Schwinn, Part 3

in the last post I talked about how I’m probably not going to repaint the bike. There are some worn out parts on the bike that necessitate replacement. Obviously, the tires were completely unusable. I ordered the tires from an online bicycle store in New Hampshire. It turns out there are still companies like Kenda who make Schwinn whitewall replacements. This was good news. The rubber rim strip was completely disintegrating, so I found those and some new inner tubes. After a lengthy polish of the spokes and wheels, it was easy enough to replace the tires and I was well on my way through the restore.

New Pads on Schwinn
The front brake assembly with new pads.

I found new retro style brake pads on eBay. Needless to say, the old ones were  fossilized. The 10mm nuts holding them to the brake assembly were fused to the extent that I had to soak hem with WD40 to get them to release. Release they did, though, and now there are brand new orange break pads clamping down on newly polished rims. Here they are, just after they arrived and before I removed the brake assembly and cleaned the tiny pits of rust from the front fork.

Peeling Back the Layers

It is like an archaeological dig site, this bike. As I peel away layers of grime, I discover something older. Cleaning the grime from the chain with vinegar solution of 1 part vinegar to 4 parts water seemed to be the best approach.

Front crankset on Schwinn
The front crankset and chain.

The solution slowly breaks down the grease so that I could start seeing the chain. As the caked on grime melted away it revealed the dynamic blue hue of the outer links of the bicycle chain. The chain’s sharp edges finally peering out beneath the soft mounds of muck. I knew I would need something that would do a little better job going forward.

But it got me thinking about what I should use to oil the chain. So I did a search. It turns out there is a pretty substantial internet debate on the subject of what you should use to oil or grease your chain. In fact, so passionate is the argument, there is a debate about whether you should grease or oil your chain at all. Well, that seems silly and I don’t want to start a religious debate.

I Know About Friction

I know a bit about what friction will do to a bike, and more specifically to a bike chain, over time. When I was younger and got my first used 10-speed that I rode all around town, I pretty much wore away the chain and the cogs on that old bike. I saw what would happen to the cogs on a derailleur over time. The chain will gradually stretch and the pitch in the chain becomes wider and wider. The chain rides higher and higher on the cogs and the teeth will wear down until they are no longer effective and shifting becomes unpredictable or nearly impossible. Chains will break if not cared for properly.

It turns out there is a very effective solution to cleaning and lubing a bicycle chain which involves a clean rag, a cleaner/solvent called White Lightning Clean Streak and a medium-weight drip chain lube called Park C-1. Who comes up with these names for products. Genius. I wonder if this stuff is made from moonshine

Keep in mind, I ride in dry conditions. For this bike restore, I may not ride this bike at all except to make sure that everything is working properly. Here is some food for thought: Working on this bike has encouraged me to take better care of my own bike, a Trek 1100 from the early 90s. Yea, I’m vintage.

Schwinn, Part 2

My last post described my reasons for the restore of this old bike. The family connection, passing on an heirloom to the next generation and the sheer joy of seeing something brought back to life were just some of my reasons for resurrecting this old Schwinn. I have an ulterior motive. Gaining expertise in a field and sharing this expertise with others is just as important to me.

Practice Makes Progress

There was something that drew me to this bike, I think. Perhaps it was the story or the nostalgic look of an old Schwinn. Maybe it was the dangerous looking child seat on the back, in which my brother-in-law remembers riding, Maybe it was the battery powered light attached to the front handlebars. I’m not sure. It was probably some magical combination of all of those.  After those obvious attributes began to fade, I understood that this would be a journey that I could take some time to share with you.

Suffice to say that the bike is a dirty mess after sitting in a garage for what I can only imagine as a long time, but it spoke out beneath the layers of dirt and dust, the scratches and dings and found me and my willingness to restore it to greatness. My plan is to diverge from the story of my travels, for which there is still so much to post. Instead, I’m going to try and share the story of bringing this bike back to life.

The Bike Objective

front fender before
The front fender before cleaning.

My objective is to use traditional restoration techniques, where possible. First, cleaning with as many natural cleaners as is possible. Using elbow-grease and patience is preferred as solvents may damage the finish. I want to minimize the impact to the environment, too, I suppose.

Here, on the front fender, I am using a baking soda/water mixture to gently erase the paint and scuff marks from the original paint. Of course, I don’t want to be too abrasive to the original paint and the nostalgia. The technique is somewhat painstaking. It is like scrubbing a gym with a toothbrush. While it does have its rewards, I’m finding that i am just slightly disappointed with the outcome.  There are still paint chips and scratches which detract from the overall look and feel of the bike.

