From Kazakhstan to Paris, with Mexico, DC, Sacramento and Los Angeles in between.
We’ve been on lots of trips, but this has been like no other. We flew the equivalent of 1 ½ times around the world, from the warmth of the Coral Sea to the howling winds of Mongolia. From the sweet sophistication and beauty of Sydney, to the stark grandeur of Kazakhstan’s new capital city, Nur-Sultan. We’ve walked the streets of the almost tiny Ulaan Baatar’s 1 ½ million people to Beijings’s 20+ million people and everything in between. We dived on the Great Barrier Reef, 75kms off the Australian Coast, and ridden camels in the Gobi desert eight plus hours from “civilization.” We’ve conducted an “intimate” workshop among 50 people and spoke at global events with thousands of attendees in Central Asia and China. We’ve talked Big Data, big vision, the impact of the One Road, One Belt initiative on Central Asia and the nuts and bolts of how to build companies.
We’ve had to buy extra shorts because it was too hot and parkas because it was too cold. We’ve sipped lattes watching the sun rise over Australia and gulped hot coffee shivering on a stool outside a ger on the Mongolian Steppes. We’ve slept in cozy boutique hotels, in gigantic conference palaces, on a cot in a ger and in a flea-bag hotel down an alley next to Beijing’s airport. Along the way Karen fell in love with all-things-Koala (as in the little furry animals); I saw my first giraffe up close and personal; we were just feet away from the most feared animal in the Daintree Rain Forest – the guerilla-sized Cassowary bird; and in China Karen was warned not to make eye contact with the monkeys because they can become vicious.
If you have a bit of time, grab a glass of wine, settle in, and come along on this trip. It’s five in the morning, I have plenty of time, we’re in Row 59 of 60 conveniently located next door to the head, and just about to cross over the most eastern tip of Russia to Alaska.
Where to begin?
We didn’t know where we were going when we started. It just kind of unfolded as we went along. I know this sounds crazy for a 13 flight, 35-day, two business conference trip, but it’s the truth. When we got on our first flight to Sydney, we didn’t realize we would have twelve more flights to catch, none of which were booked yet. Things changed and morphed so often that we almost never knew where we would be staying more than two days out. I took care of the flights and business stuff, Karen took care of lodgings, eateries and entertainment.
Our “Itinerary” eventually unfolded to this:
- Fly to San Francisco, then catch a flight To Sydney
- Spend a couple of days in Sydney, then
- Fly to Brisbane for a week of business workshops
- Fly north to Cairns, gateway to the coast along the Great Barrier Reef
- Rent a car, drive further north to Port Arthur for a couple of days. Swim on the reef, trek through a rain forest
- Drive to Palm Cove and just hang in one of the most beautiful beach towns we’ve ever come by
- Drive back to Cairns, fly back to Brisbane, catch a flight to Abu Dahbi, and another to Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan (all in one day)
- Speak at the Astana Economic Forum and see a bit of Nur-Sultan.
- Jump a plane to Beijing, miss our flight, spend a night in Beijing, then fly to Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia the next day
- Hop in a Russian knock-off of a VW van and drive 8 hours west into the Mongolian steppes.
- Spend two nights staying with two different families in Mongolian yurts (called gers)
- Drive back another 8 hours, spend the night in Mongolia’s capital, Ulaan Baatar.
- Next day, catch a flight back to Beijing, then meet up with the “Silicon Valley Talks to Big Data Valley” business delegation I’m joining, and all of us fly to Guiyang, China. After 2/12 hours on one of the worst flights we’ve been on, we get to our Guiyang hotel at 2AM.
- Next morning we’re off to the Big Data Expo and do a panel discussion, some interviews and various other events.
- Have one free night to explore Guiyang and to my utter disbelief, I actually loved this Tier 4 City of 5M people.
- At 4:30 this morning we begin the 24+hour sojourn home
- 35 days, 37,000 miles, 13 flights, 10 airports, four countries, and nine cities.
- Modes of transportation: plane, subway, catamaran, bus, car, camper van, ferry, camel and a horse
No matter what type of government or place, the rich and powerful live differently than you and me. There can be a pretty stark difference when traveling. One gets a flavor of what it’s like when you’re treated like a VIP in Kazakhstan or China. In China, we went to an entire “VIP Wing” of the airport where we lounged in a comfortable room (there were about a dozen of these rooms) while visas, boarding passes, luggage, etc. were handled. In Kazakhstan, we had similar treatment, never having to worry about transportation or travel arrangements of any kind.
This pampering contrasted sharply with the more normal brutal experience of long distance travel. In Beijing’s airport it took us THREE HOURS just to check in and get through all the various immigration, security check(s), customs, etc. We were lucky to have five hours between connecting flights as we needed most of it. In a previous flight to Beijing, we missed our connection out of Beijing to Ulaan Baatar. We had to stay in a dirty, stained-carpet, brown-water-out-of the-tap kind of hotel down a back alley close to the airport. I think we had three 24hr+ travel days that were so long we couldn’t remember where we had started that morning. We also broke a record of more than a dozen “fasten your seat belt” notifications on a single flight that was constantly rocking and rolling from Beijing to Los Angeles.
But, as they say, if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. Good, bad, ugly and horrible coincide with the great, breathtakingly beautiful, and the wondrous that is long distance travel. We had no major mishaps, we lost nothing important, we made all of our meetings, and walked away from every flight.
We’ll be ready to go again, soon.
The Cliff Notes Version: Go. Beautiful, clean, friendly, the most “like us” place we went, high standard of living and quality of life. It’s all about the outdoors, whether “the bush,” the beaches or the Great Barrier Reef. Sydney is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve been to (physically reminds me of SF). Write this down: Palm Cove, north of Cairns. It’s just a great little beach town.
What We Did: Sydney Zoo, traipse around Sydney, toured the Sydney Opera House, watched a Memorial Day parade, went to the Great Barrier Reef, took a tour in the Daintree Rainforest, went to a immaculately preserved mining town from the 1800s, various animal sanctuaries, swam in the ocean, a rain forest river and a pool. Goes without saying we hit lots of bars and restaurants
The Great Barrier Reef (GBR). The GBR is north of Brisbane along hundreds of miles of coast and is THE place to go. We took a catamaran from Port Douglas 75 kilometers to a part of the reef where this company had a giant pontoon boat anchored. Think beautiful ocean, snorkeling, bars and food. Spent an entire day along with 300 of our closest friends snorkeling and “ocean walking.” No question though, the GBR is in trouble. Rather than a cascade of underwater colors we all see in pictures, it is gradually turning brown, then bleached white as it slowly dies. Yes, its all about the water temperature and climate change. Yet, snorkeling over the GBR for a couple of hours is my most vivid memory of the trip. It was an out of body experience that I will never forget.
Animals: Seeing lots of animals has never been on my list of great things to do; seeing lots of animals is one of Karen’s favorite things to do. Guess what happened? Within 24 hours of landing in Sydney, we had hit its world-renowned zoo. Karen fell head over heals for the fuzzy little Koala bears. It was my first time seeing a giraffe up close and personal. The tigers just kind of looked at you wondering which one of us was for dinner. Kangaroos. Wallabies. Tasmanian Devils, and on and on and on. A couple of days later we were gliding down a river in the Daintree Rain Forest looking for crocodiles, which we found plenty of (KR even went to a Croc ranch). I’ve never been to so many animal sanctuaries in my life: butterflies, said Koalas, rain forest animals, etc., etc. By the time we left Australia, I was thinking of starting an Animal Picture Book.
Cairns, Port Douglas and Palm Cove. These are all beach towns along the north Queensland coast. All can get you to the GBR. I hated our one day and two nights in Cairns. Couldn’t find a decent bar or restaurant. Tourist Trap. Port Douglas is a wonderful little village that is probably the main jumping off point for the GBR. Very charming. Maybe a dozen or so of restaurants. Served as our headquarters while seeing everything. Palm Cove. Literally, the minute I stepped out of our car I knew I loved this place. Tiny. Right on the beach. Palms blowing in the wind. Swimming. IF we ever get back to Australia, I’m going back to Palm Cove. I wanted to stay two weeks, not two days.
Why/Where/What is it. It’s in the part of the world called Central Asia. Think all of the countries between Russia and China and you’ll get the general idea. Kazakhstan was a Soviet controlled country until the collapse of the USSR in ’90. Now it’s an independent country with strong cultural and business ties to Russia. Nur-Sultan is the capital created just 20 years ago in the northern part of Kazakhstan. Recently changed its name from Astana to Nur-Sultan, after the “First President” who is still the only President. I was invited to speak on a panel at the Astana Economic Forum about “Building Innovation Ecosystems. The AEF takes place at the 2017 Expo park built in 2017 to house a world expo that attracted more than 100 countries. It’s a truly spectacular place, built on a grand scale with some of the most stunning architecture I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, it’s on the outskirts of Nur-Sultan with nothing in walking distance but a US-style mall. Nur-Sultan is one of the two coldest capital cities on earth. Temperatures get down to -30F with 50 mph winds in the winter. BTW, the other coldest capital city is Ulaan Baatar, our next stop: )
The People/Culture: Aside from looking different from Karen and I, most everything else was relatable. People in every city (towns are another story) dress pretty much the same, they buy the same (American) branded merchandise, and do the same things. Babies cry. Girls giggle. Boys run around. Boyfriend and girlfriend hold hands. Families take selfies. While many of the restaurants looked the same, the food was something other-worldly as I had my first piece of Horse Meat and sipped some Camel’s milk. It’s reassuring to know that one can get a Corona almost everywhere: )
The Physical Place: We only saw parts of the 20-year new capital in the northern part of Kazakhstan, which is in the middle of the Kazakhstan steppes. Weather changed pretty rapidly from 35ish to 65ish in 24 hours. It’s the wind however that makes the biggest impression. Even in the summer, the plane was rocking and rolling on our approach to Nur-Sultan.
There is a “grand vision” nature to all the architecture we saw. Buildings are built for scale, huge in size and shape. Style is hard to describe, something between over-the-top Vegas and Eurasian. Even in early summer, there isn’t much green yet around. The one exception to all of this is… a shopping mall which looks and feels like a shopping mall anywhere.
