Tag Archives: business travel

A walk by St. Paul’s Cathedral…

19 Nov

Since I took my hiatus from the blog earlier this year, there are lots of places that I have visited in the last six months – both for pleasure and business – that I’d like to share now that I have some more time to go back through my memories.  Enjoy!

In June I visited the UK for work.  I was there nearly a week, first flying into London Heathrow and spending not quite 24 hours in London, then heading to Scotland, then back to London for three days of meetings.  Since I was coming from the farthest away, I needed that night in London to balance myself instead of directly transiting to Scotland.

The hotel that I stayed in had a view of St. Paul’s Cathedral – so I decided to take advantage of the summer-like weather and the blue skies to try to combat my jet lag and take a walk – both right after I arrived, but also the next morning before I headed back to the airport.  I wandered around – not quite aimlessly, but tried to hug the Thames and soak in the sunshine.

Here are a few of my favorite shots.

View outside my hotel window

View outside my hotel window

The shard in the distance from another bridge

The shard in the distance from another bridge

St. Paul's peeking from the bridge

St. Paul’s peeking from the bridge

Puffy clouds and classic building silhouettes

Puffy clouds and classic building silhouettes

I really liked this view from under the bridge - a different point of view

I really liked this view from under the bridge – a different point of view

My time in London the weather was amazing – no dreary skies.  It wasn’t a standard visit – I didn’t take the Tube, visit a museum or have afternoon tea, but I managed to have a great time.  As the weather turns cool here and the air quality goes down, looking at these photos take me back to that visit.

I’d like to also call out a Happy Birthday to my father who has always encouraged me to talk the walk by the river or sit in the café in the square.  Happy birthday dad!

Where have you wandered recently?

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Friends across the sea

12 Nov

One of the wonderful things about all the travel I’ve done this year was the opportunity to see people that I don’t get to see very often.  As long as I know I’ll be in an area and have a little free time I will reach out to people to see if we can spend some time together.  This year was a new record for me.  I have been blessed with wonderful friends who are now scattered all over the world – I like to say that I “collect people” through my life, like the pearls of a necklace.

In February I got to spend a weekend with my sister in Austin, Texas between two sets of meetings for work.  The last time I was in town she was recovering from a knee injury – this time we enjoyed local barbecue at Rudy’s and took a long walk down by the river.  I would go back again for the barbecue in a second – and the banana pudding!  It was a great weekend.

Barbecue!  They even let us try samples before we ordered.

Barbecue! They even let us try samples before we ordered.

Nobody does barbecue like Texas!

Nobody does barbecue like Texas!

A couple of months later I was back in the States again and got to spend a weekend back in my hometown with my best friend and her kids.  We had hamburgers and ice cream and went to the park.  It was the quintessential American weekend – one of those days that made me wonder why I am still living in Shanghai so far away from friends and family and blue skies.  The weekend also made me thankful that I have the resources to travel and the experience to appreciate going home.

Blue skies at the park

Blue skies at the park

In June I managed to connect with a former colleague in the UK at Paddington train station in London before heading off to the airport.  We had a long brunch and traded stories since we had last seen each other, nearly a year before in Singapore.  She has now retired and looked fabulous – rested, relaxed with a bit of a tan.  I hope when I get to that phase of my life I have that many stories to tell.

At the end of June I was in San Francisco and managed to connect with many old friends – both at the actuarial conference that I attended,

An old friend from Chicago who worked in Hong Kong, visited me in Shanghai and went to the same conference in San Francisco.

An old friend from Chicago who worked in Hong Kong, visited me in Shanghai and went to the same conference in San Francisco.

but also a friend from Shanghai who moved back to Canada and was randomly in town for the weekend when I was there.  That connection even surprised me – we both put a photo on social media of the beautiful day in San Francisco and then realized our hotel rooms were on the same street!

Also in San Francisco I met up with a friend from Shanghai who lives there now.  She spent a day taking me to Fisherman’s Wharf where we had seafood and visited the famous Boudin bakery where I bought myself a sourdough roll.  We rode the trolley and explored the city – I even bought a T-shirt.  Sometimes being a tourist is the best way to see a city.

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In July I had a friend come to me – Carissa from Everyday adventures in Asia.  She was in town for work and I was actually in Shanghai that week and volunteered my spare room.  We stayed up way too late to squeeze in every moment of time together  because neither of us know the next time we’ll have the opportunity.