Repainting and Refinishing

front fender
The front fender after cleaning.

I began research on repainting the bike or doing touch-up work on the numerous scratches and dings.  I don’t think that repainting or refinishing is the right decision. It comes down to character, in my opinion. The scratches and dings add to the history of this ride. The license stickers on the rear fender tell of a time when bicycles were commonly registered in the city of Minneapolis. I’m sure I’ll revisit this topic often, though. At some point I’m going to have to make sure that these scratches are primed in such a way as to protect the metal beneath.

I’m currently working on removing and cleaning the hand grips. It is slow work. Rubber and chrome seem nearly fused together.

 

The 1959 Schwinn Catalina

1959 Schwinn Catelina
The bike arrives at my garage

I recently acquired a Schwinn bicycle. It is my new project. As happens with these types of projects, the restoration itself sometimes decides the the path of the restorer. My plan is to restore the bike to some form of its original glory. It is increasingly evident to me that the bike has different plans. Even as this process begins, it is impossible to tell you where this journey might lead. This restoration is like hopping on a plane and traveling to another country because it reveals things about me that I had rarely given much thought. That is why I love story. A good story turns the reader’s eyes inward.

Show Me

With the risk of sounding like the main character in the movie Christine, the project has already begun to uncover some of my own shortcomings. Notice I’m hesitant to call the bike “old”, if only because it belonged to my mother-in-law. I joke about being “old”, myself, or “being on the steep end of my downward spiral into the grave”. Both of these are not yet true, but they would likely be true were I to start spouting off about this ancient Schwinn that my mother-in-law received from her mother when she was a teenager.

But here is the thing. My mother-in-law is at the stage in life where she is beginning to downsize into a more manageable home and quickly expunge years of inevitable clutter. Clutter that one accumulates over the course of their lives. In part, this makes me sad because I remember my grandmother beginning this stage in her life after I went to college. I remember how she took control having seen so many before her attempt to hold on dearly to the clutter that they had collected. I admired how she did this, but I remember the feeling of loss when she finally sold the home she had lived in for so many years. For a long time, she collected things. Now, she was simplifying.

In the case of this bicycle, my mother-in-law was ready to get rid of it.  On one hand, I don’t blame her. But, on the other hand, I just couldn’t quite let her do that. I started thinking about how nice it might be for my daughter to ride that bike knowing that her great-grandmother had gifted it to her grandmother. She may not appreciate this at the age of eight, but I have a hope that there will be a moment where she will appreciate it.

Connecting

I have a sense of how important it is to be able to connect to the past and understand it in its context. I believe that family connection is important and being able to connect across generations reminds us of our roots. It reminds us that we would not be where we are today if not for the resilience of an ancestor who managed to survive long enough to yield to the next generation. The same strength and determination of those who made footprints in the dirt, cut paths through the wilderness, then built roads and bent steel is present in us today. It is in the contrast between our ancestors and who we are today that we understand where we are going and what we hope to become.

It is not so much the object itself as it is the fabric of what it represents. Knowing that I want my daughter to have some of the same strength and determination and resilience as her ancestors drives me to action. That my hope for her is that she continue to develop into a strong, independent, young woman. That she have the drive to make real change in the world and she remain steadfast in what she believes. That despite any failures in her ancestral line, that she will make a new way for herself that tips a hat to the past, but also continues to progress forward. For me, that is the importance of being connected. For this, I’m happy to be a supportive curator.

Schwinn’s a Beaut

On a side note, I originally began this post referring to the Schwinn with a feminine pronoun. I was going to try and justify the reference with the fact that it is a women’s bike. This sent me off on a journey about whether or not referencing inanimate objects as women is offensive. That taught me about myself, too, I guess. It taught me about how I am gradually being refined as a person. That, invariably, I still say things that probably unintentionally offend, It taught me that the world is like a course ball of steel wool constantly rubbing at my rough edges, claiming the layers of rust and grime and making unrefined parts of me gleam again. I hope that there is enough steel wool in the world for that.

 

The Last Leg

I had to take a bit of a break after the last leg of my trip. There were a couple of reasons for this. As I started to take on a more active role in planning the activities on my trip, there was less and less time to actually write about it. It was a little sad. I would begin a post, only to let it languish, forever buried in the draft doldrums of the blog separated from release by one little point of metadata. In the mean time, I watched my mother experience the real joy of traveling to a place she would have never been able to go. Many of my posts still lie in the doldrums, begging for resurrection. I can assure you that I will get to them slowly. Now that I have had some time to process what I observed in my travels, the content will be much better polished.

