After completing our business in China we crossed the border into Hong Kong for our final meetings of this trip. Pictured here is the lobby of the Langham where we are spending the evening. I like the understated elegance of this lobby more than the ostentatious ones found in most of the high end hotels we have stayed in so far. Diner this evening was an exquisite affair hosted by one of our vendors. A six course meal was interleaved with as many courses of wine and after diner drinks. While the food was superb, I was happy to excuse myself after the fourth course for a 10PM conference call (the meal went on until near midnight). I am totally comfortable in social settings where everyone around me is drinking. Unfortunately, I find that many who drink feel compelled to try and convince me I should give it a try. Even after explaining that I have reached 54 years of age without consuming a drop of alcohol they seem intent on tying to persuade me to abandon a lifetime commitment to abstinence. All I can do is smile politely and turn my glass upside down.
Last night we flew to southern China for the balance of our meetings. A driver was waiting for us at the airport holding up a sign which caused me to break out in laughter. For the record, my middle name is Albert.
After work and dinner I explored the Guangzhou area on foot covering more than 7 miles.
My routine for the work week was fairly consistent. Wake up, take care of e-mail/make calls to iRobot, exercise, shower, breakfast in the hotel, meet colleagues in the lobby, check out, drive to factory, meet all morning, lunch with hosts, meet all afternoon, dinner at fancy restaurant with hosts, drive to new hotel, check-in, check e-mail, take long walk, fall asleep exhausted.
Having spent the better part of 24 hours cramped in an airplane or car yesterday, I found myself eager for a walk this morning (which translates to the middle of the night for my body clock as China is 12 hours ahead of Boston). My hotel is located next to an office complex which surrounds a man made lake, home to a number of black swans. This is the first time I have ever seen this species and I could have happily spent the morning admiring them. I am travelling in China this week with several colleagues as we visit with a half dozen contract manufacturers and vendors over the next five days. Our first meeting is not until dinner leaving us with several hours of free time. Our first stop was the site of Expo 2010, held on both banks of the Huangpu River in the city of Shanghai. It was a major World Expo in the tradition of international fairs and expositions, the first since 1992 and the largest World’s Fair site ever at 1300 acres.
The China Pavilion, colloquially known as the Oriental Crown, was the largest national pavilion at the Shanghai Expo costing an estimated $220 million. Today the pavilion is home to the China Art Museum.
With limited time we could only afford to spend time inside the Saudi Arabian Pavilion (aka Moon Boat) and the Italian Pavilion. The former features an all encompassing 3D visual experience which is like none other (think iMax movie combined with an elevated moving walkway carrying you through the inside of a giant egg).
The latter, a tribute to Italian creativity and ingenuity, includes a pair of full size Ferraris mounted on one vertical wall and life size seating and instuments for a complete orchestra on another.
After a brief tour of Old Shanghai we ascended to the observation tower of the The Shanghai World Financial Center, a 1,614 foot tall skyscraper located in the Pudong district. We were extremely fortunate to have an uncharacteristically clear day making the views magnificent. Normally the air pollution here is so bad that one would question the need for a building with any windows.
When traveling from Boston to China you arrive late the next day. This photo of the Boston harbor was the only one I took during the journey. It was rather lackluster so I decided to play around with it in PhotoShop (to no avail). As a Senior VP, I am entitled to fly business class but always opt to fly coach instead. I prefer to do this because no one else in my organization enjoys this perk and I don’t like asking my people to do anything I am not prepared to do myself. Second, the incremental cost to fly business class is ~$5K which I would much rather spend on a team building event. About the only nice thing I can say about flying to China is that I was able to watch a half dozen recently released movies during my time in captivity. Lincoln, Life of Pi, Trouble with the Curve, and Killing them Softly to name a few.
I’m writting this email without internet connection so I will send it if I ever find some WiFi. Ok so I’m at the school in Usgaon and it’s awesome. There are 243 girls living here so as you can imagine everyday is ridiculously fun. Ok hang on a second, as I wrote that last bit, our English speaking friend just showed us a copy of the local newspaper and there’s a picture of me with all the girls in it. Sort of wacky looking because the whole thing is black and white so my face sticks out like crazy, it just hit me that I look nothing like anyone here, but from my perspective it hasn’t been that relavant. I’ll get a copy and bring it home to you guys. Sooooo yeah ok and there is a girl named Davika and she’s the coolest ever. She’s the head girl of the school and she’s in 8th grade, she has taken me under her wing. We can’t communicate very well, but her English is great and her sense of humor shows through. It is really, really hard to be funny while speaking another language, but she manages just fine.