Since we had three days between the end of Kazakhstan and the beginning of the Chinese leg, we thought we’d see what Mongolia’s like. After all, it was half way…
The Cliff Notes Version: We flew into Mongolia’s capital, Ulaan Baatar in the upper eastern part of the country, hired a guide and driver, and then proceeded to spend the next two and a half days going west into the Mongolian steppes and Gobi desert. We spent two nights with two different families sleeping in Mongolian gers. We rode camels, horses, and had a cocktail sitting next to a goat. We watched a real Mongolian BBQ get cooked and huddled around a cup of coffee sitting out side in the “brisk” Mongolian morning. We learned about Genghis Khan and how Mongolia dominated the world around 1200 BC. We spent our last night in Ulaan Baatar doing what tourists do — shopping.
The Nomads and Herders of Mongolia: By far and away the most amazing thing was to experience/see how most Mongolians outside the city live. They are called nomads for a reason. The easiest way to describe them is to understand that they aren’t farmers or ranchers in our sense of the word, but rather “herders.” Most have up to five different herds of animals — goats, cows, horses, sheep, camels for example — and no fenced in land to graze. Instead, they “herd” each type of animal throughout each day, moving from one pasture to another. They do this on horseback and (the younger generation) on motorcycles with the help of a dog. It starts at sunrise and goes on past sunset.
They’re nomadic because they literally move their gers each season. They plan these moves very carefully, relocating to particular pastures for specific reasons. They usually have a winter place that has a more permanent structure for the family and animals, still primitive.
A typical family (BTW, that means the extended family of mom, dad, grandparents, brothers, grandkids) might have 2-3 gers, a small Russian truck, a motorcycle, and all the things that might go in them. They can put up a ger and fully furnish it in one hour, which seems impossible when you see how they’re constructed and what’s inside one. Each ger has a couple of hard cots, a stove in the center, a couple of wooden dressers to store stuff, plastic table and chairs to eat and sit at, and…. a flat screen TV which is powered by a couple of solar panels stuck in the ground with a couple of wires running to a car battery inside.
There is no running water, no indoor plumbing, no “trash collection,” etc. Everything is carried in, grown, harvested or carried out. Usually in the truck, motorcycle or horse.
As you would expect, mom takes care of the food and house, dad, grand dad and son take care of the animals. If they have breakfast, its very very early in the morning before starting to move the herds. Dinner takes place around 6 or 7, after which they prepare the animals for night. During the night one can hear lots of conversation and laughing. Vodka is the preferred drink.
While the herder life wouldn’t be characterized as civilized by those of us living in cities, especially cities in the West, I’m not so sure it is not civilized in the usual meaning. These folks have a close relationship with each other, the land and their animals. They eat what they grow or can find. There isn’t a lot of time for things that aren’t work related, but once again, they seem to be a happy bunch. No one punches a clock, no one take orders, no one has the stress of a deadline.
The Cliff Notes Version. I was asked to speak on a panel at China’s largest Big Data conference on the future of work and cities, all of which I know little or nothing about. Who was it that said, “Often wrong, but never in doubt”? That’s my motto in these situations: ) Anyway, I was a part of the “Silicon Valley in Dialog with Data Valley” delegation to this conference in Guiyang, China, which is a rather small (5M) 3rd or 4th Tier City in Southwest China. It was a hit and run kind of event since we literally flew in at 2AM on Saturday and flew out at 7AM on Monday.
The group included entrepreneurs, futurists and forward-thinking folks from government and business. It turned out to be a really good group, we did a couple of really interesting panel discussions and had a fun time exploring Guiyang on the last night. Even though they were from Germany, SF and LA, we all kind of clicked.
Guiyang and China:. I have very conflicted feelings about China and the Chinese folks I’ve met. I’ve been to China 2-3 times previously, but only to the Tier 1 cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. While Hong Kong is pretty and interesting, I’m not too enamored with Beijing and Shanghai, mostly because of the depressing pollution and the always-present oversight of the Chinese government. Everything about China’s government is pretty antithetical to us Americans. But, that’s probably MY problem as most of the Chinese people I see and interact with seem pretty happy. This is a much longer discussion for a different time, so let’s just say that much of China’s way of governing isn’t for me.
So it was pretty surprising when I fell in love with the city of Guiyang! It’s mountainous, green, has at least one river running through it, and is pretty interesting architecture wise. Its the first night out that I’ve had in China that I wasn’t totally aware that we were in China. It seemed like just another city in some part of the world where the language and visual sightings were different, but the rest felt comfortable. I tried more “real” Chinese food this trip than in all my previous trips combined and liked most of it. I even saw KR try a piece or two:)
Congratulations if you’ve made it this far! You’re probably as tired as we were.
Until the next time.
This holiday season we were both south of the border and south of freezing temperatures in Mexico and New Mexico. It was fun in both environs.
Warning: this post covers almost six months, so its a bit long. Skip to the pics if you want a scan.
This is how we spent the second half of 2018: We took four RV trips, I gave four speeches at a m/c rally, attended a climate summit in SF, took two train trips, flew to PV a couple of times, went to Pakistan for the first time, I worked with the Trump Administration and to top it all off – I go under the knife for a 4 1/2 hour surgery.
One of our pleasant surprises of the second half is we use Thor (25 ft Class B RV) much more often than we expected and in a totally different way. We bought it for long, meandering trips as well as a second bedroom in PV. But most of our trips have turned out to be short stints to beaches and lakes in which Bogart and Squirt can run free. We’ve made a “Thor Weekend” really Plug & Play as we can be packed and ready to go in under an hour. There’s an RV park on a beach 45 minutes from downtown LA.. We go there most often despite being directly beneath LAX’s runways and across the street from a huge sewage treatment plan and oil refinery:)
Going to Pakistan wasn’t on my bucket list. The Taliban. Radical Islam. Osama bin Laden and the land of the Burka sums up what I knew of Pakistan before getting the invitation to speak at the 021Disrupt conference in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city. I could only stay 3 1/2 days, so KR didn’t come along.
Let me cut to the chase. Here’s what I encountered in Karachi.
- I continue to be surprised that there are young, enthusiastic entrepreneurs in most emerging countries and Pakistan is no different. The 021Disrupt conference drew 500+ entrepreneurs, students, and investors. I met with a great many very fine young people who were all earnestly trying to build a company. But, like most every other developing nation, Pakistan’s entrepreneurs have little support from government, businesses, investors, universities and other stakeholders. It’s this “ecosystem” that accelerates innovation in developed nations.
- Pakistan is country of paradoxes for an American entrepreneur. First, the country was created specifically so that Muslims could live the life that their religion specifies. This is not just a country that has a Muslim population, its a country that was created for them. It’s a country which is tightly controlled by its federal government and military. Yet, I didn’t see a country that looked 100% traditional Muslim. At least at the events I went to — diplomatic, entrepreneurial, academic, social — there was a mix of traditional and Western dress by both the women and men. The women I spoke with were smart, articulate and independent. Net net, it felt comfortable. I discovered to my surprise that no alcohol is served anywhere except private clubs and only available for sale in black market stores.
- I was more aware of security in Pakistan than any country I’ve been to. It wasn’t blatant, no armed soldiers on street corners and in hotel lobbies as in Ethiopia. No, it was a serious consideration whenever outside the hotel. For the first time, I learned what US Green Zones, Yellow Zones or Red Zones meant. Green = an American government employee on station can go there anytime without permission. Yellow = an American can go with the permission of their immediate boss. Red= an American only can go with the permission of the Ambassador. This was the first time I’d been to a Red Zone. Yet, it was pretty heartening to listen to Pakistani government officials at a lunch meeting discuss the causes — and potential solutions — of radicalism in a realistic, long-term way. There was no white-washing.
- Physically, Karachi is a lot like Mumbai or Delhi. At 20+ million people, all three cities are of similar size. Karachi looks a lot like India, except possibly less depressing, slightly less garbage, with more cars vs Tuk Tuks. Karachi is located in a desert — it gets 2 days of rain each year! There doesn’t appear to be a lot of infrastructure (sidewalks and things like that) and like Delhi, it doesn’t feel like a walking city compared to Mumbai.
- Finally, Pakistan provides a real-life prism into the immigration issue. Pakistan is one of the biggest supporters of radical Islam and supports terrorism against the US in Afghanistan. Its one of the last countries I’d want someone immigrating from. Yet, the young entrepreneurs I met would be welcome additions to our country. All you have to do is look into the eyes of a young Pakistani who visited US once, thinks its a magical place, and desperately wants live here to know what “I want to escape a bad place for the opportunity of America” looks like. Go figure.
On a lighter note, KR and I went to the annual Horizons Unlimited meeting of motorcycle adventurers in Mariposa, California this September. Its a three day event filled with training sessions, war stories, how-to sessions sprinkled around meals with fellow motorcyclists. We all camped in tents at the county fair grounds. We spent five days to and from the meeting, riding around California’s gold country. I was asked to make four — count’m four — presentations: “How to go to the Isle of Man TT races”, a travelogue of our two trips through Europe, unusual places to ride in California, and how to “rewire” your life for travel. While I was sure the last one would be the least popular, it was actually the most popular and generated the most interaction. Apparently getting one’s life under control in order to pursue your passion is a pretty important subject no matter the passion..
I finally got the chance to take the Amtrak train down the coast to San Diego and then north to San Luis Obispo. It was unique mode of transportation from our norm and I highly recommend it. The view is great, not worrying about the drive was terrific, the food was acceptable, and it made for great scenery — inside and outside the coach. If any of you are contemplating this trip, email me and I’ll give you some pointers.
I’m writing this post from bed two weeks after going through a 4 1/2 surgery to resection my colon. Basically, they cut a six inch section out and re-attached the ends. It’s been quite an experience that I’m glad to have come through fine. I have one peace of advice for everyone reading this over the age of 50 – get a colonoscopy now if you haven’t had one for a year. It saved my life.
OK, enough with the words, here’s what all of this looked like in pictures.
That’s it for now. I’ll try to write more often.