The Leg

Also, when I returned from the trip I fell ill. Very ill. Even as I crossed back over into the states, I ached from within. What I thought was simply a longing to be home gradually spawned a fever. When I walked through the door, the fever relegated me to the couch and continued to sap all energy until it blossomed into a pain in my lower leg and ankle. The leg pain put me on notice, and I ended up in the emergency room on iv antibiotics.

For some, that occasionally the way it is with travel. When trying to take in all of your surroundings, it is easy to forget to take care of yourself. Only now that I am rested up, can I expound on that thought. There is this element of moving through new places that makes you forget where you came from. You are forced to divert your attention to the present because you have never seen it. It is a bittersweet release of everything you know in exchange for the newness of the unknown. The distraction from yourself is intoxicating. Everything you normally take for granted is replaced with something new. It is exhilarating to leave your world behind for a time being. Escape.

The Return

That temporary diversion creates a problem when you finally return home. The time you spent in the present was so intoxicating that you long for it to continue. You are woke. You begin to realize that it wasn’t your surroundings that were holding you back, after all. It was your response to them. What you think about the world around you either drives or limits your behavior. How you interact with the world and your willingness to explore is what either hampers you or severs the chains that have been holding you back all along.

Maintaining a Change

I’m not necessarily an activist. I want look at the world around me with new eyes every day.  Like everyone, I will struggle to maintain that vision now that I have returned home. I am thankful for my little corner of the world and my trek to arrive here. I don’t think that I am different from anyone else. I have stumbled through harsh storms and over jagged rocks to appreciate the things that truly build others up. I appreciate how frail we are as people. How temporary our lives are. I understand how one harsh word can tear down a person and how one harsh person can be the difference between achieving something great and failure.

I have also become even more thankful for what makes the United States special. At the root, it is our ability in this country to talk about the things that are happening without fear. Our freedom to talk about those beliefs and solicit effective change. Our inclination to be passionate about the beliefs we have and long for a time when we both retain our freedoms and prevent the permanent loss of those freedoms at the hands of those who wish to take them.

Make no mistake, that is what makes this a great country. We can speak and move freely. With that ability, it becomes incumbent upon all of us to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves, to truthfully echo the faint voices of the afraid without an agenda. It becomes incumbent to speak the truth without the intent to destroy others, but speaking to guide, encourage,  and correct. It is those who have been trained and disciplined by experience who produce a harvest of righteousness and peace.

What uniquely lifts my spirit is to see others find the success that elevates their own.

Driving on the Other Side

Driver's Side
Driver’s Side

The drive yesterday through the Australian outback was an adventure.

We made the nearly 6-hour drive from Alice Springs to Uluru via car. The car was, more or less, a station wagon. That was a good choice. The trip was 462.9 kilometers across the Australian outback. 924 kilometers total. It seemed like a daunting distance when I first planned to tackle the drive. Then, driving on the opposite side of the road from the passenger side of the vehicle was just an added occupational hazard, or so I thought.

Getting into the car at the airport was somewhat intimidating. First, my 6’ 7” frame slid into the seat of the low rider like an oversized burrito into a long paper wrapper. The company I work for strongly encourages the use of rentals where economical. Fitting my body into a rental is usually a challenge. AVIS knows this as I make note of it on nearly every rental I book. In this case, I was riding somewhere near the ground. I thought for sure that I would be dragging my rear along the road. Images of a doggo dragging itself along a brand-new carpet by its front paws were rolling through my mind. Once in the car, it was a nice ride. Squeezing in was a sight to behold, I’m sure. Extraction would prove even more difficult.

We planned to take the trip south from Alice Springs along National Highway 87, also known as the Stuart Highway, then via State Route 4 to Uluru. It is clearly the easiest route. While I had received a suggestion from a tour mate from our Katherine Gorge tour about Kings Canyon, I had read reports that without a 4×4, it was likely too inconvenient unless you had time to burn. We did not.

We set out at 6 a.m., after a buffet breakfast at the Hilton that was a sight to behold. I had plenty of coffee, plenty of eggs, and a heaping portion of hash browns which made me feel like I was in America again. No bacon, though. I really miss Iowa bacon.

