Saturday, October 29, 2005

I'm back

This is me recovering from jet lag... You can see that our cat, Gracie, is happy to get some rest with me.

More on Japan, HK, later...

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Business Travel

I came to realize something about business travel. You can't judge a city when you are there for work. I've been to the LA area three times for work, and each time I didn't like it. The weekend before I flew to Asia, Madeline and I attended Shun Zhang and Danny Sam's wedding there and stayed for three nights. We had a nice time that weekend. Although there are some things that I still don't like about LA (the constant driving required, for example), I now think it's a nice place. We had great food there and the weather was beautiful.

I'm having a ok time here in Japan because I'm working too hard. It's much more important that Ben and I spend some time working out details of our research than spend time sightseeing. We will not get an opportunity to work face-to-face often. Even, given that, I think Japan is a really facinating place. (What does that say about it in comparison to LA?) I hope I get to see some more of it on Friday!

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Second and Third Days in Japan

I've been a bit unfair to Japan. It's not just about toilets. This is a really fascinating, beautiful and unique country. The first day we tried to walk to the conference, but we discovered that's it's quite difficult to figure out what street you are on. Addresses are given by the block name here... and it's written in Japanese. Difficult to figure out.

We ate last night at a tiny restaurant on the street. They have little carts that fold out into complete restaraunts. There is a counter, a stove, stools, a cooler for sake and cold water. There were 4 Japanese business men there smoking and talking while we ate. Fortunately, one of the owners spoke Chinese, so Ben could order our food. It was a really nice experience.

Today we went over the conference in the morning. We went to see a talk about the Chinese Space Program, but it was cancelled "due to the sucessful mission". I was a little suprised by this. They should have sent some sort of delagate to give this talk. If they cancel this talk because it the mission was a success, wouldn't they also cancel the talk if the mission were a failure? Frustrating.

Juilien, Erica, and Afreen's talks went well.

We had lunch at a little noodle place near the conference. There were five MIT students in the group. There was a big discussion on how we should order. Two people in the group spoke chinese, so they haggled over the meaning of the characters (there is about a 70% overlap of chinese characters with Japanese Kanji characters). In the end, the waitress came over to take our order.... She knew the english names of all of the foods, so, in the end... it was no big deal. I had beef soba noodle soup. Very nice!

Monday, October 17, 2005


Ben and I arrived in Fukuoka. This place is very different from HK or Shanghai, or anything else I have seen.

My first impression: My hotel has the most advanced toilet I've ever seen. It has a buttons, lights, water pressure controls, and a very warm heated seat. There are all kinds of warnings about the possibilities of low temperature burns.

I sat down on the strangely warm seat. Immediately water started flowing and the "STAND BY" light started flashing. I started to laugh (nervously) because I had no idea what would happen next. Fortunately, everything worked ok and I didn't have any low temperature burns!

This is going to be an interesting trip.

Hong Kong

I had a nice time in Hong Kong.. I was there for just two nights in between my trips to Shanghai and Fukuoka. Terrence has a nice place in Happy Valley. I spent a lot of time with Irene because Terrence is still working hard at the new Four Seasons Hong Kong. It has been open for just one month.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Visit to Shanghai

I had a great visit to Shanghai over the last few days... I'll write a few notes on what I noticed:

Arrival: October 11, late at night.

Ben and Mei-Chih came to pick me up at the airport. My first impression of Shanghai was the view out the window as the plan was landing. There buildings on the ground were mostly dark. There were no bright porch lights and street that are common in the US. It almost looked like no one lived in these building at all. The one thing that lit up were disjointed sections of new superhighway intersections and bridges. They seemed scattered about the landscape.

Shanghai has a brand new flashy airport. The terminals are spacious with large glass windows. I picked up my luggage and passed through customs in about 10 minutes. We then drove about 30 minutes to Ben's apartment. On the way Ben explained to me that the buildings were dark because no one lives there! There were 10-20 story apartment/condo buildings and brand new roads along the road from the new airport to the city that were built with no immediate demand or customers. This is the only place in the world that I have seen that has such a combination of low cost of labor and ultra-high expectations of growth over the next few years. No developer in the US could afford to build empty buildings like this.