PS: One fun fact for 2018: We took 18 trips this year, which is the fewest number in the last four years. We’re at 42 countries and counting. We need to pick up the pace : )
Trying to start a company isn’t for the weak-kneed. I’ve tried eleven times so far, with NGIN being No. 12. Measured by money, and most would argue there’s no other measurement worth calculating, only one of them has made a lot of it. Two of them have been truly special places to work, having a lasting effect on all of us. Just one of them has might make a lasting impact on something greater than those who have worked there.
Building companies is a young man’s (and woman’s) game as only they have the energy and are blind to the risks. Being resilient is essential if you’re going to push through the daily set-backs. “Peaks and valleys” is too kind of a phrase to describe what its like. There is nothing remotely valley-ish about the life-changing, gut-wrenching consequences of the failures that inevitably happen. Nor does peaks describe the pure, unadulterated joy of succeeding, even for a moment.
Which brings us back to No. 12 — NGIN. I’m old enough to know the chances of success are low and the risks of failure (it will be expensive). I get exhausted quicker and it takes longer to recover. I’ve already had too many “What the f__k am I doing?” sessions while nursing a screwdriver and ruminating over some lost opportunity. Geez, who needs this?
Well, that’s the rub because I think the whole world needs what NGIN is trying to accomplish. I keep thinking that if we can build a global innovation ecosystem, we can slow climate change, help the poor, and spread the entrepreneurial spirit. The other part of the answer to “who needs this?” is apparently, reluctantly, sheepishly — me, I need to be doing something that’s challenging. So, we’re going to run at this pretty hard and see where it goes.
Which brings us to the last 26 days as KR and I have been traipsing through Europe looking for funding for NGIN. This is not an academic exercise as NGIN has at best a couple of thousand dollars in the bank and isn’t paying its team of three much of anything but the satisfaction of knowing we’re doing something “good.” NGIN runs out of money in September.
When we got on the plane to DC, I only had a vague notion of a plan. I was going to go to as many conferences, speak on every panel I could find, talk to as many potential sources of funding that I could corner, and come up with as many fundable ideas as I could. Basically, the plan was to hustle, just like FMIG or LACI or whatever else I’ve done.
Twenty-six days, seven cities, seven countries, six plane rides, two train rides, dozens of Ubers, a bus ride or two, miles and miles of walking, five conferences, three speeches, and 26+ meetings later… I still don’t know if I found us some money. That’s just the way these things roll, you never know until you know.
Yet, I’m f___king proud that I found three real, serious (as in $100M serious) chances to get NGIN funded. I did what I set out and now its time to drag one of these over the finish line. The biggest thing we accomplished was giving us some hope that we have a chance.
We moved around like we were on the run from the law, never staying in one place very long and changing our mode of transportation constantly. We packed light (considering those 26 meetings), got conversant in the language of trains, subways, trams, taxis et al – all of which were in something other than English, and learned to not unpack if not needed. We ate well, drank at will, crammed in as much prowling around as we could, and met tons of nice people. Note to self: scrambling around Europe is a lot nicer than scrambling around India or China.
There were lots of firsts on this trip. Of the seven cities/countries we went to, four countries (Austria, Hungary, Denmark and Finland) and five cities (Vienna, Budapest, Malmö, Copenhagen, and Helsinki) were new. I’d never packed for a twenty-six day BUSINESS trip, with suits, ties, shirts, et. al in sufficient quantity to look fresh at every meeting. I’ve never made a pitch for a $100M program in a train station before and I’ll remember Malmö’s train station for a while.
We went to our first Mozart concert in a marvelous Vienna theater. We went to our first bar in a converted canal control tower in Copenhagen (and it was a non profit too!). Speaking about bars, we went to our first “Ruins Bar” in Budapest and the “First American Bar” in Vienna. The most unexpected great meal, of many great meals, was a Swedish restaurant tucked in a shopping mall in the party district of old Budapest.
Being an AirBnB guest rather than as our normal role as a host was new as well. It’s not an accident that KR gets lots of great reviews for Corona Adobe as our guests get treated to a whole other level than we generally experienced. Finally, we did not lose one item, although we might have come close a couple of times. KR and I have a workable “have we got everything” and “always look back” routine.
Here’s the speed dating version of our trip
- DC, Vienna, Budapest, Malmö, Copenhagen, Helsinki, and London (in that order)
- Vienna was regal, pretty, clean, well-organized, a bit formal, the locals were kind of cold and there were a ton of tourists even in May. Probably not our favorite place.
- Budapest was gorgeous, both physically and architecturally, it looked lived in, has a great vibe, faster paced, and the Danube is, well the Danube. Definitely on the return list.
- Malmö was, well, Swedish. The land of IKEA architecture, clean lines, homogeneous people, lots and lots of runners and bikers, and is worth a half day to see (we were there two). Everyone was outside as it was warm and sunny in May, a phenomena not usually experienced, if at all, until July.
- Copenhagen rivaled Budapest for beauty and KR would argue it was prettier. Canals, charming neighborhoods, the first rush hour traffic jam of bicyclists I’ve seen, people were edgier (there were five tattoo parlors on our little street). Ditto for the sunshine impact – the canals and cafes were lined with sunbathers.
- Budapest was the easiest on the pocketbook, bordering on inexpensive. Copenhagen was by far the worst, followed closely by Helsinki. Copenhagen is so expensive that I wouldn’t go back for that reason alone.
- All the Nordic countries are clean, modern, pleasant and white. I’m not talking about snow. Only “service” people were a different shade, and the number of African Americans we saw on this whole trip could be counted on both hands.
- If you want to see what a city looks like whose primary mode of transportation are bicycles, go to Copenhagen. Everyone rides, in all manner of dress, in all directions, all the time. Maybe its because there’s a 150% tax on new cars. I wonder what it looks like in mid-March when it gets dark at 3:00PM and its snowing?
- All of Europe, and especially the Nordic countries, were celebrating truly spectacular weather for May. We only had a day or two of rain, the rest was great. We love traveling in May as it’s a “shoulder” month in which prices are still not the high season and you can get lucky with the weather.
Here’s what our twenty six days looked like in pictures:
Two factors drive FW’s Trip-O-Meter’s index: Are we going to someplace interesting, different and far away? And are we getting there on something with wheels (e.g. motorcycle, then RV, then car, etc.). Our current trip scored about a going-in “6” as it included twelve days on the motorcycle (a very good thing) but we were going north in California on a route that I’ve been on before. What’s far away about another California trip?
For the answer, go to a place called Sawyer’s Bar Bar (it’s a town, not a bar). Located deep in the Klamath Forest, packed along side the Salmon river, its one of the remotest places we’ve been to regardless of continent. Easily three plus hours to the nearest store of any kind (in a town called Forks on Salmon — no kidding), down a gravel road that requires 100% concentration to avoid pot holes, cliffs and said river, it reminded one of the West Coast version of Deliverance. What makes it all the more other-worldly is that Sawyer’s Bar Bar residents are still in the 21st century: trucks, indoor plumbing, off-the-grid electricity, etc. Why would anyone want to live so far-out, yet still enjoy the perks of the civilized world? My only conclusion is that they love animals more than people:)
Another rather remote place is the “Lost Coast” area just south of Eureka. While it doesn’t have the Deliverance feel, its remote and foreboding. Walk along the beach, with the slightly-below gale force wind and gray skies, and you shiver thinking about being in any kind of boat out there. We camped along the beach at a campground that had more warning signs about various dangers (from bears to tsunami) than most army bases. It’s also about two hours away from any civilization, in this instance Garberville.
Garberville is in another world, namely the Hippies of the 60’s. Located in Humboldt county, Weed Capital of the US, Garberville is all tie-died shirts and dresses. Just like the ’60s, there are a lot of street kids looking for their next high, either pharmaceutically-induced or other wise. Garberville and other Humboldt towns are undergoing a major economic change as California moves toward legalized pot. Among other things, this is causing a severe housing shortage as most homes are being used as grow-houses. I’m not making this stuff up:) Try buying a shack in Humboldt and it will cost as much as our house in Hollywood.
We tend to meet the nicest people in local bars, which probably says too much about us and how we travel:) Maybe its because we look like we need some help after a long days ride? A bartender in Chester clued us in on which roads to take to Mt. Shasta. It was fascinating to listen to him explain why on earth he made the move from LA to Chester. After listening to him describe the wonders of Chester (population is in the hundreds) I was thinking of making the move myself:) We had a great chat with some fellow bikers in Garberville and learned about a guy who’s criss-crossed the U.S. numerous times on a quad pulling a trailer, mostly on dirt roads! He almost convinced me that pulling a trailer with NVII isn’t a big deal.
After 2100+ miles and 12 nights, we’re ready to get home and do the complete opposite – get back on the road again:) We miss the Dos Diablos (Squirt and Bogart) and I can tell that KR is getting tired of moving every day. Factory Place here we come. We also talked about going to Central America/Columbia/Ecuador/Peru after the first of the year. Admittedly we had this conversation after a couple of drinks.
Here’s what this trip looked like.
I’m leaving for China tomorrow with Gov. Brown (well, we’ll be in the same conference:). Somebody has to pick up the leadership mantel for saving our environment now that Washington DC has abdicated. California is stepping forward as its the perfect case study for countering alternative facts: we have the most regulations regarding pollution and carbon emission yet our economy is growing much faster than the national average. The single largest factory in California — employing more people than any other — is the one I stopped on the way home:)
I’ll let you know how it goes.
After more than five years at the helm of LACI, I offered my resignation as CEO on December 22nd of last year. The Board asked that I stay with LACI running our international operations, so I’ll still have something to keep me busy for bit longer. We’ve been conducting a search for my replacement ever since and I believe the new CEO will start early this summer. Freedom here I come!
I’ve been pretty schitzo about this whole subject for a long long time. I first tried to stop working full time about seventeen years ago after my Internet Titan phase ended. I figured we had enough money to scrape by and I was anxious to get on the road. But then I fell back into bad habits and tried to buy a company, start a couple of others, and was lured back to the start-up world full time at Idealab a couple of years later. I quit again two years later, but that didn’t last long either as a couple of friends and I started a management consulting company. That lasted four more years and I finally said “ENOUGH! – I’m outta here!” Karen and I sold the our house in Hollywood, bought a base of operations in Mexico, packed up Now Voyager I (our m/c), and went down to South America for an extended “adventure riding” get-away.