The initial drive was somewhere between an exercise in concentration and a white-knuckle roller coaster ride. The road out of Alice Springs, having been traveled by a number of heavy trucks, was undulating. As I ramped each hump, my innards felt each strongly, then weakly, then again. It was harrowing. Only once did I nearly take the quick route to the ditch. My mother let out a yelp. She used my first name. The long one.

It was then that we came up on an Australian road train. I don’t remember reading about these in the online tourist manuals. I might have just skipped that part. It looked like any typical semi on the website. I was improperly prepared for the Australian road train. The longest of these trains is 53.5 meters. “That isn’t that big”, I thought.

Then, you try passing one.

You begin to realize, as you do that conversion to feet, that the total distance is 175.5 feet. It doesn’t seem like a big deal. But then you think, well, I am going 130 km/hr, 81 miles per hour. In my imagination this was going to go very quickly. As I was following this truck, he had slowed to 110 kph, I became anxious to pass. The internal pep talk was strong. My hands were tingly. At the encouragement of my mother, I was assured that we would survive.

I passed on several opportunities. They just didn’t seem like good choices. Peeking around the right of the truck I saw my opportunity. We were at the top of a relatively long hill. I stepped on it.

My mother shrieked. So, I stepped harder. We could have sung the entire Star-Spangled Banner in the time it took to pass. I thought about what the half-life of uranium is. I thought about my children growing up without a father. I thought about Vegemite.

Merging back in the front of the truck was as smooth as silk. I wondered briefly if the truck was leaving an asphalt wake behind it. The rest of the drive to our first stop was smooth.

Twenty-five minutes later my heart rate returned to normal and the sweat I squeezed out of my hands had fully dried on the steering wheel leaving little circles of salt. I had done it. I was driving in Australia.  It made me appreciate how stepping outside of your comfort zone is often necessary in order to achieve progress. To pass the competition, it is important to study the way forward and occasionally take a calculated, and educated, risk. Weighing the options is critical, but experiencing a word of encouragement coming from the seat next to you makes the difference.

I looked at my mother. Perhaps she will make it to age 100 after all.

 

 

 

UBER Differences Bangkok

Inexpensive UBER

My mom arrived in Bangkok. Her flight was delayed. Even with a long wait at the wrong exit, we eventually found one another. It was late, but everyone arrived safely, which was the important part. I had already checked into the hotel after taking the 25-minute ride from the airport to the hotel downtown and back. UBER in Thailand is very inexpensive. I hadn’t really put the math to it until now, but I recognized quickly that most of their fare is likely made in tips rather than the fare to the driver. If you are taking an UBER in Thailand, that should be your default. Even for a small ride, tip 100 Baht or so, especially if they are assisting you with a bag or two. A 24 mile/39-minute ride from the Airport to the hotel cost 419.74 Baht, or $13.16. Now I’ve taken roughly the same trip from O’Hare to Skokie for about $50.00. This was a deal if I ever saw one.

UBER wasn’t available everywhere in Thailand, though. We had a tough time getting good UBER service in Chiang Mai and Phuket, and had a much easier time with Grabtaxi. While it is difficult to say why, I think that the adoption rate just isn’t as high outside of a large city.

The next day we had coffee and walked around some of the shops and markets across the river form the hotel at River City Bangkok. The fabrics and art were remarkable. While I am sure that one could barter the prices down in the shopping center, I found them to be very expensive compared to the other shops and markets. This was prime tourist location. We stopped at a pub and had lunch, which amounted to a meat and cheese tray, a couple of Hoegaarden—which just might be my favorite beer for this trip, since it is everywhere—and returned via UBER to the hotel to freshen up before the dinner cruise.

Loy Nava Dinner Cruise

We had a 6:00 p.m. reservation for a dinner cruise on the Chao Phraya river from the Millennium Hotel. The dinner cruise was easy enough to book. I located the website and filled out the form in English and sent a text message to the number provided. I was contacted via phone for confirmation. The Loy Nava Dinner Cruise is a river cruise on an antique rice barge. The cruise boasts Thai traditional music and classical dance. It was lovely and very well done. The performers danced and played the Khim, a stringed musical instrument similar to the hammered dulcimer. That seemed an appropriate way to spend our last night in Bangkok. The Khim was first introduced in Thailand from China via Cambodia and Laos. It was just a week ago that I was introduced to Thailand, from China, myself.

