The presence of mind

Where to begin….

Our vacation was abruptly changed by a tropical storm which pounded Cabo San Lucas over a couple of days.  Barely a blip on the American Media frenzy that was too busy repeating stories of Hurricane Harvey, the storm packed 55-70mph sustained winds, but the real storm was the rain.  45-60 inches of rain in 6-8 hours in a lot for any area to handle, but the Baja peninsula is all sand and it doesn’t rain often, so when it does, it pools and doesn’t drain.

In brief, here is our timeline:

We arrived on Saturday afternoon on a beautiful day, Hot and Humid, but not unbearable by any means.  It’s the type of heat that challenges you, refreshes you, makes you desire the pool, water, a cold beverage.  By Tuesday, that heat became overcast, humid, unseasonal.  You could feel the weather changing, the Mexicans were also feeling the change– they like to inform us that a storm was coming and that they were expecting lots of rain– when they said it, you could see the seriousness in their eyes.  By Wednesday, the alerts were starting to be more and more frequent.  The property that we vacation at sent a note that a major storm was coming and that people on the beach property should move up to the Laguna, which is where our place is.  We read it, but weren’t concerned, we were in paradise!

Still, the more cautious side of me said we better go into town and get food and water to hold us until we at least Saturday, just in case.  We drove into town, which has both a Walmart and a Costco and stocked up.  The lines at the stores weren’t bad, which I took as a good sign.  If the Mexicans aren’t worried, why should we be?

By Thursday, we were closely monitoring the storm.  Given what Harvey had done to Houston, we were concerned, but given todays internet and all of the information being right there for you to consume and that just fed our imagination.  Lidia hadn’t touch the Baja yet, so it was unpredictable.  Being the people with the greatest access to technology, we feverishly began to consume all of the data we could about the impending storm.  The staff of the resort were busy packing everything away from the beach.  We used the NOAA site for the majority of our information, which, by the way, sucks because all of the information is different depending on which page you are actually reading.

Check it out for yourself, http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/.  There is a ton of data, but all of it seems to contradict, the wind data and the storm data aren’t totally inline– but after searching, I did find good data in the “discussion” topic, which actually was quite accurate with what we experienced.  The discussion said that the storm would hit us at 7:00pm with 25-30 inches of rain and the potential of a flash flood following were real events.  The storm kicked into high gear at 6:45pm in the evening and didn’t really let up until 4am.

Shortly after 7, our friends room begin to leak water.  At first it was from both of the doors leading outside, but the most notable concern came from the adjoining room, which was locked, which began to also leak water, which meant that room had a much larger leak and since we couldn’t investigate it, we assumed the worst.  We made a few calls to the front desk, who obviously had a number of other gringos they were needing to take care of.  After our third call, you know, just to let them know that there was more flooding, they decided to move us to the towers.

The Towers

Just before 9pm, we got a call that we were being moved to higher ground and we should prepare to take things.  Lili and I had prepared for this to potentially happen and were ready to go.  When the concierge showed up a few minutes later, they were ready to take us.  The move was swift and dizzying, we carried our bags through a foot of standing water outside of the suites– there is no where for the water to go, the ground is like a giant rock because it never really rains in Cabo, so the rain just sits on top of where it falls until it is either cleaned up or it becomes part of a raging river as you can see in the below video of the damage captured the next morning.

 

We thought going to the higher ground would take care of the issues, but we actually got a room in the towers that ended being more than likely worse than the one we left.  In the room in the towers, the ceiling was leaking from the massive amount of water that had gathered on the top of the building and had began to seep through the rock into the ceiling.  Luckily it stayed on the edges, but by the time we woke up in the morning, more and more of the ceiling was dripping, causing us to want to move again– all of the floors in the resort are tiled, so when they get wet, its like a skating rink, so it was dangerous.  We really grew concerned when they sent in a cleaning crew, who basically just mopped the floors, spreading the water that had leaked through the roof and the paint all over the tile, making it nearly impossible to get around without falling.

The next morning was where it all hit me, what we had been through and how tragic it could have been if the storm had been a little more powerful or would have lasted just a little longer.  It hit me particularly when we went up to the main part of the resort, The Dunes, which was fully functional within a few hours of opening– fully functional to the point where they were serving all the guests their delicious American style breakfasts and people were chugging down Latte’s and Waffles!  It was amazing to me.  Here we were in a second world country that had just endured a pretty major weather event, children died, swept away to sea, and I was ordering waffles for my kids.  Its surreal.  I ordered a Latte.