I’ve been teaching a lot of English classes, more like assisting my mom, but still. I have a whole new respect for teachers (not Mr. you know who but for every other teacher) It’s extremely hard and not because we don’t speak Marathi, but because we are running out of things to teach. We are working on members of the family in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade classes. Every once in a while, we will know a word in Marathi that can help us in class like wedding, girl, or be quite (we don’t know boy but why should we at an all girl school) We are trying to learn 10 words a day and now know 40. The principle has me teaching an extra math class for girls who are behind with their addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. I’ve only had one class, but so far it’s great and I seriously like tutoring.
Sorry this email is so long. So much has happened since I’ve been here and this is only 1/8 of the stuff that’s going on. I don’t have internet and I’ll try to write, but chances are I won’t be able to until March 10th. Ok what else, oh yeah. I’m taller than every girl here, with the acception of a couple teachers and most of the men. It recently occurred to me that if I’m at least 5 inches taller than all of the girls, Maddie could easily be twice the height of some of the little ones. I’m dead serious.
The food here is incredible, Sarinnagh would HATE it because everything (absolutely everything) has at least some what of a kick, if not enought to make your eyes water. Fortunately I like spicey things, but we still have to bring tissues with us to all of our meals (even breakfast). The school cook, Tibi, is soooo nice and is always checking on us and bringing us snacks, chai, and just about everything else she can find. For school snack, there is a huge, huge pot full of cooked lentils. Two girls man the pot. While I was teaching the math class, they came up to the roof (where the class takes place) carrying the 25 pound pot of lentils. They started scooping them out into the girls hands, head scarves, onto their notebooks, or anything that wasn’t the ground. Everything anyone puts in their mouth here is nutritious.
When we are not teaching, we are usually in our little hut/house/shack/cabin/yurt, complete with a very behind the times toilet and shower spiggot (no drain on the floor). We have opted not to use this because we don’t know how to use it, the result is some less than satisfactory hygiene. Don’t worry we take sink showers… it’s a real thing. Also we have an unexpected roomate. He is beige, small, and lives in our air conditioner. Yeah we live with a lizard, but on the plus side he eats all of the mosquitoes.
Oh, we went to two weddings, a funeral, and an official government inspection of a fishing jetty, (the smell was offensive). I’m never going to eat fish again. This week we are booked to see a buffalo dairy and I’ve been promised the chance to milk a buffalo. We met the owner, Alahbox he is the nicest man ever. He is Muslim, has 4 wives, 5 children, and 600 buffalo, and has made us the best food we’ve had so far.
The girls are teaching me worli painting, some traditional dancing, and will later show me some karate. When I told them that I dance, it has become quite common for a student in class to say “Maya didi, dance”. We have started using my dancing as a reward for completing in class assignments… 100% effective, more so even than chocolate. When I return ask me to tell you about the chocolate catastrophy, it’s too long of a story for the email, and I have to go teach my math class. Oh yeah, someone tell Ms. Baker that I’m tutoring and when I sat in with Davika’s math class, I understood what they were working on (compound interest).
iRobot employees are encouraged to volunteer with our initiative called SPARK (Starter Programs for the Advancement of Robotics Knowledge). We bring interactive robot demonstrations to K-12 schools, host tours of our corporate headquarters to give students hands-on experience with robots and show teachers how robots can be used to teach STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) subjects. Today I joined two colleagues at the MIT Museum where we demonstrated several of our robots in a special exhibition for the community. I had a chance to demo our PackBot. This is one bad boy robot and a lot of fun to drive. Unfortunately, our 2 hour demo ended all too quickly and I was back at the office preparing for a one week trip to China. It is very likely that I will not be able to post again until I return.
My mother arrived by train this evening from NYC. She has kindly offered to stay with Nicolai while I am travelling in China on business next week. We drove directly from the train station to the airport where we picked up my brother, who is a pilot with Delta Airlines. He is in town on a layover which afforded us enough time for dinner together. It was a nice surprise for my mom who did not know she would be getting two sons for the price of one. It is the first time I have ever seen him decked out in his pilot’s uniform and had hoped to include a picture of him as well. Unfortunately, I managed to drop my camera as it slipped from my gloved hand and was not able to get the shot. Hopefully I will get another chance the next time he is in town.
For the second time in as many weeks, I had the great pleasure of dining with Cathleen Asch, my former partner and co-founder of Truevision. This time we were joined by Jim Dadmun, CEO of DGI Technologies, formerly the President and CEO of Techex, Truevision’s international distributor. We reminisced over dinner at Papa Razzi and it was great fun catching up. Cathleen has landed a short term CFO gig for a local company and will be travelling to the area frequently over the coming weeks.
After another superb breakfast we said goodbye to our B&B and to Canada as we began the 6 hour drive back to Concord. With a morning temperature of 3 degrees and windchill down to -20F we were happy to be heading south. We paused for about an hour at Franconia Notch where we stretched our legs while exploring the Pemigewasset River. Nicolai split the driving with me as we listened to the Steve Jobs biography on tape helping the hours to pass quickly. We both had a great time and I am looking forward to more impromptu road trips in the future.