How far does a guy have to go to get away? Obviously, Bolivia wasn’t far enough as that’s when I got a call about building LACI. Frankly, I just found it impossible to resist the pull of building things. LACI was both an irresistible challenge and a chance to do a good thing. It’s been fun, all consuming, stressful, invigorating, challenging, tiring, fairly lucrative, and immensely rewarding.
I first wrote my letter of resignation in February of 2016. I didn’t send it in. Every time I got close, I’d edit it and put it away to think about it. I went through eight drafts:) before sending it off nine months later. So, this is really it.
Ohhh man, this is both exciting and pretty damn scary.
Let’s talk excitement first. I’m pretty sick and tired of my friends having all the fun. You know who you are, Sam, Chuck, Bill, Larry, Keith et al. How come you get to have so much fun and I’m still pulling on the oars of commerce? Geez, they seem happy! What the F____ am I missing? I want IN!
As readers of this blog will attest, Karen and I like to travel. Long, sometimes hard, but always interesting travel. This is less a hobby and more like a compulsion. Our 800 sq. ft. loft in LA has three or four globes and a dozen or so maps taped on the walls. We have more space dedicated to travel paraphernalia than we do to normal stuff (like furniture:). Not too may days go by without feeling the pull of Let’s Get Out There!
Now, let’s talk scary as in I’m scared shitless that 9 months into this I’m going to be stark, raving bored. What happens if everyone is right about me — I can’t possibly not work because I’m a f____g workaholic! The common view is that I’ll be so bored that I’ll rue the day that I hung up my keyboard.
I’m sure the first among the “Are you sure?” crowd is my dearest wife. Karen doesn’t need a lot of “help” in her daily routines. (She’s probably thinking, Geez, now I’m going to make lunch and dinner every day for Him?) This could end badly:) Yet we have experience in being together 24/7. We built FMIG together. Much of my Eat-What-You-Kill work has taken place at a home office. Spending lots of time on a m/c or in an RV doesn’t leave a lot of room for much personal space – either literal or figuratively speaking. So, there’s hope that the Boss of Factory Place, Corona and LBS can learn to Love Her Man even if he’s around a lot.
The other elephant in the room is money. How much does one need to make it all the way? It’s the unanswerable question as there are lots of ever-changing moving parts. Like how long? Like how healthy? Like how well? I’ve read all the papers on what to do financially when you stop working full time. They’re all kind of mundane and pretty obvious. My answer of course is that I’m not going to stop working, I’m just not going to work 24/7 anymore. One really pleasant surprise on the money front is that our home in Puerto Vallarta –Corona Adobe — has turned into a real source of extra income. This is 100% due to KR’s decoration and hostess talents. Who would have thunk it? By the way, the Sales Pitch by KR for getting Thor (our RV) was that we needed something to live in when Corona was rented out. Yah, and I also bought a bridge…
Seven years ago I wrote a series of posts on “Rewiring,” a concept I didn’t invent but one I took to immediately. To me, Rewiring means getting control of your life by re-configuring how you live and work to get more freedom and enjoyment. The idea was to turn the work-drives-lifestyle rule upside down: figure out how to live the life you want and then rewire to get there. Here’s the first post: “Rewiring your Your Life” In 2010 we had embarked on a rewiring job so that we could earn a living while traveling far, wide and long. I’m pretty much still there:)
But now that we’re approaching Launch Time, I’ve been giving some thought to what all of the guys mentioned above do — have fun. So here’s Fred’s everyday bucket full of fun:
Astute readers might notice a few themes from above, like he certainly doesn’t like to do much that does involve going places, fast. Hard to argue that one. But that’s the good thing about The Next Step, I get to be passionate about the things I want to be passionate about, when I want. The more I think about this, it could be a very good thing.
I don’t know where to start after being away for seven months. There are so many high and low-lights that its tough to figure out how to put a theme around them. Maybe its just that we continue to live an interesting life? One of contrasts, unpredictability, playing hard, working harder, and traveling by almost every means imaginable which now includes a few yards on the back of a camel:)
Here’s a speed dating summary of the last half of 2016
- Lots of travel — twelve trips in the past six months to India, Africa, the East Coast and Mexico. You know something is weird when you know which terminals to avoid at Heathrow and where the best lounges are at most of the airports we hit.
- Two huge events for LACI — the Grand Opening of the new 60,000 sq. foot La Kretz Innovation Campus and the less than grand election on November 8th. Both will shape LACI for years to come. I won’t be going back to DC any time soon.
- 2016 will be LACI’s best year as measured by almost any metric: we’ve grown the number of companies we serve by 40%, the number of jobs created by 70%, the long term economic value we’ve generate by 40%, and the size of the NGIN network to 20 members in nine countries. Our 2016 budget is 8X the budget we started with five years ago.
- “El Diablo” — aka Bogart — has driven KR to the edge of sanity, forcing us to put him through a two week intensive training session. The result; the family has a leadership problem. No s__t!
- Our Mexico places –the Corona Adobe and Little Big Sur — continue to draw guests from near and far. KR has turned into the Innkeeper with the Most-est and our 2016 rental revenue is 2X that of 2015. Onward and upward!
- Life in the Arts District continues to get more and more interesting. The addition of a scooter, a 2006 Aprila Scarabeo, has made getting around really interesting. New establishments are popping up almost daily. The retail complex around the corner under construction has applied for 17 liquor licenses. Yaahhh boy! Our 800 sq. ft. loft continues to work as USA central the Walti clan.
- We’re finally starting to use Thor, our 2016 Leisure Travel Van “Libero RV, after about a year of sitting in the parking lot. As with any of our travel vehicles, we’re in the process of figuring out how to configure it to our liking. Not surprising, we need more electrical power!
Well, those are the headlines. Feel free to close this up or to skip down to the pictures now. For those of you who want more color commentary, I’m here to serve, so read on:)
In the seven months since we last wrote after coming back from Spain, Morocco and Ethiopia, we’ve traveled to India, Egypt, Mexico, the East Coast, and Northern California.
This was our third trip to India and the second speaking tour for the State Department I’ve done. We covered four cities in about ten days. I did 25+ speeches/meetings in Delhi, Chandigarh, Indore and Hyderabad.
It was the first trip that KR and I didn’t venture out of the hotel often except for business! Part of this was because two of the hotels we stayed in were absolutely fabulous. Part of it was getting in sync with a time zone 15 hours ahead of Los Angeles. But the real reason was laying around in bed all day, half way around the world, is the only way I can get away and relax. When was the last time you just hung around in bed for an entire day? Exactly my point:)
I’m still conflicted about India. We got out of just the mega cities of Delhi and Mumbai this trip to the North and the Central parts of India. Hyderabad, in the south central region, is a tech boom town in which all the major multinational companies have huge presences. It’s a go-go entrepreneurial hub, strewn across rocky hills and spread out for mile and miles. I was never in a car less than 90 minutes to any meeting as the traffic was so bad.
Yet, unless you’re rich, India just isn’t that attractive of a place. 800 million people or so mean there’s just a mass of humanity, their trash, their houses, their vehicles, their animals, and their shops every which way. The rivers are polluted. The country can’t really feed all its population and still has 300 million people (the size of the US) without access to electricity. The idea of sidewalks and parks aren’t really on the agenda anytime soon.
I hold hope that we’ve not seen the “good stuff” yet:) KR has pretty much given up and doesn’t care to go back. Maybe that’s why we didn’t get out of the hotel much:)
Cairo was a whole different deal. I liked the vibe immediately. The city is much more interesting visually, it’s much older and has the advantage of being split down the center by the Nile, which we got to sail on by the way. The architecture is interesting, at least in the upper scale part of town that most foreigners hang. The streets are full of cars with the occasional motorcycle, which is pretty much the opposite of India’s cities.
No surprise, most of the perceptions that we Westerners have about Egypt, Muslims and the MENA region aren’t true. The US government is mightily mistrusted by most Egyptians that would speak about it. Even those people who were living in or working for US companies, felt that our history in the Middle East was horrible. We were/are only looking out for our own self interests. I’m not sure this can be fixed…
KR and I spoke with the young woman who served as our guide and for the first time I got an explanation of the Muslim religion that wasn’t scary or angry or intimidating. And while I’m not a religious guy, I could understand how she felt and had empathy. We could live next door to each other without thinking twice.
We’ve gone to a number of far-flung countries in search of business. I’ve met with probably a hundred groups in the last 12 moths and no matter if its Ethiopia (which makes Mexico feel like a 21st century country) or India or Egypt or Morocco or Spain or… there is one surprising commonality: entrepreneurship is alive and well, even in the most desperate lands. Young people are excited about starting companies, about creating new products, about using innovation to solve their countries problems. It can’t help but give folks like me hope for the future and a bounce in my step.
A big part of travel is having the right mode of transportation:) To date, our stable includes (by length of ownership):
- The Iron Duke (’96 Jeep Grand Cherokee): This is the Mexican equivalent of the New Yorker’s “station car.” 162,000 miles strong, its role is to carry Karen, the dogs, our guests, friends and assorted neighbors around Puerto Vallarta and environs carrying as much stuff as can be crammed in. Usually twice a year it makes the 1,500 mile trip to/from PV to Los Angeles. Karen hates the Iron Duke because she has to drive it. I love the Duke because he can’t be hurt. Who cares if someone puts a new crease in his side door?
- The Bullet (’01 Jaguar XKR Silverstone). The Bullet is now the LA version of the Duke. He wasn’t always that way as he started out as a mint-condition-not-a-scratch-to-be-seen exotic sports car, before he encountered the streets of downtown Los Angeles… After fifteen years, he only has 72,000 miles since the distance from front door to front office door is 2-3 blocks.