And finally I managed to squeeze in a quick breakfast with an old friend from Shanghai who was in my first Chinese class at Miracle Mandarin when I was in Jakarta in August.  She’s Indonesian, married to an Australian who has lived in Indonesia, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Australia.  Her daughter was born in Shanghai and they moved a couple of years ago back to Jakarta.  We hadn’t seen each other since, but we connected as if we had seen each other the previous weekend.

We even remembered to snap a photo!

We even remembered to snap a photo!

Friends are that way – even when they are across the sea.  Shared experiences and special relationships come together to make a wonderful, welcoming place for me all across the world.  If you’re in my neck of the woods – I’m happy to welcome you too!

Do you have friends across the sea?

Flying business

20 Sep

As I mentioned before, I have traveled a lot in the last four months.  I’ve been all over – the States three times, South Korea three times, the UK (Britain and Scotland), Australia, Singapore and Indonesia.  All told I was traveling over two thirds of the time from May through the end of August.

Blue skies

Blue skies

With that much travel, I spent a lot of time in airports – on planes, in lounges and in the duty free shops.  I also saw many, many more blue skies than if I had stayed in China.  My status on Delta and its alliance partners has ticked up to the top and I must admit that I’m getting a little spoiled from not standing in line, cutting security queues and having first access to the plane.

In London I got to explore the Virgin Clubhouse lounge which has waiter service, a hair salon, a music studio and a pool table inside.  In San Francisco, Korean Air uses the British Airways lounge where I was the only person in the highest lounge for nearly an hour with a full buffet to myself.  In Shanghai I now know which lounges let you access the plane directly and avoid the scramble around the gate above.  Sydney’s lounges have a full barista set up where I could get a fresh cup of chai and homemade scone.

A buffet for one

A buffet for one

I bought English breakfast tea and Winston Churchill’s caramels in London, kangaroo jerky in Sydney and my ultimate foot lotion socks in Seoul, plus lots of candy and other small gifts as I made my way through the airports.  I completed a survey on the Seoul airport and got a free toothbrush.

The best way to pamper your feet - only found in Korea.  Single use lotion socks that are incredible!

The best way to pamper your feet – only found in Korea. Single use lotion socks that are incredible!

I spent a weekend exploring the area near St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, I ate traditional Korean food in Seoul and caught up with old friends in Singapore.  My boss bravely tried haggis in Scotland where I marveled that there was whisky on the breakfast buffet.  I met up with a former colleague for a weekend in San Francisco where we had sourdough bread and met people I haven’t seen in nearly 10 years at an actuarial conference.

My visit to Jakarta was punctuated with a breakfast with one of my first friends from Shanghai who was in my Chinese class way back when I was teaching English.  She’s Indonesian and had moved back with her husband a couple of years ago.  One visit to the States I had a rental car and enjoyed driving again with the windows down.

Of course I also met with clients and colleagues and had conference calls at odd hours.  I struggled through jet lag and time differences and not remembering which room was mine at the hotel because I had three different room numbers in a week and none of them stuck in my head.

Will my carry-on fit?  Of course... I am flying business!

Will my carry-on fit? Of course… I am flying business!

It was fun and invigorating and exhausting.

In short, it was business travel.

I’m ready for a break.

Have you ever traveled a lot for business?  What are your favorite memories?

 

Dubai – photos and thoughts

19 Dec

Aside from multiple camel sightings, I packed a lot more into my trip to Dubai last month.  Traveling for business is always exhausting, but this trip managed a good balance of exploration and eight hours straight in a meeting room.

My first day I arrived about noon and so had half a day to explore with another colleague before we headed into the mandatory dinners and mingling.

First we went to the Dubai mall under the Burj Khalifa.

Divers into an art exhibit in the Mall of Dubai

Divers into an art exhibit in the Mall of Dubai – ironically, I saw a miniature version of this fountain when I was in New York a couple of weeks later

It was so tall that my camera couldn’t capture the entire building in one frame.  I understand that it is taller than two Empire State Buildings put on top of each other.

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At the base is a fountain show – reminiscent of the one in Las Vegas that was featured in Oceans 11.  We found a restaurant overlooking the fountain and chowed down.  One of my favorite dishes was chicken on rice pilaf – the rice studded with almonds and pistachios.

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That evening for the work events we watched the sun set over the city and then enjoyed the lights of the hotel shaped like a sailboat.

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The meetings took place outside of the city in the real desert – you don’t have to go far – 30 minutes will take you away from all of the modernity of the city.

Blue sky over the dunes

Blue sky over the dunes

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The second day they arranged a 4×4 trip and so I got to see what it was like.  We whipped up and down the dunes and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.  I’m not sure I’d like to drive – one of the trucks got stuck – but as a passenger – bring it on!