Day 2: October 12

Ben and started working on our research the moment we left the airport the night before. We woke up early in the morning to go to breakfast and head to his office. The apartment complex that he lives in is quite nice. There is a community of buildings with park / green areas in between them. The guards are quite friendly. I noticed immediately that the Chinese people tended to stare at me in wonder. It is easy to forget that China had only been open to the west for a couple of decades. Ben explained to me that there is still a sense of inferiority amongst the Chinese people when they interact with foreigners. They tend to act a little amazed/respectful when dealing with people from overseas. It was a strange feeling for me.

After breakfast we took a cab to the office. The radio was broadcasting a special report. The Chinese space agency has just successfully launched its second manned space flight. The Shanghai VI lifted off successfully that morning at 9:30 am. Ben translated the voice of the Chinese Premier congratulating the astronauts and the engineering team that made it possible. He proclaimed to the Chinese people that this event proved that China is just as advanced as the rest of the world. More on this later...

Ben is sharing an office with his sister, Grace Koo. She is starting a small company named Fei Yeo International. We spent the day working on our conference poster and paper until late at night. For lunch we went to a Shanghai-style BBQ restaurant. It was really nice. It's similar in concept to Korean BBQ, but with chinese flavorings. The side dishes definitely has a western influence to them, like a creamy salad dressing.

For dinner we went to a nice Shanghai-style restaurant named Jade Garden. The food was different from anything I have tasted before. This may be because Grace was trying to order things that Ben had never tried before. This means that there was no chance that I had tried them before.

That night we went to Jin Mao Tower, the tallest building in Shanghai (for now)

Day 3: October 13th, trip to Hangzhou
Ben decided to hire a car to take us to the city of Hang Zhou. This is about a 3 hour drive from Shanghai. This city is close to the area where Ben's family is originally from. We were able to keep working on the paper on the way.. However, I also used the time to catch up on some sorely needed, jet-lag related sleep.

In some ways, Hang Zhou looked a lot like Shanghai. There were many new buildings and crazy traffic moving about the city. There was a mixture of bikes, motor-bikes, and pedestrians moving about the city with great haste. There are giant flashy billboards encouraging the people to buy Canon, Honda, Sony, or LG. The driver dropped us off at a giant lake. It's called West Lake.

At the lake we hired a traditional boat from a local tour guide. It was a long boat which is powered by one giant oar. He offered to row us around the lake for 80 RMB/hour. (that's about $10). We explored a few of the islands in the middle of the lake. One of them sold pearls for outrageous prices. Who pays for these? There are a lot of people with a whole of money in China.

Later on that day we went to visit a large Buddhist temple. It was incredible. I'll post some pictures. There were many areas where I was not allowed to take photos.

That night we drove back to Shanghai and worked some more!

Day 4: October 14th, work, work work

We spent the whole day working on the paper and poster. It was very productive. The final product looks good. I'll post an official version soon.

This was my last day in Shanghai, so Ben and Grace wanted to show me a few things. We went to the Oriental Pearl Tower and a Lounge/Club called "The Door".

I'll write more later, and add some photos...

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

My Trip Begins

This is my first real entry in my blog.. For now, I'm just going to
use email to write this entry, as I am on a plane with my laptop.
Later on, I'll get more fancy and use the editor to add photos.

I am currently on a plane to Shanghai. This entry will not be posted
until I arrive and connect to the internet.

Maddy and I had a great in Los Angeles. We arrived on Friday afternoon
(October 7th). We immediately rented a car and rushed to the Chinese
Consulate to apply for my visa to visit Shanghai for 3 days. I didn't
realize when I booked this trip, but apparently everyone needs a visa to
enter China for any reason! You even need a letter from someone in
China inviting you to visit. Fortunately, I was able to contect Ben
and have him fax a letter to me the night before I left.

more later...

My name is Bill Simmons and I approved this message.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

test of email posting

this is a test of posting via email...


--  My name is Bill Simmons and I approved this message.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Señor Space Monkey's Blog

This is my first post.