at a hotel in San Jose (it was actually cheaper to stay there and get a rental car than it was to stay in SF without a car). The car we ended up with was a 2006 Subaru Outback, so we got to compare the new model to our good old 2001 edition. Executive summary: it's a very good car, with lots of little improvements over ours.

On Sunday we drove to Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay and spent some time at the annual Dragon Boat Festival. They have dozens of teams from all over the world racing traditional Chinese boats. OK, they're made of fiberglass these days, but mimic traditional designs. We were confused by the fact that there were quite a few teams from Portland, Oregon, but none from Seattle. In addition to the boat races, there were acrobats, dancers, food booths, and recruiters for the US Marines. D found a great place to have breakfast, Stacks in Menlo Park, and we ate there on both Sunday and Monday. For such a busy place they do an amazing job at getting food out to you quickly. And it's great food too. We also ate at a San Jose hangout, the Falafel Drive-In, with tasty Middle Eastern food.

For reading on the plane, I plowed through The Great Wall of China, a good, if somewhat dated, book by one of my favorite authors, Robert Silverberg. I've written a bit about it here. Coincidence that I'd read about Chinese history? Not really. It was one of the Silverberg books I hadn't read before, and I wanted to read it while I had the chance, since I don't own a copy of it. After I finished that, a little browsing at the airport bookstore resulted in the purchase of part one of the Flights collection, which features another Silverberg work, this one a story called The Sorcerer's Apprentice. Just don't call me obsessive.

As far as preparations go, I've checked off a couple items: doctor, immunizations, dentist, optometrist, and so on. As further preparation, the Seattle Public Library conveniently came up with The Rough Guide to the Music of China, subtitled "ancient traditions to Beijing punk", which sums it up pretty nicely. There are some interesting sounds there, and I'm looking forward to hearing more of it closer to the source. I am nothing if not a musical omnivore, and my appetite has yet to find its limit.

Ending music: Various Artists - Princess Nicotine: Folk and Pop Sounds of Myanmar (Burma) Vol. 1


In which your host wanders off track and eats a burger made from a sacred cow

A couple years ago I encountered the "wisdom" of William Arpaia. I won't cover his history — do a search if you're inclined. One of his "quips" went something like this: Everything I need in life can be found in my own back yard. This led me to think that one of many ways you can characterize people on a fundamental level is those who find comfort in their established ways and see no need to look further vs. those who look beyond and wonder what other ways might be like.

I think back to one of the great epiphanies of my life. I think it must have been in junior high school — say the early 70s. We were studying mythology, Egyptian, Greek, Norse, and so on. It suddenly occurred to me that the people in those ancient societies were every bit as sincere in their beliefs as most Americans are in their Christianity. Same goes for other cultural things like diet, attire, and behavior.

Anyway, at that point in my life I felt a shift within my mind. The world is full of billions of people, and they all have different ways of living, thinking, and believing. And there is no objective criteria to say my ways of living, thinking, or believing are any better than any of the billions of others. I know now that I stumbled upon what is often called Cultural Relativity, a concept that seems to be reviled among American conservatives, who apparently take it as a given that their ways are automatically better than anyone else's. Once I found myself with this new attitude, I suppose there were different ways I could react. I could have huddled in my room and shivered in fear of all the strangeness out there. I could have opted for what is generally termend "tolerance" of other ways. But to me tolerance has a rather negative connotation. When you tolerate something, you put up with it even though you don't like it. That is not at all how I felt. I'm fascinated by differences — I think they're what makes human life so interesting.

(As an aside, this is a large part of what drew me to science fiction, with its exploration of alien societies and hypothetical human ones.)

I'm not so blindly self-confident that I believe my fascination with human diversity will shield me from the culture shock that lies in my near future. I expect there will be difficulties. But in a way, I'm looking forward to that as well. I am confident it will all make me a better human being. As different as we all are, I really believe that the more we get to know each other, the more we'll find we have in common, in spite of superficial differences. Call me a fool for believing something like that if you like, but I think it's true.


Another step closer

Seems like it's been a long time coming, though I know it's really only a few days...

My contract arrived express delivery today. Last chance to step away from the precipice — like I'm going to do that now!

I've only made a bit of progress in preparation, mainly in informing people about the plans. Everyone has been very supportive so far, and several have expressed envy or something like admiration. (I'm exaggerating a bit, it was actually "You're a braver man than I!") My parents were very thrilled about it, though they don't expect they'll want to visit there. My sister recently moved to Canada, and they have been to her place. But China is like a distant planet to them, and I didn't expect they would come all that way. Maybe we'll arrange to meet halfway sometime — they've always wanted to visit Hawaii.