We talked to others, we had no idea of what was really happening beyond the gates of the resort, but no one wanted to leave the resort and check it out or try to help, we just wanted to wait it out and try to fly out the next day on schedule– after all, we were on vacation!

 

Flying Out

Later that day we began to hear that the road to the airport had been blown away.  The beautiful new toll road, which we drove in on, was now missing a 100 foot chunk of it (which you can see at the end of the video posted above).  The estimated time to get to the airport was well over 3 hours, so they were saying it was a 5 hour minimum to get to the airport, through customs and on a plane.

It took nearly 6.  We missed our plane by 45 minutes.  It literally took 5 hours to go from the resort to the end of Cabo, where we would need to go to the back of the Walmart to get the old road to get the airport– the problem was every Mexican in Cabo decided they also needed to be on the same road, but apparently not to get out of town because once we got half a mile past WalMart, there wasn’t a single car to be found.  This was probably the worst traffic jam I had ever been in my entire life and like most traffic jams, it didn’t make any sense why it was as bad as it was, except that the government should have been checking cars and forbidding people who didn’t have an immediate need (LIKE GETTING TO THE AIRPORT, HELLO?!?) to be on that specific road.  Again, I find myself pissed at myself for wanting things to be more organized and civil, but look, its Mexico!  Part of the reason why I love Mexico is because it is the way it is, like I said at the beginning of this, you feel alive, you feel on the edge a little, so it awakens your senses, makes you more alert and aware.  But it also pisses you off because you know it can be better, things can be better for these people… and it is getting better.  We felt constantly safe there and I will be taking my family back there, again and again, because Cabo does offer that out of your element experience, but the resort also offers a better than your normal element experience 99% of the time.  We just happened to be there for the 1% part too, this time, yet we made it out ok.

Here’s some additional photos of the storm and damage.

 

 

 

Greetings From The Wall

 

 

 

 

Where is Hogg?

I have been traveling quite a bit in the last couple of months– all of it for work.

First off, work travel generally sucks.  Airlines these days, suck.  Companies rarely let you travel business class and coach is always packed to the gills.  Then there is work, then the hotel and that’s about it.  Very little time to actually travel, see the sights, let alone scope out a place to get a decent meal.  My last couple trips have been to some of my favorite cities, Chicago and Phoenix.  Both great towns, while at the same time they have some crappy parts to them.  For this particular blog, we will discuss Phoenix.  I’ll tackle Chicago at another time.

I love being in the Southwest in the spring.  It’s a great break from the LONG, wet winters of Seattle, the gray can get to anyone this time of year, so it’s nice to come out to the desert and get some Vitamin D in your system.  Desert Sky airport is a nice, medium sized airport.  The only downfall is the car rental agency is a good 5 miles from the airport, so make sure to give yourself plenty of time when you return the car to get to the airport and get checked in– also, there are 3 seperate terminals, so you need to know which one you are flying out of.

I was able to go with my company to the Final Four National Championship, which was quite a spectacular event, with the 68,000 spectators — but I will say that once I have done it, I won’t be likely to go again.  NCAA basketball is a great office topic, filling out the bracket, assessing who might go all the way is entertaining, but the Championship game and all of the fan fare is something to see!  The game itself was obviously totally one sided with Gonzaga ahead most of the game, but in the end, I don’t think the best team won in that game.  I feel like the refs skewed the game to the point where UNC had an opportunity to win and they did just that.  Overall, it was a great game, but the result seemed unfair– but that is college basketball at it’s core.

This year the Madness seemed different– way less games that went down to the final seconds with foul line shooting and teams trying to come back by fouling the other teams– there was way less of that in the last minutes than previous tournaments and it made the games more exciting to watch– but I still don’t get how they can actually play a good game with all of the TV timeouts.  It takes forever!  Sitting in one of the boxes, you could see all the action unfold right in front of you and how long it actually took vs. how long they actually stood and waited while the ads went.  This obviously played in the Tar Heels favor and they ended up all but stealing the title from the Zags.

My buddy’s father in law sent one of his kids to Gonzaga and he stil wanted a t-shirt even though they had lost, so I headed down right as they won to get a shirt– and most of the stands had already packed up and headed out– so I had to search for one and by the time I found it, of course it was lined up with Tar Heels looking for the championship shirts, which of course they were selling, which means that some group of people in Africa will probably be getting a shipment of shirts to wear.  Long story, short… After waiting in line for way too long, I got the shirt, but I missed the bus back to the tailgate.  Suck.  Not only did I miss the bus, but I walked all around the sports stadium looking for the bus area — there were several, when the bus couldn’t wait any longer and it left me hanging.  Bummer dude.  Worse yet, the bus area that I was in when I discovered I was in the wrong area was about the furthest away from the Uber/Lyft staging area — which, buy the way, was off the Arizona Cardinals property– they don’t allow uber or lyft to pick up on the property– but they do allow cabs.