The last couple of days we spent by the ocean’s edge, which is one of the great contradictions of Dubai.  You can go to the beach in the morning and dune bashing in the afternoon.  I didn’t have time to go swimming, but I did manage a walk on the beach one morning before things started.

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As a final treat, we did our team meeting the last day in the Burj Khalifa – for afternoon tea.  We discussed business from 138 floors above the ground before everyone scattered to their own corners of the world.

Tea on the 138th floor?  Please!

Tea on the 138th floor? Please!

Dubai felt a little like a commercial – there was so much new construction, big malls, flashy watches – all things available and ready.  Ironically there were a lot of stores that specialized in selling fur coats – which I hypothesized was for the Russians who come to defrost in Dubai’s heat.

It was a very interesting place – and I enjoyed my time there, but I don’t think I would go back unless I had business to do.  The place felt shallow, transient – very international – but kind of like eating candy – I know it’s not good for me, but still want to gorge every now and again.  And Emirates – the airline – totally, worth it.  It was head and shoulders above any airline I have flown before, from the toothbrushes in the lounge to being able to use your electronics during the entire flight.

Perhaps if I had met some local people, been able to appreciate their lifestyle and gotten away from the “tourist track” it would have been easier to understand the city.  As it is – it remains an enigma.  Who knows – maybe I will go back.

Goodbye Dubai - a final view from the lounge

Goodbye Dubai – a final view from the lounge

Have you been to Dubai?  What do you think?  Would you like to go?

Back to Beijing

28 Nov

I haven’t been in Beijing for about six months and recently had the opportunity to go back for work twice in the last month.  The first time I went I had heard that the pollution was bad, but I hadn’t realized just how bad until I landed.

Getting in to the car I immediately sensed a strange taste in my mouth.  It was as if a little bit of dirt had gotten into it.  I didn’t notice it at first, but even after a drink of water the taste just wouldn’t go away.  The visitor who I was accompanying took it pretty hard and I knew in his mind, Shanghai was a better city.  It’s funny how the pollution can change your view.

A perfect cup of tea - and a way to wash out my mouth from the grit

A perfect cup of tea – and a way to wash out my mouth from the grit

Because it was his first trip though, I was able to revisit some of my favorite places in Beijing – Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.  Even with the gray skies, I still had a good trip.

Posing with Chairman Mao - note the gray sky

Posing with Chairman Mao – note the gray sky

The lions in front of the Forbidden City are just as imposing under gray skies

The lions in front of the Forbidden City are just as imposing under gray skies

This shot was taken just as we left the Forbidden City - I noticed the reflection in the water and thought about how I could capture it.  One of my favorite photos recently.

This shot was taken just as we left the Forbidden City – I noticed the reflection in the water and thought about how I could capture it. One of my favorite photos recently.

My more recent visit the situation was flipped – Shanghai has had high PMI 2.5 levels for the last week and Beijing was clearer.  I flew in the evening and I picked up the most beautiful sunset out of the window as I skimmed across the sky.

The sunset welcomed me back to Beijing on my second trip

The sunset welcomed me back to Beijing on my second trip

I’m happy I’ve made it back to Beijing.  It is a completely different city depending on the weather.  What places fall into that category for you and what times of year should be avoided?

Flying high

7 Nov

I am still going through my pictures from Greece.  It is happening in fits and spurts between my new job and business travel and trying to stay in touch with my friends.  The whirlwind continues, but I am having a wonderful time soaring above it all.

These photos from Heraklion, Crete capture my feeling perfectly.  They were all taken on the same day.  I am the one flying high above – enjoying the beauty below and looking for a safe place to land.

Birds flying in the cathedral square

Birds flying in the cathedral square

Sunset over the harbor

Sunset over the harbor

An ancient wall and an airplane above

An ancient wall and an airplane above

I head out on another business trip this weekend so may be out of touch for a while, but will come back with more stories and photos.  I just need to make sure I don’t get caught up in the many currents that exist when I’m that high.  Landing can be the most difficult part – trying to relax after the go-go-go of work as it’s a long way down.  I’ll manage.

Do you soar?  What things make you ready to take on the world?  Where do you soar?   The skies of Greece were an ideal place.

Finding peace in Hangzhou

5 Sep
View from my balcony

View from my balcony

This is the third week in a row I have had a long road trip to a second tier city for work.  Two weeks ago it was Yangzhou, last week Changshu and this week Hangzhou.    Hangzhou was an overnight stay and to tell you the truth, not something I was really looking forward to.

Shame on me!  It was an incredible experience and just what I needed to get out of my funk.