- Now Voyager II (2014 BMW 1200 GS motorcycle): The vehicular love of my life, NV II is KR and my Adventure Vehicle to far away places. NV II has an unusual combination of space-age technology with tractor-like reliability. It’s simply the best motorcycle I’ve ever owned. This is beyond surprising given that NV I (another BMW) was the worst, most unreliable motorcycle I’ve ever owned. NV II meets our thirst for adventure the freedom of motorcycling. NVII has already been to the UK, IOM, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Morocco, Luxembourg, Belgium and Monaco. He’s barely broken in:)
- Thor (’16 Leisure Travel Vans Libero): Thor is a mini RV that KR calls our little jewel box. Prime function of Thor is to take ALL FOUR OF US to far away places, but mainly places in North America. Thor is a small, but fully functional, Class C+ RV that has excellent interior finishes. Fully functional means: bed, toilet, shower, kitchen, refrigerator on-board power, satellite TV, dining room table and enough storage that includes a small closet. Thor is still a work in progress relative to outfitting, but has a big future.
- Rover (’06 Aprilla Scarabeo motor scooter): Newest member of the family, Rover’s job is to be the local get-about when we’re roaming in Thor. Rover sits on a rack in the back of Thor, ready to to go to the store, bar, or just down the street from wherever Thor is parked. Rover continues an interesting trend in the Walti vehicle ownership history: two Yahama RZ 250’s, two Honda Pacific Coasts, two Fieros, two Jaguar XK8s, and two Scarabeos… Go figure.
- Potential New Additions to the Stable: Highest on the list of new members is a Ural motorcycle/sidecar ensemble. This would be a creative and practical solution to my wanting to go everywhere on a motorcycle with KR’s desire to take Bogart and Squirt everywhere with us. KR, Bogart and Squirt could sit in the sidecar. Also on the list of potential additions are a Moto Guzzi m/c, a Morgan 3-Wheeler (if the Ural doesn’t make the cut), a replacement for the Iron Duke (shush, don’t tell KR), a Corvette, a Jag F-Type, a Jag Station Wagon, a Ferrari, and a …..:)
- Planes, trains, etc. Well, there haven’t been any trains in the last year, but we have taken ferries, taxis, Ubers, big big planes, small planes, pongas, buses, vans, the aforementioned camel, a sail boat, and a Tuk-tuk or two. I recommend the Airbus 380 and the Brittany Ferry, but not in the cattle car areas. British Air’s food quality has gone down hill, which is a great disappointment. Flight to avoid at all costs is the American out of Reagan to LAX at 5PM. ALWAYS two hours late, no inflight entertainment, no wi-fi, and the center seat is usually the only one available. Who says that airline consolidations are a good thing?
Life in the Loft
It’s hard to believe, but KR and I have been living in our 800 square foot loft in downtown Los Angeles for more than five years! Factory Place is located in the “Arts District,” which is LA’s industrial area that’s rapidly becoming the West Coast version of NY’s Meat Packing District. This place just reeks of coolness and weirdness and diversity and creativity and … money. Someone told me that the Arts District has the highest HH income of any area in LA other than Beverly Hills. I don’t believe that, but like all major metro downtown areas, it costs lots of money to live here so those who do are well off. Research shows that downtown LA has equal parts Hispanics, African Americans, Asians and White Folks and it shows on the streets and sidewalks. Diversity is a very interesting thing if one is open to it.
The family sedan for most people on this planet is not a sedan, but a motor scooter or motorcycle. The work horse of Asia, much of Africa, and even big swaths of Europe has two wheels, not four, and accommodates between one and five people, depending. Traffic, parking, gas mileage, and cost are all made the easier on a scooter.
This summer we shifted to a two-wheel family sedan as well, the aforementioned “Rover.” I now drive Rover the five blocks to work, we use him to go to dinner at night in downtown, or to see friends in Hollywood. He’s the easiest, most convenient vehicle I’ve owned in quite a while. I recommend one to all:)
Life South of the Border
Let me state this up front: Mexico is becoming the safest place in North America to live and visit. There aren’t any terrorists in Mexico. Narco’s? For sure, but it feels a lot safer to me than going to France, or Belgium, or San Bernardino, or Germany or… Shake your head in disbelief, think I’m crazy all you like, but it’s the truth.
The Peso continues to take it in the shorts via the dollar. When we bought/built Corona, the ratio was $1.00 = $11 pesos. As I write this, the dollar equals 20.5 pesos! For those of us who live/visit Mexico, this has made a huge difference. It’s generally a good time to be an American tourist in much of the world in terms of currency.
Here’s one practical example of the impact of the dollar/peso devaluation on our life. We have a wonderful maid who comes to Corona five days a week from 10AM to 3PM and we pay her $7000 pesos/month. That equals about $340 dollars a month in today’s valuation!
Here’s another. I recently had to get the Iron Duke fixed. He needed a new coil, plugs, distributor, oil change, radiator repair, tune-up and an ECM unit fix. Total cost was $3700 pesos = $180.00. PICKED UP AND DELIVERED:)
The dollar is at all time high via the British Pound, Euro, Egyptian Pound, Mexican Peso, etc. Lesson to be learned: never, never keep your money in a foreign currency even if you live abroad.
Our palapa in the jungle, “Little Big Sur,” continues to be a challenge to upkeep and rent remotely, but remains a joy to actually use. LBS is best understood as a land-locked version of owning a boat; just keep putting money in and every sailing is actually a repair/maintenance outing:) Our annual Jungle Storm event turns into an all out “invite your friends to the jungle to repair and fix-up LBS.” Every visit to LBS is preceded by a visit to Home Depot:)
Two Seismic Events
The Grand Opening event for our new campus on October 7th was the result of more than five plus years of labor and $47M in capital investment. 2300 VIPs, stakeholders, sponsors, and friends RSVP’d to our event. Two Mayors and assorted other VIPs gave speeches, cut the ribbon, took part in tours and gave press interviews. The new 60,000 square foot purpose built campus is the Taj Mahal of cleantech with desks for over 250 entrepreneurs, a chemistry lab, electronics lab, an advanced prototyping center, micro grid, and a model ‘smart home of the future’. The La Kretz Innovation Campus elevates LACI to a new level of prominence in the world of clean technology innovation.
Thirty one days later and the Trump Trampling washed over LACI like a tsunami. We literally had to send out “keep calm and carry on ” notices and hold numerous counseling sessions as everyone is this building believed that the sustainable world as we know it was coming to an end. And frankly, nothing that has happened since the election gives us hope he was “just kidding.”
My view is that LACI will survive and prosper no matter what. Market forces and mega trends are at our back. But, I’m worried shitless that the New Administration will step away from its commitment to sustainable sources of energy and the steps necessary to reduce/slow climate change. This won’t really impact us here in the US as we’re all comparatively rich. If it gets hotter, we’ll just turn the air conditioning on. Drought and crop reduction? We’ll just pay more for food. No, its the poor who feel the brunt of the effects of climate change. The World Bank estimates that climate change will push another 100 million people into poverty by 2030. This is serious stuff that the Leader of the Free World doesn’t seem to understand or give a shit.
And please, don’t talk to me about “clean coal.” Coal is as likely to be clean as the Lock Ness Monster is likely to jump out of the lagoon tomorrow.
To the Future, we go!
I’m looking forward to what 2017 will bring, none the less. KR and I have plans and ideas of what it will entail, but who knows? We wish all of you a wonderful holiday season and a great and prosperous New Year!
Here’s what all of this looked like in pictures.
CAIRO (DEC 2016)
INDIA (OCT 2016)
LOS ANGELES (OCT 2016)
MEXICO (DEC 2016)
ON THE ROAD HOME (DEC 2016/JAN 2017)
I promise to write more often.
It seems like ages since KR and I were on a “serious” trip. Mexico, DC, Dallas and the beach don’t really count. That’s all changing as we’re flying to Europe for a month of riding NVII and then going to Ethiopia for two weeks on business. Here’s the headlines of the “plan:”
- Fly to London, take the bus to Southampton
- Pick up NV II, ride to Portsmouth and catch the ferry to Santander, Spain
- Ride east to through the Pyrenees, then to the Coast of Spain and Barcelona
- Go south east along the Spanish coast
- Catch a ferry from Gibraltar to Morocco.
- Ride to Casablanca, make a u-turn and go back up the coast and catch the return ferry
- Ride from Gibraltar to Madrid
- Leave all of our stuff with Maureen in Madrid, pick up our (business) luggage
- Fly to Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) for business
- Take a 4 hour bus ride to Awassa and then back to Addis Ababa
- Fly back to Madrid, drop our clothes off, pick up NVII and ride to Santander
- Take the ferry back from Santander to Portsmouth
- Drive NVII to Southampton, drop him off for shipping back to LA
- Take a bus to Heathrow and catch the plane to Seattle and eventually LAX
Just your basic 42 day plane, bus, ferry m/c, ferry, m/c, plane, bus, plane, m/c, ferry, bus and plane trip.
Of, course who knows what we’ll actually do as this itinerary is a lot like a battle plan- it won’t survive the first contact with the wifey:)
Our first planning session occurred the night before we left as we drove to meet friends for dinner. Karen began reading from a used book she’d picked up that day, “Vagabonding”, by Rolf Potts. Here’s the section that caught my attention:
…” Travel can be a kind of monasticism on the move: On the road, we often live more simply, with no more possessions than we can carry, and surrendering ourselves to chance. This is what Camus meant when he said that “what gives value to travel is fear–disruption, in other words (or emancipation), from circumstance, and all the habits behind which we hide” – Pico Iyer, “Why We Travel”
Pico, of course, never saw Karen’s suitcase, so we all know the bit about “with no possessions” doesn’t apply to us. But the thought that travel is about fear and disruption rings true for me. Fear and its companion, adventure, are the most important parts of travel for me. Going over there and not knowing what’s over there is an adrenaline rush.
As I get older, taking fear-inspiring trips is harder and harder as my urge is to seek comfort and (relative) safety. Hence, we’re taking a m/c trip to Spain, not through the Bolivian jungle. Let’s face it, this trip is for wimps:)
On the other hand, going to Ethiopia has a lot of unknowns. We’ve never been to Africa, let alone Ethiopia, so it is both intriguing and fearful:) You might be wondering why we’re going to Ethiopia in the first place, and the answer is the U.S. State Department.