The one bright side of this story is that the weather was perfect for a walk and by the time I got there, the cab fares had dropped to a normal rate and I paid about $50.00 to get back to the hotel in Tempe.  Good price.

COPS.

Phoenix has a lot of cops.  Like ALOT.  The Final Four had more SWAT than I have ever witnessed at a sporting event– our network guys said that 300 armed SWAT were at that event– AR15’s at the ready.   One of the reasons it took me forever to walk to find the right bus was that each exit was sliced and barracaded so you couldn’t just walk out the entrance and find your way, you had to walk all the way back to the stadium and cut back into another silo — super annoying.  The assumption there is that most of the people going in there know where they are going, but if you don’t — best of luck!  That wasn’t the only experience with cops I noticed on my journey– they are ever present, they recruit on billboards openly offering jobs starting at 58k a year to be a cop and I must have a dozen cops a day just driving back and forth to meetings.  Washington seems to have hired less po  lice as the population has expanded here as I seem to go months without seeing a single one, but in Phoenix, you will see one every day it seems.

One has to wonder what that does to the psyche of a society.  Having an all out police presence everywhere, does it help to divert crime or does it exerbate the problem?  I am sure there is much more violent crime overall in Phoenix, given the police presence, so I looked up some statistics about Phoenix, but for every stat I found about how bad Phoenix is, I see the same about Seattle, so maybe I don’t know what the hell I am on about, which isn’t uncommon.

That being said, I must admit, Phoenix, Tempe, Scottsdale are growing on me.  I can’t see myself ever actually moving there or anything, but I am finally comfortable enough travelling there that it doesn’t feel super lonely being there without the family for a week– I actually wished I had more time there this time so I could have seen more people, but I ran into some good people I haven’t seen in YEARS from college, which is always good to see and good to see that we are all alive and healthy (relatively speaking).

 

Switzerland Day 2: Schynige Platte

Note:  There are going to be some pretty epic pictures in this post.  Click on the link to see them in full detail.

Our second day to our Switzerland journey involved a trip up to a place called Schynige Platte. which is a beautiful spot in the Bernese Oberland, It offers spectacular views of the surrounding ranges, including the three that are the most famous, The Eiger, The Jungfrau and the Monch– the story goes that the 2 Male peaks are Eiger and Monch and they are always fighting over The Jungfrau (young woman).  The views from the top were spectacular, but the train to get us up to the top of the Platte is equally remarkable.  The rail line opened as a steam line in 1893 and was electrified in 1914.  The train leaves from Winderswil (where we were staying), Elevation 1916 feet and ends up at about 6,500 feet.  There is a full service hotel and restaurant at the top, which couldn’t have been any easy feat to conquer.  What really stands out for me on this trip is how the Swiss look at these areas, these vast Alpine areas and they think, lets build a railway up there so people can visit it easily.  That is quite a concept– I look back at where we live, Seattle, Washington, and I think about Mount Rainier and how you could potentially take a train up to Camp Muir!  How cool would that be?  As cool as it is to take this train… Maybe not quite as this one is from 1893.

The trip was about 40 swiss francs per person, children free.  Because we had the kiddos, we actually got our own box, which was really nice. The view is best described through the following photos:

The train station at the top of the “Platte” offers breathtaking views with a an Alpine Gartern (Garden) off to the side. This is trail that leads you through the many varieties of Alpine wildflowers, including the much revered Ed

elweiss flower. From there, it’s just a short hike up the hill to the hotel.  A hotel.  That you can only get to by taking a railcar.  Crazy to think of such a thing, but there it is.  It’s not an uncommon thing here in the Alps– there are lots of accomodation and all of them are only really accessible by rail car or cable car– which means your audience is going to be much smaller depending.

The link to the hotel website is http://hotelschynigeplatte.ch/en/ — its a little expensive, but when will you have a chance to stay in another hotel which is only accessible by railcar?