The hotel and conference center was enormous in the Qixi wetland park resort.  Each room had a balcony overlooking water and bamboo.  There was even a comfortable sofa outside with a place to put up my feet.

Cleverly the conference organizers allocated enough time at lunch to go back to my room and rest.  I curled up on the sofa and let the peacefulness wash over me.  Nothing disturbed the quiet save an occasional bird.  It was wonderful.

At peace

At peace

I think that is the amazing part of China – even a business trip can turn into a mini-respite as long as I have eyes to see.

Before we left the hotel gave each guest a box of moon cakes.  I haven’t opened mine yet, but it seems an appropriate gift.  I could see myself returning to take a walk under the full moon and enjoy the autumn weather.

How do you celebrate fall?  Where is your escape?  Have you ever found peace in an unexpected place?

Road trip!

20 Aug

A few weeks ago I went to Yangzhou for work.

After clarifying with my colleague that we were really going to Yangzhou (not Changzhou – which I have been to before), I asked how we would get there.  Typically these type of day trips are by train.  Instead, my colleague informed me that he was going to rent a car and we would drive the 3.5 hours there and 3.5 hours back in one day.  I was in for my first road trip in China.

Yangzhou it turns out is very difficult to get to.  You can take a train to Nanjing and then transfer to the slow train that comes once a day.  Or you can take a bus.  Or you can drive.  My colleague decided driving made the most sense.

As a city, it is known for it’s tourist beauty and a ubiquitously named fried rice dish – Yangzhou Fried Rice.  When I asked around about what to eat – everyone said that dish wasn’t eaten in Yangzhou, but I should try their steamed dumplings.  Since I was going to a client meeting I saw none of the beauty of the city – and I didn’t even get to eat the dumplings because we were in the outer technology park.  That’s ok – eventually I’m sure that I’ll get back there.

Being an American, I know how to settle in to a long car ride.  Early that morning three of us met at the designated pick up point.  I came prepared with a large bottle of water, a small bottle of Coke and two packages of mints.  I also nabbed the passenger seat given my long legs and settled in.

Thinking back over the last six years – I have never been in a car in China for that many hours in one day.  I’ve been in buses, on trains and obviously on airplanes, but car rides are typically limited to taxi rides in the city or occasionally grabbing a ride with a colleague or friend who has a car.  As we battled the ever-present traffic in Shanghai trying to get out of the city, I realized how nice it was to not have to deal with tolls and gas stations – the trains really take care of you from that perspective.

As we steadily drove west the traffic thinned out.  My colleagues and I talked about our upcoming meeting, about their hometowns and about all kinds of other things that only make sense in the confessional of a car.  We crossed bridges and rivers, we drove by huge transformer stations and also passed prosperous looking fields.  Given the heat, everything was deserted except the expressway.

The rightly named - "Big bridge" (大桥)

The rightly named – “Big bridge” (大桥)

After pulling off for a quick stop to stretch our legs at a rest area we headed back to the road.  A flashing sign above our heads warned us that the pavement was 53 degrees Celsius (127 degrees Fahrenheit) and we should give our tires the chance to rest often.  Coming back from the meeting the same sign said the temperature of the pavement was over 57 degrees C (137F).  Talk about hot.

Our meeting went well, we had just enough time for a quick lunch near the client’s factory even though we got lost in the last 20 kilometers because the GPS drove us off the road.  Coming back, the same thing happened.  My colleague finally pulled over and asked a local how to get back to the expressway.  He said that until recently, you went one way, but since they just opened another route, lots of people were getting lost lately.

Finally back on the right track, we settled in again and missed the traffic back into Shanghai.  It was a 10 hour day for a 2 hour meeting in total, but did give me a sense for the road trip here in China.

The best part of the road trip - going home with the sun setting behind you

The best part of the road trip – going home with the sun setting behind you

Where has been your favorite road trip?  What treats do you bring along?  Are you a map reader or a GPS junkie?  Share your stories.

A typhoon? You have got to be kidding!

16 Jul

At the beginning of my last week away from home, my colleagues in Taiwan started to mumble about the weather.

“You know a typhoon is coming, right?”

“Maybe you should go back to China early?”

“It might not be safe, when is your flight?”

As a child of the Midwest, typhoons don’t even make my radar.  Despite living through a typhoon in Shanghai last year, I have never really considered their impact – nor have expected them to impact me.  To tell you the truth, I wasn’t even looking at the weather report in Taiwan.  I knew every day was hot and it would rain after lunch.  Seemed enough of a forecast.

After their constant questions though, I started to do research.  I discovered that Typhoon Soulik was bearing down  directly on Taiwan and impact was expected Friday.  I was supposed to fly back to Shanghai out of Taipei on Friday.  Great.