The meal was traditional Thai with a slight emphasis on seafood. We had a choice on the form to do a half/half seafood/Thai, or even vegetarian, should one need to do so. With the stay at the hotel, we were able to walk down to the pier from the hotel lobby, just about 50 meters. We waited the typical amount of time for the boat to show. I don’t know if Thai late is a thing, but it sure seems that way when roaming the river in Bangkok. Of course, the pace of the river is slow and methodical, so when on vacation, I paid it no mind. The boat made several stops to pick up passengers prior to picking us up. After a few moments, a host greeted us on the pier and ushered us to our seats. It was a mere moment or two before a Mai Tai arrived.

I don’t think that either one of us had ever had a Mai Tai.

 

The Baby on the Motorcycle

We were so anxious to explore the city of Bangkok upon arrival, we hired an Uber—after finding the building in which we were staying—in an attempt to get early exposure to the city. I suppose that we could have rented a motorcycle, but that seemed a bit extreme.

I understand that most people don’t like to be out of their element. It was in the moment we stepped out of the UBER, I realized that I was no exception. I never really gave that much consideration back in the States. I always thought that I was a very flexible person. Perhaps I am flexible, but as I sat there looking out the window I couldn’t help but notice the differences. We entered a different world. I may as well have been on Mars. The shock made my heart wrench for home. We had no currency and no idea if anyone near us took anything but the Thai Baht, Thailand’s currency. We walked to an ATM and withdrew funds. Ahh. There was a connection to home. We saw a little restaurant across the street that announced, in English, as plain as day, “Noodles”.

Noodles sounded ok to me.

We walked around the corner, took a peek at the outdoor kitchen. This was probably as good as it was going to get, I thought. Angela motioned around the corner to the entrance and I followed. The hostess pointed to a table and we sat. I never really considered how important it is that restaurants have picture menus. Before long we ordered, finished our meal, and then sat there and talked for what must have been a while.

The Size and Speed of Thailand

There are many people. A city the size of Bangkok, at nearly 9 million, it is very large. It isn’t like China or Hong Kong, either. People are crammed together, but not vertically, or at least not as much as I had assumed. Unlike Hong Kong, they are there in person. They are all on the same level. They are a very tightly knit people who are right there next to you. I became very comfortable with that.

I felt very safe riding in a car in Thailand. The drivers here are amazing. I suspect that years of conditioning their reflexes have honed skill like that of NASCAR. Moreover, I don’t yet understand it. I’m not sure that I want to. Perhaps the cars in Thailand are more maneuverable. Maybe there is an unspoken gesture or two when merging, or some subtle clue that I am missing when it comes to sharing a lane with a motorbike on either side. I’m not sure. But the speed and grace of the auto here in Thailand was visible. Not once did we see evidence of an accident, and at the speed at which we traveled there was sure to have been at least one. I never became comfortable with the motorcycles weaving in and out of, and around traffic. From what I could tell, they move at roughly twice the speed of cars. We saw multiple people on motorcycles and scooters.

Speaking of speed, there are basically two speeds when riding in a car in Thailand. There is the speed at which your driver will ease into fast-approaching traffic. That speed is just a little slower than a turtle nesting along a peaceful stream. Then there is the other speed. The one they don’t tell you about because time passes at a different rate once you travel at that speed. It is like the moment when Superman reverses the rotation of the earth to turn back time. The only way to upright the temporal rift is to return the way you came. At any rate, we found capable drivers, and they all seemed relatively young, but again, I can only attribute that apparent youth to their rate of speed.

What Shook Me to the Core

Nothing prepares you for seeing a baby on a motorcycle. I experienced an absolute shock moment when I glanced over and saw a baby nestled snug between front and back rider traveling along the streets of Thailand. No helmet, as if that would have mattered. I’ve never had a moment where I was both that surprised and that accepting at the same time. So absolute was my reaction that I felt a sort of slumping resignation. It was like when I was told as a kid that swallowed gum would just stay in your stomach forever. It is like that moment that someone at work tells you, “This is just the way we do things around here, there is no sense in trying to change it.” The moment kept haunting me throughout the week, and it would return a couple more times since.

Sights Unseen

Well, mainland China was really incredible. While much was left unseen, we took in quite a bit for only a week. I don’t know if I will ever have the chance to return, but I do hope so. Studying the people and business was like nothing I could have ever imagined. When you step off the plane in Hong Kong, it is nearly indistinguishable from stepping off a plane in the United States. Aside from the written language on the signs and the different faces, the only remaining thing is the language. Otherwise Hong Kong is like any other major city.