The State Dept. is sponsoring a 9 day speaking tour for me since someone in our Embassy in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia’s capital city) thinks I’m a “world cleantech expert.” I’m not telling her differently so we’re going:)
What’s the connection between LACI and Ethiopia, you’re probably wondering? Simple, LACI has been hired by the World Bank to help make their Climate Innovation Center in Addis Ababa work better. And perhaps help Ethiopia and other Sub-Saharan Africa countries go green.
As I write this, I’m not sure what the series of “speaking events” will be nor what I will be talking about, but we have 30 days to figure that out and a bunch of miles and plenty of vasos de vino to figure it out.
I’ll keep in touch.
I don’t have much of a life in Los Angeles if one defines life as something other than
work. This is not a complaint, just a fact. LA is primarily for LACI and anything else needs to be fitted into the creases. Mexico is the reverse for me, it’s about living, not making a living, and I spend most of each December and part of January in Puerto Vallarta with The Boss of Corona and her best friend, Squirt. This post is what its like to go back home to Mexico and hang for a month.
It’s surprising how quickly comfortable being home in PV is, even after 11 months of being away. Well, its not quite immediate as it usually takes KR a couple of days to get use to me being around and for me to put away my CEO ways. After this initial roughness though, it starts being as smooth as a cold Corona (the beer, not the house) on a hot day.
First thing is the house. I would never have believed that 6200 feet of house would be comfy, but it is. Corona just flows right. We spend most of the time in the master with forays to the pool and top deck. The kitchen and dining room are usually for breakfast and entertaining. Most other meals are taken in bed or eaten out.
Our bedroom is really Operations Central. It’s on the third floor, with a balcony that I often wonder onto to check out the neighborhood or look at the skies or take in all the various water craft zooming along the beach. Size matters when it comes to TV’s and we have a large “smart” TV in the room. (let’s not go into how useful a Smart TV is with a dumb owner). KR usually has the TV on 24/7.
I’ve also slid a small desk into the corner next to the window overlooking the Bay of Banderas and do all my work here. There are very few better views around, especially for an “office.” I spend 80% of my day there, hitting the keyboards, gazing on the street below, taking a Skype call, or swiveling the chair around to catch Wolf Blitzer giving yet another perspective on the 14th Republican debate. Squirt provides the other source of constant entertainment.
KR does most of her B&B administrative work in bed as well, so
having the three of us in the bedroom as headquarters works well. Very well. Beyond our bedroom door looms two irresistible lures. At least twice a day I walk out the door, take five steps, and jump into the pool. Swim around, take in the view, listen to the cacophony of neighborhood sounds, and then hit the rays. KR can’t resist the 3rd floor garden that surrounds the Pool Deck. She’s always been a gardener and having three gardens (1st, 3rd, and 4th floors) and more planters than I can count means multiple chances to get covered in mud. This is a good thing.
Here’s a question for you: When was the last time you walked down your street, talked to your neighbors, watched kids play, and then stopped in the local grocery store to buy some food for lunch? In LA, my answer is never, and I’m not just speaking about the Factory Lofts in downtown LA. My answer would be the same for the Hollywood house.
In Puerto Vallarta, it happens every day, usually more than once. This isn’t by accident as we purposely moved into a “mixed” (read Gringos and Canadians along side Mexicans) neighborhood in the hills of PV. Our neighborhood consists of the small street in front of our house (Corona) and the two cross streets (Miramar and Metamoris) which happen to be the only ways up/down the El Centro Hills. This accounts for lots of street activity most days and most times of each day. And since most Mexicans around us live in something less than 6000 sq ft., they spend their free time sitting outside their houses on the porches or curbs.
Last night was typical. We went out the front door and started walking downhill toward the Malecon (boardwalk) to get something to eat. Karen dropped off some discarded clothes to the very extended family next door. Eduardo, the father and someone who I’ve taken tequila shots with at 2 in the morning, commented that I was looking a little gordo (fat) and I should keep eating so they could get more of my non-fitting clothes. We all laughed out loud.
We found a new place to eat on the Malecon, the Jazz Foundation, which had so-so food, great music, cold beer and really nice waiters who helped us map out our next trip. Walking up the hill on the way home, we bumped into a neighbor we’d met a year or so ago and invited him back for a cocktail.
These encounters happen every day here.
Noise is a controversial subject in our house and among our neighbors. Up the street there are a group of kids, mostly in their late teens or early twenties, that think there’s nothing better to crank up the boom box at all times of day or night. A couple of neighbors have called the police to complain, which generated a visit from the local police only to find out the primary source of the noise was…. an off duty policeman! The music keeps on playing giving us a dose of Mexican justice on a local level.
The young children next door play soccer in the street below us. Most Mexican cars make the Iron Duke look like a limo and announce their passing through their non existent mufflers. Roosters crow too early even for farmers, of which there are none that I’ve seen. Three blocks away the church bells ring at intervals that I can’t figure.
Noise, of course, is a two edged sword. It’s annoying and interuptive and … well…life affirming as well. This is a vibrant neighborhood in which life is visible and audible to all.
No week would be complete without visits to Walmart, Costco, Home Depot, the bank, Office Max and the assorted stores needed to keep a Gringo’s Mexican households running and in order. I’m not ashamed to admit, I’ve become a Kirkland Man, wearing Costco underwear and “dinner” shorts & shirts, drinking Kirkland wine and vodka, BBQing Kirkland ribs, and eating Kirkland ice cream (the Vanilla is the best ice cream yet created on this earth:)
Of course, not all is fun and games when you’re a B&W innkeeper. We have a staff to supervise, which KR keeps me away from, that includes a property manager, a maid, a pool guy, a carpenter, a handyman, an electrician and plumber. And this is just for Corona, as there’s a whole ‘nother crew for Little Big Sur. There are walls to paint, solar systems to repair, pool pumps to maintain, windows to fix, and…. on and on and on. Is there no rest for the weary? Don’t answer that:) Yet, I had it easy compared to this young man who went out to LBS to rebuild our solar system. It’s worth it to read his report:)
Finally, let’s talk money. Living in Mexico, even a tourist town like PV, is relatively inexpensive and getting more so every month. When KR and I started coming to PV, the dollar was worth 10 pesos. Last year around this time it was worth about 13 pesos. Today, the dollar is worth 17+ pesos, which is a very good thing if you’re a Gringo, less so if you’re a Mexican. Certain things remain expensive: gasoline is $3.20/gallon, electricity ranges from $200/2 months to $900/2 months depending on the use of A/C, and anything imported will have a duty of between 14-140% tacked on. Labor, food, rent, property taxes and such remain incredibly low, which is why this place continues to grow as a gringo/Canadian hang out during good and bad times. Please don’t tell anyone how good this is, we have enough folks here already:)
Well, that’s my report on life as a pseudo Mexican.
Mas Margaritas por favor!
This news just in! Karen has become so successful as an innkeeper that we don’t have a place to stay during the next six days. True to form, KR threw some things in the Iron Duke, made sure Squirt was comfy, and said, “Let’s head south!” Uh, what about a reservation or some place to head to? Over rated, I guess.
Here’s what everything looks like in pictures.
And…we party on a bridge that’s about to fall down, we finally open the La Kretz Innovation Campus, we successfully hold our third annual Global Showcase (GloSho’15), Karen goes south for the Winter, and I’m stuck at 29 countries. Where to start?
Well, let’s start four months ago when KR and I were driving the Iron Duke and Squirt back up to Los Angeles. We had a long time on the road and found my new mobile hot spot to be a very useful time waster. To pass the time, we started looking for RV’s. We’d search the web, find something interesting, do some research and then call the dealer. We did this through much of northern Mexico, Arizona and California. Long story somewhat short, we decided to actually buy a Travel Leisire Libero. Here’s its key features:
- Big enough to have a bed that doesn’t need to be made every night and a full bathroom (admittedly for small people) was a major step up from Casa Loca
- Small enough that it can be taken just about anywhere
- Inside finishes are great looking
- There’s a kitchen that’s “workable”
- It’s got a gas engine so we can take it to Mexico and other developing countries
- Has solar and generator power
- Satellite TV
- Three-way refrigerator works on shore, battery and propane
Only problem is there aren’t any dealers in Los Angeles (go figure?) and we were also about to go to Asia for ten days, making it was logistically challenging to complete a transaction.
But, where there’s a will (wife’s) there’s a way (husband’s) and we completed the transaction while standing in a Buddha temple in Kuala Lumpur communicating via text message with a dealer in Vegas. I’m not making this up:)
As soon as we got back we flew to Vegas to pick The Vehicle up (unnamed as of this writing) and drive him/her back to LA. Nothing is simple in our world, so we couldn’t even make it to Vegas without KR getting sick and having to go to the ER in a local hospital. That’s a way longer story to sort through, but she’s OK now.
Let’s stay on the subject of vehicles for a moment. You might remember that we had a tough time getting the Iron Duke to LA the last trip north. Five-hours-stuck-in-the-Mexican-desert tough would be accurate description. The only way we got him us home was to disconnect the muffler and go full blast down the highway.
Once in LA, I found the “Medico de Jeep” in South Central Los Angeles. After replacing the catalytic converter, the engine management system, something called a “crank sensor” (KR would like one of those for use around the house), the turn signal thing-a-ma-gig, and all bodily fluids, the Iron Duke has been reborn! Well, we had to also take all the light bulbs out of the interior lights as we couldn’t find the short, which kept draining the battery.
As I write this from my bedroom in PV, I can report that The Duke ran like a top for the 1500 miles from Los Angeles. Welcome back into the fold Duke!
It’s been pretty busy on the LACI front as well. In the same week, we moved into our five-years-in-the-making-new 60,000-square-foot-state-of-the-art cleantech-innovation-facility AND put on our third Global Showcase (GloSho’15) which attracted close to 600 people from 15 countries. Both came off pretty damn well and we’re now settling into our new digs, though I think we’re all a little shell shocked by how nice a facility we now have after years in a converted bus repair shop.