From my previous post, going back early wasn’t really an option, so either I was moving my flight up on Friday or I had two extra (very rainy) days in Taiwan.  I opted for the former and crossed my fingers that the typhoon wouldn’t pick up speed.

As I walked back to the hotel Thursday night people were soberly boarding up glass windows, covering doors with wood and paper and really battening down the hatches.  I booked a taxi for 6am the next day and the receptionists all started commenting on the typhoon and maybe I should stay longer.   As I packed, I made sure in my carry-on were my rubber shoes and what clean clothes I had left, in case I got to the airport and was separated from my big bag.  I didn’t sleep much that night.

Friday morning bright and early I left for the airport.  The rain hadn’t started but an ominous quiet was over the city.  The trip to the airport took 30 minutes when it should have taken an hour, almost no cars were on the road.  Taoyuan airport was buzzing, everyone was trying to get out.  After I made it through customs I looked out the window – the rain had started.

I ate breakfast in the airport and made my way to the boarding gate.  The airplane pulled up late – it was one of the huge, double decker planes with first class on the top.  I’m guessing that the airline wanted to get as many people out as possible as well.  The 30 minute delay made me very nervous as the sky got darker and darker.  I tried to stay calm but the panic born out of over  five weeks away from home came very close to winning.

But… I did make it out.  If I had stayed for my original 2:30 flight, I would not have been in Shanghai on Friday.  Simply put, sometimes it is worth it to listen to your colleagues.

Typhoon Soulik did make a direct hit on Taiwan late Friday evening and had torrential rain and squalls through mid-day Saturday.  The airports were working again Saturday night and things were pretty much back to normal on Sunday.

You can see it reduced in intensity by the time it hit Taiwan, but still - a direct hit on Taipei!

You can see it reduced in intensity by the time it hit Taiwan, but still – a direct hit on Taipei!

The typhoon didn’t win.   I am finally home.

Defrosting in Singapore

31 Jan

Aside from the jeans incident just as I was leaving Singapore, the rest of my trip was absolutely great.  Even though I was in back-to-back meetings with dinners and lunches and conference calls squeezed in, I thoroughly enjoyed the entire experience.

Because it has been so cold in Shanghai, one of the most enjoyable parts of this visit was the warmth.  As I packed I pulled out clothes that I haven’t worn in  four months, trying on sleeveless tops and dresses and searching out my summer shoes.  It took me much longer to pack than it should have since I moved in September – but the anticipation of the warmth made it a great part of the trip.

View from my hotel room over Clarke Quay my last morning in Singapore

View from my hotel room over Clarke Quay my last morning in Singapore

When I have to travel to Singapore in the summer going from hot to hot it doesn’t have the same impact, but this time of year when I land in Changi Airport it’s like a warm hug embracing me.

The second factor that makes Singapore enticing is the food.  Because it is such a mix of cultures I can find anything.  This trip the food was especially diverse.  I had the national dish of Singapore – chicken and rice at a local hawker stand, enjoyed Japanese yakitori while watching the light show in front of Marina Bay Sands and had Italian at a restaurant called “No Menu” with wild boar ravioli and excellent proscuitto and melon.

Another key is my colleagues.  Because I have been meeting and working with many of the team for a long time now, even though we’re talking about very technical projects, the breaks and meals are filled with personal stories and gossip on folks we know and what is going on.  That is the ideal type of business meeting – familiar enough that there is no need to prove myself, instead incredibly productive days that blend into drinks and dinner (and then emails at the hotel until the wee hours of the morning).

In addition to colleagues, I have good friends from Shanghai who just moved to Singapore a couple of weeks ago and was able to meet up for brunch with them before I headed back to the airport.  That personal touch made this trip even more special.

The final pleasure point is the airport itself – I checked in early this time and after purchasing my chocolate quota for the next several months at duty free I wandered.  This time instead of looking at the koi ponds or wandering through the butterfly garden, I got a massage.  My neck was stiff and the masseuse worked through my tight muscles readying me for the plane ride back.  I still had a few minutes before boarding and so had a laksa (seafood spicy noodles with coconut broth) for $4 SGD and relaxed some more.

I arrived back in Shanghai to weather slightly above zero degrees with my head full of puffy clouds and good food.  I need to remember that warmth until things thaw out a bit here.  What a gift to defrost in Singapore in mid- January!

Where have you escaped to in the winter?  My January blahs are firmly behind me as I have Singapore behind me and our upcoming Chinese New Year trip in front of me.  Just need to get through another two weeks!

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