In fact, other than a quick currency exchange, my first task was to see if I could locate a power supply for my MacBook Air. Our hotel was one block from a 3-story Apple Store. No problem. I walked in as the store was opening, and my friends and I were directed toward the downstairs. I asked mike where the power converters were located and he took me right to the location for the Magnetic connected ones. I whipped out my phone, opened up my wallet and paid for the item, some 5800 HK Dollars via Apple Pay. It was as if I was at Jordan Creek.

Of course, it had the Hong Kong connector on it. I’ll have to swap that out when I return home.

The Arrival Card

Of course, when you are on your way by plane to a new country you are nearly always provided an arrival card for entry into the new country. Through my reading, I expected this. My only problem was that I forgot the name of the Hotel where we were staying. I’m not sure it mattered though. All of the important information was included, but the parts I was missing were filled in by some of my travel companions.

There was one night in Hong Kong that I felt comfortable enough to peel off from the rest of the group. My roommate for the trip succumbed to the flu mid-week. I wanted no part of that. Trusting that my flu shot was inoculation enough, I decided to take it easy and go for a short walk along the pier, hang out in the hotel bar and see if I could strike up a conversation with some fellow travelers. I did just that. It was a nice, quiet evening.

We had been warned to not drink the water in a foreign country. This was a warning that I heeded for the first several days without too much incident. As you become more comfortable, your guard goes down and this becomes more and more difficult. Several days of simply relaxing and following instructions had lulled me into a false sense of confidence, I think. I had a couple of glasses of wine in the hotel bar. It was a pinot. Very good. And it was inexpensive.

Now I’d been pretty good about asking for sparkling water and watching as it was poured from a bottle into a glass with no ice. This time, it completely slipped my mind. I went upstairs for dinner by myself, which was nice because I continued writing for a bit and enjoyed a small bowl of risotto and baked truffle potatoes that were to die for. I would almost be willing to bet that they were browned gently in duck fat and drizzled with truffle oil. They were amazing. The small potato melted in my mouth and simultaneously my mind flew to a pattern of ethereal thought like a cool breeze wisping across my face.

I finished dinner, then checked in on my roommate to see how he was doing. He replied on WhatsApp to indicate that he needed some sprite. I went down below the hotel to see what I could come up with. On a shelf, somewhere in the middle of the mall grocery I located the last 4 bottles of sprite and bought all of them. I figured they might be needed.

I felt a bit tired, decided to retire early, went back to the room, delivered the sprite, brushed teeth, laid down on the bed, and was out before my head hit the pillow. Nothing new here. It had been a long week.

A Fresh Start

When I woke the next morning, a relatively early start, I had breakfast, and hopped on yet another bus ride. No problems. Mike was to stay behind as to get some rest. I gave him some of my Tylenol to help control fever.

The ride was a little like warp speed through the streets of Hong Kong. Not necessarily because we traveled so far or fast, though it was really fast, but the back streets were so narrow. It was no telling where we were going, either. Even as the buildings began to blur together, I felt just a little like my stomach was about to protest. The first visit went off without a hitch—Standard Investments. I was happy to have identified the correct company for our presentation. One of our team was feeling it more than I. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him as he wretched in a plastic bag. I was impressed that the bag held. There was the inevitable seat swapping to put distance between my peers and him. We stopped for lunch. He seemed fine. No telling where he managed to get rid of the bag.

We had plenty of time for lunch. I quickly located a restroom. I’ll spare some of the details, but it was my first stomach grumbling, and I thought that it would pass quickly. I was wrong. Well, sort of wrong. I mean, it was quick. After my Coke Zero Lunch, I thought I was just not feeling hungry. There was another visit, then another, then before our next visit to Marriott, another. My body was in full surrender at this point. If I were wearing tighty whities, that flag would have been risen to full surrender.

It is at this moment that we had a fascinating visit at Marriott. I was feeling ok, if not just slightly dehydrated at this point. It seemed to go fast, though I have to admit there was a point at which I wondered if time didn’t slow down a bit. Several others retreated out the door to the back of the room. I couldn’t help but wonder if we weren’t all keeping the same secret.

The Descent and the Return

We descended several escalators, met together and then departed to the bus. I expected a whiff of the prior day activities, and there was none. The worst is likely over, then.