We didn’t make it up until one of the late afternoon cars, so our time was slightly limited since the last train left the mountain promptly at 6:45, so we had just under 2 hours to really get a good look around.  As I mentioned before, there was an Alpengarden near the train station, which led to several trails, some of which climbed into the even higher alpine meadows, but the trails were STEEP so we didn’t venture up on them with the kids and the limited time.  We sauntered over to the trail with the hotel and noticed a bunch of cows up on the high alpine area, making the famous Cowbell sound as they made their way through the fields.  Farmers use these cowbells because the clouds are usually so thick that you can’t see in front of you.  Their symphony of bells is quite something– and these aren’t your normal dairy cows, just hanging out in
a small farm space– these cows were pretty massive in size, but they were also very muscular– hard to imagine a cow making its way up as high as 9-10,0000 feet during the summer months, but they do as they graze all of the hay/grass in the lower land.  We actually saw a huge group of them. (Last Picture)

We got to the hotel just as they were closing up, but we were able to get a quick coffee and a bismark donut (ICH BIN EINE BERLINER!!)  That is where we found the dog and the boots filled with the old wildflowers– which is a really cool concept to use for your old hiking boots..

All in all, very nice afternoon up in the Alps with the family.

Tomorrow we will go over the big trip:  Jungfrau, Top Of Europe trains.IMG_0604

IMG_0580

Headed Up to Schynige Platte
Headed Up to Schynige Platte

IMG_0611

European Vacation 2016 248

European Vacation 2016 255

European Vacation 2016 254

European Vacation 2016 256

European Vacation 2016 263

European Vacation 2016 266

European Vacation 2016 264

IMG_0586

IMG_0589

European Vacation 2016 301

Switzerland — Day One in Wonderland

This trip we went to Germany and Switzerland for 2 weeks and essentially 2 additional days, but we really only got one additional day out of it.  I wish we would have spent an additional day exploring the towns around Interlaken, but we will go back at some point to explore the places we didn’t get a chance to.

Trains, Trains, Trains.

Part of the reason I wanted to go to Switzerland were the trains and all the connections we would make in a short period of time.  Elliott has always been so fascinated by trains that I wanted to go on a trip with him while he was still so enamored with trains and I noticed a few years ago that the Alp trains and trams were quite unique.  Our journey from Koln would have us taking the ICE express to Switzerland– the ICE got up to  290km per hour headed back and forth from Frankfurt– pretty impressive.  At the Swiss Border we switched to the Swiss Bahn trains, finally arriving in Interlaken.  Interlaken is a the big train town, since a number of the Alpine trains depart from Interlaken.

I booked us a hotel in nearby Winderswil, which turned out to be a perfect choice.  Winderswil is the next train stop from Interlaken West, which is where they Jungfrau Railway, or Top Of Europe train departs from.  We took the intercity bus from Interlaken to Winderswil and it took about 10 minutes to get from the train station to our hotel.  We stayed at the Hotel Baren.  Winderswil is a small town outside of Interlaken, with a few hotels and some restaurants– we found it to the perfect town to stay in while we explored the region.

Hotel Baren

The weather was perfect on our first day of touring.  There were some clouds in the high alpine area, but it was set to clear up for the remainder of our trip.

IMG_0553

As you can see, the views from town are impressive.  The north face of the Eiger peeking out over the valley.

We arrived late in the day and you could quickly tell that Winderswil doesnt have a lot of restaurants, so we decided to go back into town and get a bite to eat.

Side note:  I also wanted to get back into Interlaken because I had lost my pair of Chaco sandals at the Koln train station.  They were in the stroller we brought in the bottom webbing and they slipped out while boarding the train, falling onto the train tracks– never to be seen again.  RIP Chaco.  So, I was anxious to get to town and buy a pair of sandals since the only shoes I brought with me were the hiking boots on my feet– although it was better to have Hiking boots than the other way around.

Once we arrived back in Interlaken, we were just blown away at how beautiful the city is.  It is SUPER touristy, don’t get me wrong, but the city is designed around a massive park in the city center, the city folds like a horseshoe around the park, with the East train station on one side of the town and the West one on the other side of the park– pretty cool.  The park is used by the multiple groups that have para sailing from various points in the Alps as a landing spot, so at any moment there are multiple people landing in the park– we had a great time just hanging out and relaxing at this point during several points on our trip.

Here are some of the best pictures of Interlaken:

European Vacation 2016 191

Paragliders landing in Interlaken Park

Paragliders landing in Interlaken Park

European Vacation 2016 205

Liam Interlaken Park
Liam Interlaken Park

After walking around Interlaken looking for something to eat, we finally gave up trying to find the perfect place for dinner and settled on an street corner with an Italian pizza joint that had outside seating and cold beer.  It gave us enough time to catch our breath and plan the next days that we would be in this wonderful country.  Pizza is pizza, so nothing special to note– and the beer in Switzerland is always the same brand on tap– and its a decent one.