The downtown Los Angeles neighborhood that both LACI and we reside in, called the Arts & Innovation District, is undergoing rapid change too. For those of you who’ve been to New York’s Meat Packing District, the Arts District is a west coast version. Lots of new apartments, restaurants, bars (thank god), and retail stores are pushing up against the area’s historical industrial base of warehouses, cold food storage, transportation, and garment manufacturing encampments. Not all are happy about this change, of course. My street is an example of what’s happening: there are two world class Italian restaurants, a gun club, the largest indoor climbing wall west of the Mississippi, a coffee and bicycle bar, a cross fit gym, a vegi restaurant and my apartment complex called “Factory Place.”
We’re about a block away from the LA River, which runs north and south splitting the Arts District from Boyle Heights. Boyle Heights started as a Jewish neighborhood decades ago, but now is a great Hispanic community that borders the western edge of East LA. Boyle Heights is feeling the crush of yuppified development as well as we Hipsters try and find more affordable, cool digs close to the action of the Arts District. So on one side of the river we have a burgeoning Hispanic neighborhood with kids, cars and grass yards and two blocks away we have the artists, photographers, ad guys, and cleantech folks.
The 6h Street Bridge both literally and figuratively spans these two communities. Built in the 30’s, its an architectural treasure that you’ve seen in dozens and dozens of movies (To Live and Die in LA is my favorite). It seems that not all’s well with this bridge as there is a 70% chance it will fall down in the next 50 years, which is apparently a very risky situation for a bridge, as its being eaten from within by cement munching critters. I’m not making this up.
So, the wonderful, iconic, historic 6th Street Bridge is being torn down this January and is being replaced not by a bridge, no that would be too simple for us Los Angeleos. No, we’re going to build a neighborhood experience surrounding a new bridge. God only knows how much and how long that will take.
The one thing we do know is its a good time to have a “Farewell to the 6th Street Bridge Festival” one recent Saturday night. It was a great event where literally the Chicano’s and Hiptster’s met halfway across the bridge and partied pretty hard. The entire bridge was full of people when KR and I slipped out early (10PM).
Finally, this has been another year of continuously traveling. Between KR and myself, we’ve taken 28 trips to 32 different places the first 10 months of 2015 as I’ve reported in past blog posts. It seems that I will fail to meet one of my personal goals which is to visit 30 countries by the end of this year. Sadly, I’m stuck on 29. Here’s the current list:
Lots of holes in this list and we intend to continue filling them:)
We’ve taken a lot of trips, but this one’s had the most contrasts. We’ve partied on the French Riviera with the One Percenters (OK, we were in the same town:) and drank beer with hard-core motorcyclists on the roads of the Isle of Man. We’ve stayed in tiny towns in France, Switzerland and England and visited one of the world’s great (big) cities — Paris. We’ve seen the rolling countrysides of England and France; the mountains of Switzerland/Italy/France/Germany; and the ocean cliffs and pastures of the IOM. We’ve been on autobahns at 90+mph and tiny tiny mountain roads at 9 mph. All in all, a jammed-packed 30 odd days.
Here are the basic facts & stats:
- NY II shipped to & from: Zeebrugge via RORO on Wallenius lines
- 36 days, 19 travel days on the bike
- 3500 miles (<100 miles per day total and > 180 miles per travel day)
- Methods of transportation: plane, train, bus, ferry, taxi, subway, m/c
- Countries (9): Belgium, France, Monaco, Italy, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Germany, England, Isle of Man
- Problems with the bike: 0
- Tip-overs: 1 (while packing him up one night)
- Electronics: two computers, two iPads, two cameras, one GPS, one video camera, two phones, two helmet intercoms, and one mobile Wi-Fi hot spot
- Longest # of nights in any one city: 4 – Nice
- No. of pubs/bars slept above: 2
- No. of rain storms encountered while riding: 3
- No. of Westies sighted: 12+
- No. of “old” churches visited: too many to count:)
- Best hotel: La Mirande, Avignon France
- Worst experience: Iberia airlines — 12+ hours in one of the last analog planes + lost bags
We spent the last week of the trip meandering from the IOM through England, staying a couple of nights in Canterbury. We then crossed the Channel and spent two nights in Normandy on the French coast, wandered through the French countryside and spent another day/night in Brugge. I rode NVII back to Zeebrugge and put him on the boat. KR and I then took a train to Brussels airport and caught a flight to LA via Madrid. Simple:)
Net Take Aways:
- The Little Woman no longer likes 500 mile long days on the m/c. Go figure.
- Too much space allocated for tools, not enough for personal electronics. NV II is rock solid, so I don’t need to carry a mini tool chest. You can never have enough electronic toys, however.
- There are no hotels in Europe for less than $100 that the Little Woman wants to stay in.
- BMW rain suits suck
- We need a bigger “junk drawer” (top box:)
- RORO (roll on, roll off) is still the best way of shipping a motorcycle. But, one needs to make sure not to put any small value items where freight handlers/shippers can steal them as they will.
- God bless Garmin and GPS. How did we ever travel before them?
- Ditto for Schuberth helmets with intercom/radio/phone. They’re expensive, but flawless.
- Wolfman water proof bags are the best. When you combine them with separate, shaped mesh containers for clothes it creates an easy to pack/unpack clothing system.
- BMW’s electronic suspension pretty much solved the short guy problem of putting two feet on the ground. System can be used as an instantaneous lowering system when in traffic by putting system in “Soft” mode, “Hard” mode when on the highway. Technology can be your friend:)
- Contrary to going-in perceptions, motorcycle parts/accessories in Europe (not England) are cheaper than here. The devaluation of the Euro is probably the main driver of this short term bonus.
Thanks for keeping in touch with us.
This year began where last year left off; lots of work and lots of travel. Berlin, Abu Dahbi and Dubai weren’t enough to scratch KR’s itch to travel, so she went to Copper Canyon and Cuba without yours truly. Eleven trips, 12 weeks, and 14 cities kind of says it all. I’m on the hunt for new business. And, if truth be told, new experiences.
In the Book of New Experiences, there are few newer experiences than going to the United Arab Emirates for the first time. If I were a good travel writer, I would think up words to describe this place. Honestly, words escape me; I just don’t know how to describe the Other Side of the World adequately. Think the Cantina scene in Star Wars to get an impression. I don’t mean this in a negative way, but things are just so totally different that its hard to draw a comparison.
It’s pretty apparent there are basically two types of people: residents and citizens. Residents are there to work on everything from research institutes to driving taxis. Typical stay for a knowledge worker is about three years. The planes and airports are 90% full of residents from all over the world. Because of the UAE’s location, there are as many people from Asia as Europe. Dubai has just become the world’s busiest airport.
Citizens are a different thing altogether. They dress differently, practice a different religion, and generally live a dual existence trying to integrate Western ways in the Arab culture. Pretty interesting. As with most places we’ve traveled, most people are friendly and happy to help.
People that live in the UAE (and I suppose Saudi Arabia) live in a protective cocoon. There is no sense of the trouble just hundreds of miles away in Syria, or Yemen, or Iraq or.. Pretty amazing really. I don’t know how they do it, but one feels 100% safe.
Our stay in Abu Dhabi and Dubai was just a couple of days, so we weren’t able to sample much of the place beyond my meetings and our hotels. Yet we were able to… see the most outrageous hotel in Abu Dhabi (The Palace Hotel, which also serves as a palace); drive 100 miles through the desert between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, stopping at a roadside McDonalds; go to the old part of Dubai and wander the markets (called Souks) in which we bought a camel; and get a glimpse of how the super rich and hipsters live in their Lambos and rooftop bars.
And the possibilities of doing some business with the Emirates seem reasonable. Lots of opportunity, we just have to figure out how to take advantage of it. I’ve been invited to speak at a conference in Dubai in April, so I’ll be going back and we’ll see.
The whole purpose of this trip was to go to Berlin, not Abu Dhabi or Dubai. We put on an “Expert Work Shop” for 35 GIN members from all of the world. For two days we worked on best practices and learned about how folks from Shanghai or Tokyo or Italy or Germany or Finland did things. Pretty damn interesting.
A not so pleasant experience happened at 4 or 5 in the morning, strapped into my seat, sleeping. Everything is quiet. I’m in a very long, dark, quiet tube of an airplane We’re flying from Abu Dhabi to London and we’re over the Mediterranean. I don’t know where the f___ we are. Never been here before. Then the plane starts bucking. Very significantly. The captain comes on in a clipped manner; “Buckle down!” Didn’t he mean buckle up? And here’s what I’m thinking: this must be exactly what the passengers in the Air France plane from Brazil or the Malaysian Air passengers felt right before it went down. Dark. Quiet. Somewhere over an unfamiliar ocean. We stop bucking and I go back to sleep. But I’ll never forget this feeling and mental image.
As I write this, Karen is in Cuba. I guess the Little Woman couldn’t wait for Her Man, so she and a girl friend flew from Mexico to Cuba. I’m awaiting her report, but this is what she wrote in an email:
From a day trip out of town. tobacco farm, cave, countryside. Pretty good. Free day tomorrow. Looking forward to spending the day in Old Havana!! Had a taste of it yesterday and I can’t wait to go back. No pictures because I used my camera. Will use iPad tomorrow.
This hotel was built in 1930. 19 people were killed in the lobby in the 40’s by Battista’s men during a coup attempt. In the 50s, Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky hosted the biggest ever gathering of Mafia men under the guise of a Frank Sinatra concert in the hotel.The Mafia was responsible for bringing gambling and prostitution to Cuba. If the walls could talk.
I can’t get enough of the cars. I’d say 70% are from the 40s and 50s. Some are tied together with rope and are running with Russian, etc. auto and tractor parts. Mechanics are looking forward to US trade so they can get our parts. Or enough of the architecture-magnificent old mansions built by the sugar barons and taken over by Castro and turned into government/social service office- all in disrepair and sad looking. But there are many preservation efforts. Raul has loosened many restrictions and seems interested in change.
Will send photos tomorrow. We are leaving Wednesday am to stay at a famous beach resort. Yuk. I’ve opted for a day trip (6hours on a bus) to visit one of the best preserved colonial cities.
That’s all for now. Here’s what it looked like in pictures.
