Sunday, July 29, 2007

Timmy impersonates Elvis

Our friend and neighbor Ethan had his 5th birthday party today! We had a lot of fun at the party. Timmy is taking a drink from the mister, but it looks like he could be singing into a microphone.
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Children's Musical

Lucas getting signatures and hugs from cast members after the show. Here are Miss Muffet's Spider and the Cow who Jumped over the Moon.
On the Left is the Little Dog who Laughed and on the right we have the Fiddling Cat
And the show's namesakes, the Dish and Spoon who ran away (next to Jack of all trades).
Lucas really enjoyed the show. He even wanted to invite the four mice (narrators) over to our house so daddy could meet them!
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Lucas, Timmy and I went bowling with his playgroup on Thursday. Not quite ready for a bowling league yet, it was an acomplishment if the ball made it all the way to the pins. Timmy enjoyed exploring the facilities (the owner brought him back to me after he'd wandered into the clubhouse while I was helping Lucas). He and his friend Kira are pictures here catching the ball at the ball return. The kids loved pushing buttons (like the reset pins button) and setting off the foul sensor (for crossing the line onto the lane). I'm sure they were glad to see us go!
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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Symphony Square- Biscuit Brothers

Biscuit Brothers

Jet Ski

We went boating at Decker Lake with Lucy Alff on Monday. She has a jet ski. The rides were pretty tame while the boys were on board (it put Timmy to sleep!), but Lucy did manage to throw me into the water. It was a fun morning.
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Happy Belated 4th

Since my camera took a two-week trip to Taiwan, I haven't been able to blog for awhile. I'll try to catch up. We went to Wells Branch for a wet parade and festival for July 4th. Timmy enjoys watermelon, unlike his big brother.
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Saturday, July 14, 2007

Taiwan, days 5/6/7

Day 5 (7/12) - My presentation went great! I basically spent all day preparing for it, but I was able to get up and talk for 2 hours on the stuff I needed to, and I seemed to hold their attention. They asked some good questions towards the end, so I think they got it. Crashed as soon as I got back to the hotel again - I think I've only had dinner once this week.

Can I mention again that Taiwan drivers are nuts? One thing I've noticed in most taxis and even private cars I've ridden in this week is that they have sonar installed - their cars make a warning beep if something's within a foot or so, and a shrill squeak if something's within about 6 inches. You spend the entire drive listening to beeps and squeaks because noone thinks anything of running three wide down a one-lane freeway onramp... nuts, I tell you!

Day 6 (7/13) - If New York is the 'city that never sleeps', Taipei is the'city that sleeps in'. Tired of paying US$20 for breakfast in the hotel and wanting to try someplace besides the Breakfast Bar from Tuesday, I headed down the street the opposite way - towards Taipei 101 and the NY,NY mall. I found to my chagrin that almost nothing in this town opens until 11AM! Even the restaurants I found that serve breakfast didn't open until 8, which didn't help hungry me at 7. The exception was the local McDonald's, but they didn't have McGriddles there. :(

Workwise, today was kind of a waste. I told our supplier folks that I'd be over in the afternoon to take a look at some test cases they were running to make sure my training presentation yesterday took hold. Well, I showed up around 2:30, and they weren't done setting up for it. By 5:30, they still weren't done, so we just agreed to look at it on Monday and I went back to the hotel.

Day 7 (7/14) - The weekend is here, time for some sightseeing! I walked up to the subway station and took that over to the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall - the biggest monument in Taipei. How big is it? Compare to the surrounding city streets. The subway lets you out at the far western side of that plaza. The two buildings with orange roofs are the National Theater and the National Recital Hall. Not much going on in them in the morning, so I wandered over to the National Democracy Museum - the big white building at the eastern end of the plaza. That was quite a hike in the hot, muggy Taipei weather, but fortunately there were covered walkways along the north and south sides of the plaza. (Of course, I didn't discover this until I'd already walked halfway there - oh well.) I bought a sarsaparilla soda on the way. It was kind of a cross between Barq's and Dr. Pepper. Not bad.

The museum itself was free, and nearly everything was helpfully labelled in English as well as Chinese. The style of the exhibit was very hero-worshipping -- quite a bit different from most US museum exhibits. I browsed through there until around lunchtime, then headed back to the hotel. A swim in the pool was just the thing after walking in the heat. I didn't do a whole lot the rest of the day. One of the guys from our supplier was supposed to meet up with me for dinner, but never called. Don't know if something else came up, or he couldn't get through or what. Guess I'll find out on Monday.