Our biggest reason for deciding to come to Switzerland was to take the train to the Top Of Europe–  The Jungfrau tour takes you on a train to the “Top of Europe”, 12,000 feet onto the Glacier that ties the Jungfrau range together.  To give it a little perspective, Wilderswil is at 2200 feet and this train goes to nearly 12k in elevation in just under 2 hours!  Lili’s parents were travelling with us and they decided that they didn’t have any interest in going to the top, so we decided to have the next day to hang out as a group and Saturday we would split up, Lili and I taking Elliott on the train while Liam stayed below with Oma and Opa.

IMG_0603

Next:  Day 2 Schynige Platte

Waxing Nostalgic

I received an email this week from Fiona, my colleague that I worked with to get the teaching job in China.  She emailed to let me know that it has been 10 years this week since I first arrived in China. 10.years.  It’s hard to believe that I answered an ad in craigslist for a teaching job in China, got the job, got the visa, travelled to China and became a teacher for a year.  Harder to believe that was 10 years ago.  This has been the busiest decade of my life.  I taught in China, met my wife in China, travelled, got Married in Germany, worked for Microsoft, had a son, got more jobs, bought a house, had another son and here we are.

The decision to go to China was an easy one– provided the whole thing wasn’t some kind of sham.  Answering an ad on craigslist hardly seemed like a secure way to get a teaching job in China, but I remember I was at work at AT&T (where I work now… Oh, the irony), being bored out of my mind, proofreading Blackberry manuals (who has a Blackberry now?!?!).  After we did the proofreading, we would then write AT&T specific manuals for our users.  So you could kind of understand why I was looking on craigslist for something more exciting.

First mention of the opportunity is here:

If I could dig a whole to China…

That year went by pretty fast– although challenging, I learned a lot of things about how the world works and how I work within it.  In America, we often talk about all of the problems and how screwed up everything is, but the reality is that we are a long ways from the under developed world of China, although I am sure that there have been some significant changes in the 10 years, I bet a lot of it just like was 10 years ago, except with 10 years of age– and 10 years in Chinese development time is a long time.

I also really learned that you can get by on a measly amount of money if you have to– and you can also travel on it if you aren’t in the States or Europe.  Travel in China was ridiculously cheap– it had to be since most of the country earned a couple bucks a day doing hard labor.  At $450.00 a month, English teachers were treated like wealthy people– to a villager $450.00 usd was like 6 months of wages.. and a lot of my students came from the fields.  For a number of them, I was the first white person that they had ever seen face to face– and there were only a few of us in all of Chenzhou.  In fact, if white people would be seen in the city, I would always heard about it within a couple of days of them being spotted.

It’s the travelling that I remember the most.  So many opportunities for travelling during that time and I took every one of them– a free weekend meant a trip to Changsha or Guangzhou, a free week or two could lead me basically anywhere in the country.  There were only a few places I didn’t get the chance to travel to that I really wanted to go– the Gobi desert, Tibet. I know I will make it back to those areas at some point in my life– I just ran out of time.

Then there was the delight of teaching– and it was a struggle.

Teach2005

It was a University, but the students weren’t prepared for a college education and the University wasn’t prepared to give them one either– I remember arriving there mid week thinking I would be teaching that next week and it was something like three weeks later that I finally started teaching.  It was 6 weeks later that my freshman class finally started and two weeks after that– 2 months from the start of school when the text books finally arrived– such was the normal in China.  The school didn’t have the money to buy the textbooks until they got the tuition money from the students and the printing house didn’t print the books until they were paid in full from the University– seems totally logical, right? That’s what life is like without a credit system.  It was the Chinese way.  It might still be the Chinese way for all I know.  I later found out that the freshman were required to do Military service.  So for the first month, no freshman.  I saw the freshman marching every morning as I walked my way to my other classes.

Looking back over these archives makes me really glad I journaled online as I went through it– and took pictures– most of it is still here in the archive, despite losing it all a couple of times due to hard drive crashes, it all still lives here on the web for someone to consume.  Mostly me.  🙂

Maybe one day one of my former students will find it and contact me.  I always wonder what happened to all of them– most of them went to Shenzhen and I bet more than a few got jobs at Foxconn for awhile and put together iPhones or iPads at some point.  The last contact I had with a student was few years ago. She moved to NYC with someone she met and they were trying to make it in the Big Apple– she didn’t like it because she was very poor and her family wasn’t poor in China, but she felt that her new husband would find luck and they would be rich soon… Not sure what happened there, but I assume they are still trying….

Here’s a picture of one of the classes:

students 2005