When I was a twenty something Account Man working on Madison Avenue, I yearned to work on international accounts as I wanted to see the world, even back then. But I was too career-obsessed then, as international assignments were often only a one-way ticket out of the Big Time. So I passed on “going overseas” and stayed in NYC, then LA, SF and back to LA. While I’ve always done a ton of business travel, two flights a week were not unusual, they were usually to such exciting places as Cincinnati (P&G), Denver (US WEST), Cupertino (Apple) and my favorite, Columbus, Ohio. Exciting travel was left to KR and my personal adventures.
As time marched along—shoot, its run at full trot, no? — KR and I have spent more and more time planning, prepping and going on more adventurous trips on bikes, cars, RVs, planes, trains and buses. We’ve seen Nepal, India, Argentina, Alaska, Mexico, Chile, Brazil, Peru, Uruguay, Belize, Guatemala and all of the U.S. And like a junkie who gets his first shot of dope, I’ve been yearning to go further, longer and more adventurously every chance I get.
And then LACI came along and all thoughts of prolonged, wandering travel have pretty much been put on hold. Instead, we did a “travel pivot” and decided to take advantage of whatever little opportunities came our way and not worry about missing out on the Big Kahuna of trips.
Voila! We took 24 trips to 35 cities in the last year for a combo of business (mostly) and pleasure. While I’ve traveled more often in my career, I’ve never traveled to as many interesting places in such a short stint. Here’s the stat sheet.
I‘m thinking, “How did this happen?” Why now? It certainly wasn’t planned. While I’ve never thought of retiring or slowing down, I didn’t think I’d become an International Man of Mystery at this stage:) About a year ago I dreamed up the idea of a Global Innovation Network, linking innovation institutions around the world together. Well you can’t build a global network without going global. And while we can, have, should, and will continue to debate why a little incubator in downtown Los Angeles is building such a network, we’ve been doing it for about a year and its starting to get momentum.
I guess the other reason is that just as in business the ability to “pivot” is often key to long term success, the ability to pivot in life is at least as important. All my life I’ve been a Man With a Plan, but most of the time the Plan gets thrown away as soon as life happens along. So, Karen and I pivoted off the Adventure Plan to the build a global cleantech ecosystem plan. Go figure:)
So, in celebration of the New Year, here’s what’s struck me as interesting during our Year of Traveling Continuously…
- I like airports, especially big, new, shiny international airports. They’re all the same in that you can figure out what to do and where to go no matter what far-away-land you might find yourself. And now they’re good places to hang with Wi Fi, Starbucks, pretty decent food, comfortable lounges and lots of stores. I feel at home in an airport. Sad, but true.
- There is one international language that most everyone knows and responds to: a smile. While cultures, values, life styles, dress, standards of living, and governments vary widely, the human spirit doesn’t. People are often surprised that my grasp of Spanish doesn’t go much further than “Mas Margarita’s, Pour Some More,” yet we spend so much time in Mexico, Central and South America without speaking much Spanish. How can you live in a country you don’t know the language? My answer is, “Are you going to restrict your travel to only those places you speak the language?” Of course not. We like people, we look for ways to connect in physical and emotional ways, and we treat people with respect. I admit we try not to go to places that are steeped in conflict and hatred, so I’m not sure that our international language will work everywhere.
- Like the pull of gravity, KR’s search for things to decorate Corona is an inexorable force that can’t be fought. No matter how small, light and swift-footed we start any trip with, we end up pulling the equivalent of a 20 mule team across Death Valley by its end: ) And I will always lose this debate because well, the end result is pretty damn neat. Corona is alive with stuff KR has carted back from all over the world and its great.
- From my perspective, China’s people have made an unspoken pact – give us a middle class standard of living and we’ll do what the government says. It’s a bargain most of us would make if in the same situation. China’s middle class looks prosperous, active, educated and pretty happy to this outsider. The same bargain is being struck with Hong Kong’s middle class; let us makes lots of money and we’ll look the other way as Beijing gets rid of the two systems, one country bargain made in 1997.
- This year’s trip along the Pacific edge of Mexico took us through the most notorious parts of Mexico without even a whiff of trouble. In fact, we spent Christmas Eve 2013 not too far away from the area where the 43 students were kidnapped and killed. Two points here; once again we see no signs of the crime and drug cartel behavior that is splashed on the front pages of U.S. newspapers. We love Mexico and its been a safe place for us. Yet, Mexico’s government and criminal justice system is totally corrupt and not to be trusted. If Mexico is ever going to take its place along other developing nations, it needs a deep-rooted cleansing. No one can predict if this will happen, but I keep thinking Columbia cleaned up its act, so Mexico can too.
- KR and I have settled into a new rhythm of the road in which we move often, stay in a city a day or two, and get just enough of a taste to know whether we want to come back or not. These trips are pretty strenuous, often lasting 18 hours a day rushing from one meeting to the next, usually in a different city. Yet, KR doesn’t complain as she gets to explore a new place a bit while I do business. She’s fearless and curious, which usually makes for a good time.
- Often the best part of the trip is riding up front in the leather. On really long trips we use frequent flyer miles to sit in Business Class as one of our many guilty pleasures. It’s amazingly comfortable with food at the push of button, more movies and TV shows than you can possibly watch. When was the last time you could hit the keyboards for 14 uninterrupted hours? It’s productive time in the lap of luxury. Does it get any better?
So, here are a few of our favorite pictures from 2014.
Take care and have a great 2015!
China has never been high on my list of places to visit. Crazy perhaps, but if I can’t ride my bike there it’s not a priority. Not a particularly helpful attitude, however, if one’s building an international network of cleantech organizations given that China is a huge market. We’d already found Global Innovation Network (GIN) partners in Finland, Germany, Italy, and Mexico; now it was time to look toward China. So I flew to China for a week to expand GIN’s small footprint on to Asia.
Our usual approach to a trip wasn’t going to cut it for this trip. KR and I never plan where we’re going, leaving most of the specifics to the wind and chance. Planning for this trip was different; I spent a month trying to pack as many meetings into five days as possible. I was fortunate enough to make contact with some folks in China (thank you Diane , Tony and John!) that took pity on me and helped arrange 12 meetings in both cities. Preparations included getting a Visa (China wins the contest for easiest and fastest visa ever – three days for a six month visa), getting GIN documents translated to Mandarin, reading every “How to do business in China” article I could find, and arranging the logistics of a schedule that had me arriving in Shanghai on a Sunday night and leaving Beijing the following Saturday night.
I was actually looking forward to the 11 hour flight there, chilling out while hitting the keyboard is a real treat (no comments, please). I could read and get some work done in peace and quiet. I might even find the time to read a book, something I can never seem to finish. So, I settled into my seat at 3PM on a Saturday, waved goodbye to LA, and got to work, expecting to land in Shanghai the next night 11 hours later.
Three hours over the Pacific the plane icon on the flight path tracker started heading in the wrong direction — back to LA, not China. Must be a glitch in the system, it was a 777 after all. Wrong. Long story short, the pilot finally informed us that we had an electrical issue and we were going back to LA. This started a series of events that included rebooting the trip for the following day, cutting my stay in Shanghai a day short while lengthening my stay in Beijing an extra day.
One of the results of the one day delay was that I was switched from American Airlines to Cathay Pacific. For those of you thinking about going to China, write this down: Cathay Pacific is one great airline experience. It makes you wonder what the f__ happened to US carriers?
It’s impossible to get an accurate impression of a 1.2 billion person country in just six days, but its also impossible not have lots of impressions from such a different experience, whether accurate or not. So, here are my net takeaways, which I reserve the right to change after more investigation:
- Shanghai and Beijing, huge cities of 20+MM people each, are both very similar to other large cities and very different. Different language, style of dress, cultural heritage, history, race, forms of transportation, and of course a totally different system of governing. Yet, they’re full of people just like you and me, hustling to get somewhere, stuck in mega traffic, everyone reading their smart phones, lots of stores we’d recognize, and more people willing to smile than scowl.
- China isn’t as “foreign” a culture as say, Nepal, or some parts of South America. Everyone pretty much stays in their lanes while driving in China, except using the right or left shoulder is a congestion-beating technique widely practiced. Try driving in Kathmandu or Arequipa, Peru to experience the thrill of anything-goes-anywhere-cut-and-thrust traffic. Shanghai and Beijing may be in a developing nation, but these cities look and feel prosperous and grooving. Pretty much everything works like electrical grids, subways, etc.
- China has a huge middle class (by number of people, not by % of the total population) that seem pretty happy. While business customs are a bit different, business is business. Kids wear weird outfits. Commutes, kid’s education, electronic toys are all subjects of conversation. Things seem pretty normal.
- The presence of a controlling government is everywhere, but subtle, and its a “given” to the Chinese. Want to get on Google or Facebook? Nope. Lots and lots and lots of security check points in public places. Pretty much only good news reported in the newspapers. Government is business in China. Freedom of speech, thought and protest are only missed when you realize that most other folks in the world don’t have them.
- What’s not normal is the scale of things. Massive office and government buildings for as far as you can see or as long as you drive. Parks are big and jammed with people. Roads are six lanes. Beijing has 24M people, 6 million cars, and 15 subway lines. No one lives in houses so there are high rise apartment buildings everywhere.
- International airports, no matter where, are all the same. Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing airports are all modern and pretty well run. Most signage is in Mandarin, but there’s enough English to get by. Starbucks, Apple, Armani, McDonalds, et. al are all there, pretty much recognizable. Chinese airports are also remarkably fast in the security and immigration processing department. In fact, one pretty quickly realizes that China has systems that move lots of people very efficiently (not counting street traffic) in most areas.
- Waiting in line is a contact sport. Don’t take offense, its just part of everyday life as you’re as likely to be elbowed aside by a 70 year old grand mother as a 16 year old.
- To state the obvious, air quality is appalling, affecting everyone, everywhere, all the time. It’s just always grey and overcast unless it rains, in which case its only overcast. Everyone knows this and the Chinese will I’m sure attack this problem with the force and scale that they’ve build a new industrial economy.
I’m going back to China in November with the Mayor so I’m going to get a second chance to experience China. It should be interesting to see the place after the initial shock has worn off.
Here’s what the trip looked like in pictures.