Jeanine would be proud of Nicolai’s choice of B&B. We started our busy day with a truly memorable breakfast followed by great sightseeing recommendations from our hosts. As luck would have it we are here for the last day of Carnaval de Quebec, a 17-day, multi-venue winter carnival. Think Mardi Gras in winter and you have an idea of how big a deal the Quebec Winter Carnival is, the largest such event in the world. We arrived at the Place Desjardins located on the Plains of Abraham where we were amused and impressed by the snow sculptures, toured through a two story castle made entirely of ice, and watched some very unusual and funny amusement park style activities including our favorite, human fussball. Contestants are strapped to huge rods on a scaled up table and try to work as a team to score goals (very entertaining to watch). We spent the most time watching a horse drawn sledding competition which involved solo racing over a complex course with time penalties assigned for failure to cleanly traverse a gate.
We then proceeded, walking along the walls of the Citadel to Old Quebec. The rich historic nature of Old Quebec is marked by the city’s ramparts, fortifications, and many historic houses and buildings. The majority of buildings in the neighborhood date from 19th century, although the construction of some date back to 17th and 18th centuries. The famous Château Frontenac, currently operating as a grand hotel, is without doubt one of the most iconic structures in the city. I photographed it from a ferry during a brief excursion across the ice flow laden Saint Lawrence River.
Our final destination for the day are the Montmorency Falls. At 275 feet high, (and 150 feet wide) they are the highest in the province of Quebec and 100 feet higher than Niagara Falls. The falls are at the mouth of the Montmorency River where it drops over the cliff shore into the Saint Lawrence River, opposite the western end of the Île d’Orleans. There are staircases that allow visitors to view the falls from several different perspectives. Despite being closed, Nicolai went to the top and I to the first landing to enjoy the views at the risk of slipping on the ice encrusted steps.
We surprised my sister-in-law, Susan, this morning and invited her out for breakfast before continuing on our journey. We are always thrilled when she makes the trip to Concord and we were excited to reciprocate with a visit, if only for a brief while. Our primary destination for the day is the magnificent Montreal Biodome where visitors walk through replicas of four ecosystems found in the Americas. A variety of animals live in each simulated habitat, ranging from the macaws in the Tropical Forest, to the lynx in the Laurentian Forest, to the penguins in the Antarctic and the different kinds of fish that inhabit the waters of the Saint Lawrence River. I took hundreds of photographs of the wildlife most of which was free to roam their respective habitats. The dome is suspended by dozens of cables which emanate from the massive cantilevered tower which rises above the flying saucer shaped building.
We spent the late afternoon exploring Old Montreal and searching for a place to stay for the evening. After calling a half dozen hotels only to discover they were fully booked, we decided to drive on to Quebec City where Nicolai was able to locate a terrific B&B with a single room remaining.
Jeanine and Maya are staying at the iconic Taj Mahal Palace during their three days in Mumbai. Arguably the finest hotel in the city it will be a stark contrast to their living arrangements for the next three weeks. They will share a room in the dormitory of the school where they will be teaching. Text message reports indicated that they have been busy shopping for appropriate clothing, visiting the local sights, and have attended two weddings(?).
Nicolai and I, on the spur of the moment, have decided to take a road trip over the long holiday weekend. This evening after work (Nicolai has a new job teaching gymnastics and wrestling) we drove to Burlington, Vermont and plan on visiting Montreal and Quebec City over the next three days.
Maya and Jeanine arrived in Mumbai safely. I received a message with this photo and was informed that Maya was falling asleep during tea. They are now ten and a half hours ahead of us and I am sure it will take a few days before they recover from the jet lag. I cannot remember spending a Valentine’s Day apart from Jeanine and I am already missing her but am very happy that she will have a chance to enjoy with Maya what I had a chance to enjoy with the boys during their Coming of Age adventures. On the home front all is well. Nicolai prepared omelettes for breakfast and they were quite delicious. Jeanine has raised boys who know how to cook well.
I took my girls to the airport early this morning as Maya began her Coming of Age adventure with Jeanine. Starting with Kyle, we decided that our family would celebrate, at age 13, the transition from childhood to adulthood with an exotic adventure. Kyle choose to explore the caves and underground rivers of Belize and to camp on a sliver of land 35 miles off the coast. Nicolai elected to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania followed by recuperation on the island of Zanzibar. Maya will spend a month in India with 3 weeks spent volunteering at a school in the province of Maharashtra and the balance sightseeing in Mumbai, Delhi and Agra. Jeanine will be posting updates to her Facebook page and I will re-post pictures here as well.