I found a church with an English Mass for tomorrow morning, so I'm all set there. More sightseeing tomorrow...

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Taiwan, days 3 & 4

Day 3 (7/10) -
Woke up super-early again. I just had breakfast in the hotel today. Didn't feel like wandering about the streets since I didn't want to have to take another shower after coming in from the sauna that is Taipei. Caught another cab out to our supplier in time for a 10AM call back to Dell folks in the States (one of my hated 9PM meetings when I'm home). Lunch this time was at a Japanese-style noodle house. I had a bowl of noodles with basically a sliced deep-fried pork chop on top. It was very good and very filling. I couldn't finish more than half of it. I'm giving my hosts plenty of opportunity to practice their English (Yingwen) since my Mandarin amounts to barely more than "Hi. I'm American. Do you speak English?" (Ni hao. Wo shi Meiguo ren. Ni hue shuo Yingwen ma?) - not really enough to hold up one end of a conversation. ;)

I ran into a spot of trouble after lunch. (Skip this paragraph if bodily functions bother you.) Toilets are different in China/Taiwan. Urinals look and function very much the same, and my hotel room has a nice American-style potty, so up to now I'd been in my comfort zone. Unfortunately, for #2, our supplier's building only has "squat toilets". Click this link from the Banterist if you want to know what that was like and aren't bothered unduly by somewhat foul descriptions. Fortunately for me, the bathroom I was using was much cleaner than the one he describes.

I managed to stay at work all the way until 5:00 today. I crashed at the hotel immediately upon returning, and slept through dinner. Did some more work & web browsing when I woke up around midnight, but my adventures were done for the day.

Day 4 (7/11) -
I noticed yesterday that the prices in the cafe downstairs weren't really different from the prices on the room service menu (might have been a few tens of dollars less, but not significant). So I treated myself to room service for breakfast.
Thanks, Dell! :)

Everyone here is very solicitous of my needs. I guess I'd expect that from the hotel staff (although it seems more so than I've seen at American hotels) but it even extends to the engineers out at our supplier. They're constantly opening & holding doors for me, making sure I have enough tea or water or whatever. I've made them compromise on the holding doors bit by asking the ladies in the party to go first, then me, then the guys. Otherwise my sense of chivalry gets to me. I don't know if they have similar rules here - I haven't observed much difference in how men & women get treated.

Today was a work day in the hotel. I'm putting together a training presentation which I will give on Thursday. Once I had that pretty well assembled, I wandered out for some lunchtime/afternoon sightseeing. I walked down towards Taipei 101 which is currently the tallest building in the world. Next door, there's a mall-type thing called 'New York, New York' - hooray for American cultural imperialism. :) I got lunch there at a fast-food place called Orange Mart. I was going to go up to the top of Taipei 101, but it started to rain. I figured that wouldn't be the best time to take pictures, so instead I went to the next-door theater and caught the new Harry Potter (English with Chinese subtitles). It was still drizzling when I got out, but it had cooled down nicely (27C instead of 37C - closer to 80 than 100). I wandered back to the hotel and only got a little wet. More work, dinner at the 'Cheers' pub in the hotel - which looks like a modern lounge, but does have stuff like bangers 'n mash on the menu - then sleep.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Taiwan trip, day 2

Day 2, continued..

Well, I managed the cab OK - I got to practice my very limited Mandarin. Our supplier is outside of Taipei a ways, so I got to see some of the Taiwan countryside. It was about a half hour cab ride up into the foothills of the mountain range north & west of the city. Pretty country, and developed all the way out there. America has no monopoly on urban sprawl. :)

About the cab ride - I will never complain about drivers in the US again. Lane markers are a suggestion in Taiwan - pretty well followed on the freeway, but blithely ignored on city streets. My cab driver got turned around a bit at our destination and we ended up driving to the front door of the building on the sidewalk!

My hosts treated me to a very nice Chinese lunch. We went to a family-style type place where we all shared several dishes. The spicy chicken with peanuts was great. The fish that came out on a platter with head, tail, and scales still attached - less so. :) I got some gentle teasing, but I think I did OK for a Westerner on his first trip abroad.