No. It was not. Unbeknownst to us we had to drop off our instructor at another hotel, presumably for a meeting. The brutal trip though the streets was like a trip through a war-ravaged countryside. Every bump, crack was felt deep within my gut. Memories of the earlier day came flooding back. I was not going to toss my cookies. Then It passed a bit. A little pain in my chest, but I had held it in. Like a man, I thought. Not 20 seconds later it came up further and I spit the remainder of my contents into an empty water bottle. Oh, better now. That should be it. Just about to the hotel. Ok, well, here we go again. Well, that is better.

I got off the bus and did not pass go. Right to the room, lost some more cookies and got into bed fully dressed, shoes and all. It would be a couple hours before I would get up, brush my teeth and take a shower. Long restroom visit. My roommate still lay asleep in the bed not 10 inches away. His lifeless body radiating heat into the room.

I changed and went back to bed.

Only after a couple more hours did I have this dream that an unseen force was knifing me in the gut. So distinct was the cramp that I lost control of bodily function, ran to the bathroom gave it my last go, and jumped in the shower with some clothes in hand. Yes, you can use hand sanitizer to launder clothes.

All I could think about was my poor roommate. If our friendship lasts this trip, then we will be friends forever. There are very few that I would call close friends. Those who have seen me at my very worst. My friend, Scott, who saw me in what he–to this day–describes as a loincloth just after knee surgery and loads of medication. Now, Mike, who has seen things no friend should ever see.

The next morning, we both bounced back as if nothing had ever happened. It was our last full day. Nothing else was said of it.

The Container Terminal

The Container Terminal
The Container Terminal

One time, in Austin, Texas I went to a shipping container bar.  Come to think of it, that was probably the closest that I had ever been to a shipping terminal. That probably didn’t change much yesterday. This time, it was my perspective that changed.

It seems only appropriate at this point in the story that I tell you about where the day ended.  Naturally, it gravitated toward beer.  Last night, at the end of a long day followed by some shopping at a multi-story knock-off market we ate dinner at the top of the hotel.  A few of us weren’t really ready to wrap it up, so we decided to make use of the free beer coupon  and retreat to the hotel bar for one last round before bed.

I called your mama ’bout three or four nights ago
I called your mama ’bout three or four nights ago
Well your mother said “Son”
“Don’t call my daughter no more”

“Before you Accuse Me”
-Eric Clapton

After all, there was the promise of live music–and beer.  It was a combo composed of a young woman vocalist and guitarist.  They were the entertainment for the night.  From their group photo posted in the elevator, it was evident that they had a third who was not present. They were really good.  If I think about it for a while I might even recall what they sang.  They alternated between a couple of tracks with just the duet and then would transition over to karaoke, and a number of younger folks would swarm the stage and take their turns singing a tune.  Some in english, some in what I assume to be Cantonese. Had I completely understood how this worked, I may even have volunteered myself.  Perhaps an app or something was controlling the karaoke, I’m not sure. Here we were, a captive audience contained in a bar listening to the miracle of shared song.

The live guitarist would accompany with his electric guitar and some canned background tracks. As an American traveling in China, it was entertaining and enlightening. Entertaining, because they were mostly singing in English and enlightening because in between sets I caught some Eric Clapton, Before you Accuse Me, over the house speakers from the restroom. It made me appreciate even more how far-reaching our culture is. At the end of their set, they sat down at a table in the bar and someone delivered a beautiful chocolate square cake to their table. I was a little jealous for a moment, until I recalled what I had just eaten for dinner. The contents of my stomach were now swimming in a pool of Guinness.

For a moment, I wondered if the band had a birthday. Perhaps they had a cake left over that the hotel decided to give to the performers that night. I can only speculate. I couldn’t tell from what was being spoken. They cut into the square cake devouring slices as I secretly watched from the corner of my eye.

This trip has made my world a much smaller place. The disappointments that once seemed so great in my world are now judged on a different perspective. That is the magic of education. That the world is more available and you see what is in front of you through a different lens. The important becomes less important with perspective. A failure becomes a learning opportunity. A success becomes a foundation on which you build. As your world becomes larger and larger, you are able to understand and appreciate more and more.

We visited a container terminal yesterday. The multi-colored containers dotted the container yard like 8-bit pixels on a screen. There was no real image made from the pixels, just a scattering of color throughout the yard.  Sometimes like containers were placed together, sometimes they were scattered about. I’m sure that they could have painted an image from the operations center. We learned that they know nearly everything about the location of those containers, and that probably includes the color. The movement was controlled by so many cranes that I couldn’t count them. We were told there were 60. At a particular orchestrated moment the veil obscuring their operations center was lifted to expose the employees working in their operations center. Maps of the terminal were on every screen with little colored alerts dotted throughout.