The plans also passed the Mother-in-Law Test. No "You're abandoning my daughter!" No "How dare you!" More like jaw-drop "You're going where?"

Many other friends and relatives have responded to the email announcement with offers to help out D while I'm away. She will not lack for company while I'm away.

In other preparation news, I installed Skype on my laptop, and we bought some headsets to use with it. I bought a Creative Zen Vision M 30GB mp3/video player and have loaded a bit of music and some photos onto it. I shopped around and liked the Zen better than the comparable iPod.

Enough for now. If you haven't fallen asleep from boredom yet, I don't want to push my luck any further.

Music: Toccata - Circe


Not the beginning

Location: Seattle, Washington, USA.

I'm starting this blog to chronicle my adventures in China. I don't have the exact date when I'll be going, but even if it's not till October, it will be upon me in a flash. To set the stage, I'll back up a bit. Please excuse the ridiculous detail. I'm just amazed by the whole thing still, so feel the urge to document it.

A few weeks ago, I heard a rumor that my former boss, JW, would be relocating to Beijing as the #2 man in Ticketmaster's new office for the Olympics in 2008. It had been officially announced that his former boss, CL, was going to be in charge of the operation. A few days after that, JW sent me an email asking me if I had a job description for my position. I didn't (since things keep getting reorganized around me), but referred him to someone who might, and asked him why he wanted it. He replied that CL was going to be hiring a programmer for China.

A day or two later, JW sent me the document that describes my current job and asked what I thought would need to change for China. I offered a few suggestions.

A few days after that, CL sent out the official announcement of the Beijing team as it was shaping up, including JW. At the bottom was the notification that they would be hiring a programmer. It's probably no surprise that I was already thinking about the possibility by this point, but just didn't know how it could work out given my obligations and life here in Seattle.

I showed the announcement to my wife (D), and to my surprise she said I should go for it. It's an opportunity that's too exciting to pass up, and whatever difficulty came up, we would figure something out. I was amazed. It's just so wonderful that she would feel that way.

I told JW I was interested and that D had given her blessing, and he suggested I email CL about this. CL replied a few hours later that he would like to talk to me and set up an appointment for the following Monday.

He called about 15 minutes late and appologized - he had been busy packing up all the accumulated stuff in his office in Phoenix. He described in general terms what the compensation package would be like. It sounded good. I jotted down notes and told him it sounded reasonable. He said he would have HR draw up a draft contract for me to look over.

The contract arrived on Friday, and I printed it out to take home for the weekend and examine. There were a couple of things I had misinterpreted from the description on the phone, but nothing major. D and I crunched some numbers and figured out that it worked out to our financial advantage. We had a long heart-to-heart about what being apart would mean, and how we could handle the situation. It's a three-year commitment, up to the Olympics in 2008 and into the spring of 2009 for the wrap-up. There are provisions for travel back and forth between China and the US, and we should be able to work out meeting several times a year.

I talked to CL and got clarification about my questions in the contract. I told him I was ready to sign. He told me he would be leaving for China on Thursday (that's today as I write), and the person who would finalize the contract was out of the office until Thursday. He sent an email to JW, the contract person, a few others and me saying that I would be taking the position, and they should start the process of getting my contract ready and all the other paperwork.

Last night was the going-away party for JW here in Seattle. Up until this point, we had kept my situation under wraps since nothing was signed, but he asked if I was agreeable to an anouncement, and I said yes. So he told everyone that I was going too. It was kind of nice to take care of all the explanations right at once with so many old friends and coworkers together in one place.

Anyway, now I begin the process of preparing in earnest, and this blog is part of that. There's so much to get ready, and I'm sure I'll forget things, but it's not like I'm moving to the wilderness. Beijing is one of the largest cities in the world, far larger than Seattle, and Americans and Europeans have been living there in increasing numbers over the last couple decades. I'm sure roughing it is not in the cards.

I'm very excited about the chance to travel in Asia, learn a new language, and immerse myself in a new culture. I'll post more about what that means to me, and I'll make notes about preparations. I don't kid myself that my ramblings are any sort of art, or that they'll be of interest to anyone but family and friends. But this is the internet, and for all I know it will show up in Google searches.

Welcome, gentle reader. That's the traditional greeting. And while I'm looking forward to challenging my traditions, and learning about other traditions, I'm trying to stay aware of them. It's a big world, and the more we see of it, the more we have to choose from. In the end, we are free to make our own traditions.

Music: George Harrison - All Things Must Pass