After lunch, I felt sleepiness overtaking me. Since we didn't have anything planned for the afternoon, I asked for a cab back to the hotel. I was planning to take a short nap - oops. Should have set a wake-up call. I ended up sleeping for 5 hours until housekeeping called. Needless to say, I didn't get a whole lot more sleep that night, so I'm going to be tired again today. Argh.

After my Chinese lunch adventure, I was in the mood for something a bit more familiar, so I walked down the street to the local TGIFridays. There are a lot of American/Western stores & brands here - more than I expected.

Dinner consumed, I walked a bit further, down to the Linjiang Night Market. Taiwan is famous for its night markets - basically a street gets blocked off and there are open-air stalls of all kinds. Food vendors, both identifiable and un-, clothing, electronics, you name it. I'm in the market for a new watch, so I was looking around. I noticed a large price differential between the permanent-looking stalls along the sides of the street and the wheeled carts set up in the middle. The watches being sold in the carts went for about 1/10 of the price of the ones along the sides. My suspicions about the providence of these goods were raised further when a woman started loudly clapping in the middle of the market and several of the wheeled cart vendors moved off into an alleyway, leaving their customers behind. I didn't see any police presence, but I assume that was a warning signal of some kind.

At this point, I wandered back to the hotel.

Later in the week, I'll see if I can get some time to visit one of the museums here.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

I'm in Taiwan!

Hey folks! I'm coming to you live from old Taipei - which is looking pretty new these days.

I'm going to keep a travelogue going as long as I have time. I'm here for 1-2 weeks doing stuff for Dell and meeting with suppliers. Pictures will likely have to wait until I get back - I didn't bring the download cable with me. Maybe I can find a business center with an SD media reader...

Here we go!

Day 1 - flight in (7/7-7/8)
Man, that was a looooong flight! I flew Austin-Dallas, Dallas-Tokyo(!), and Tokyo-Taipei. The overseas leg was 12 hours long, and my first trip on a 777. Even with the comfy chairs in Business Class, I wasn't able to get to sleep. The food on that flight was excellent, though. There was a combination of Western & Japanese dishes to try. I had a beef fillet for lunch, and a Japanese noodle bowl for afternoon snack. Dinner was a cheese pizza, since I didn't feel brave enough to try the raw-ish looking scallops. The Tokyo-Taipei leg was on a Cathay Pacific 747. I was on the upper deck and the seats were angled 60 degrees, so we were essentially flying sideways. The nice thing, though, was that they fully reclined. By the time we took off, it was 2 AM by my internal clock (4 PM in Tokyo) - I managed to stay awake through takeoff so that I could recline the seat. I slept the rest of the way there. Nice 3 hour flight. That kept me going long enough to get to the hotel. I was kind of adopted by some Dell guys from the client side of the business who were also on their way to Taipei. They made sure I got to the hotel OK, which is good, because I would have spent a lot more time (and probably more money) trying to get there myself. I'm staying at the Grand Hyatt in Taipei - Dell doesn't stint on international travel. Since I missed the meal on the last flight, I went to one of the in-hotel restaurants. I chose the buffet, thinking that wouldn't be too expensive (I didn't see prices posted anywhere). I was wrong - that ended up costing almost NT$1500 - about $45. Oops, that one was over my limit.. hope Dell still covers it. I ended up staying up until midnight local time since I didn't want to be awake *too* early...

Day 2 morning (7/9) ... but I was still awake by 4:30 AM (which is 3:30 in the afternoon Austin time). I puttered around the room for a bit and got ready. About 5:30 I wandered across the road looking for food - no in-hotel restaurants this time! I got breakfast in a little hole-in-the-wall place across the road. I got a 'fried egg cake with bacon' which turned out to be really good! The 'cake' was really more like a crepe. That and a large orange juice only set me back $60 ($1.80 US) so hopefully that will make amends for last night. :) I dropped by the local 7-11 and picked up a few snacky foods for the room along with a Frappuccino - yes, Starbucks is here, too - and dropped another $165. Taiwan currency makes me feel like a big spender - I have a $1000 bill in my wallet. :) Now I'm off to see if I can make it to our supplier's place. I don't know if they're sending me a ride, or if I need to take a cab over there - they haven't answered my email. I'll let you know tonight!