I never paid any attention to the transportation of a container. I mean, I knew they existed, but I didn’t know much about how they were transported. For my IT buddies, imagine packets on a network traveling back and forth in slow motion between switches. It is a little like that. The containers are transferred to trucks and rail. All logged and managed by computer. It is massive. It is growing.

Now, I’ve seen the Made in China label on many of the toys and technology that I have purchased. I imagined it traveling across the ocean. I never imagined the operations center. The same automation that we are working to achieve in the datacenter is happening on a larger scale in the container yard. Just like restricted traffic in the network, there are limits in the container yard. Size, and the number of containers you can stack. The number of containers the yard can hold is always at the forefront. Oh, and also efficiency.

Efficiency is most important. Efficient shipping makes money. Efficient networks perform in a way that drives optimal revenue or business.

 

I’m the fortunate one

I admit, I had preconceived expectations about China and its people. Looking back, I’m not sure why. I had assumptions that we would see poverty and vast lands filled with workers. I battled the childhood reminder that there were people starving here, and that–for some reason–the food on my plate would somehow fix a problem on the opposite side of the world. At first glance, It isn’t like that at all.

“Some folks inherit star spangled eyes
Ooh, they send you down to war, Lord
And when you ask them, “How much should we give?”
Ooh, they only answer More! more! more! y’all”

“Fortunate Son”
-Creedence Clearwater Revival

Don’t get me wrong, there is very likely poverty in China. I’m not denying that there are people starving in nearly every corner the world. I’m just saying that in the places that we have seen, China resembles the working class cities of the United States. Yes, it is much larger. The city of Guangzhou, as we learned yesterday, boasts nearly 15 million people. That is a massive number of people. Keep in mind, that of the top 25 cities in the world 8 of them are in China. The largest in the United States, New York, comes in at number 27.

Those statistics aren’t meant to elicit fear, by any means. I get the sense that the people of China have much the same wants and needs as the people of the United States. They seek stability, a good job where they can grow and excel, the ability to fairly support a family, the freedom to do what brings them fulfillment. They do great things. They build great buildings, love beauty, and most of all treat their aged with respect.

I watched this morning at breakfast as one of the many hostesses helped an elderly woman to her seat at the table across from me. Even as she held her hand, and gently led her to her table, the warm feelings that came over me were nearly too much. My eyes welled a bit, as they often do when I see someone so graciously cared for. After a bit, the hostess returned to help her fill her plate and take her food back to her table. I’m sure this happens in the United States.  My grandmother and I used to go to Bishop’s cafeteria in Clive, Iowa back in the day and I used to eat dinner with her. I never knew how much that would mean to me today. How precious those moments were. I used to really dislike that place. She must have known that one day I would look back and miss it.

There is this barrier that exists in our culture, often it is between the young and the old. Sometimes, it isn’t an age thing at all. It is perspective. For many, you cross over this barrier when you can finally put yourself in another person’s shoes. You become more gracious and understand the day-to-day struggle of those around you.

On our tour yesterday we caught a glimpse of the basketball courts on the campus of Jabil, an electronics manufacturer in Guangzhou.  Our tour group passed a group of employees walking from their campus dorm. Their eyes widened. I saw a few of them glance upward as we passed, and made eye contact just briefly with one young person who nodded as if to say ‘hello’.  I was walking with another six-foot plus program participant.  They must have thought that we were giants. It just further reinforced that I am, indeed, a giant.

Our guide spoke of the basketball courts and how they were used by employees either before or after their shift, sometimes during the day. I offered to put a team together. She giggled a bit. I would hope that my advantage would play out as I would anticipate, but I am not so sure. Every one of the employees we observed looked as if they were on a mission. It was clear from the start that they were accountable to serve their customer and do their best work possible.

Politically, the world is filled with tension. There is talk of buttons, and war, and the size of the war cache. There is talk of the rich making war and poor having to fight it.  That is not leadership.

Leadership is the shared accomplishment of building together. This trip has increased my hope that young people will stand together in the realization that we aren’t so different. Just look at Google Translate. The barrier of language is nearly broken.  We are even more connected than ever, and poised to share in the success of achievement throughout the world. It can’t be done with threats because even as you threaten one, the others are wondering if they can trust your partnership.