Monday, February 22, 2010

Kev In Flight

That's a nod to a good friend who has a remarkable life and blog, Larkin Carey. But in this case, it's also an apt description of my Wednesday in Santa Cruz. While there, i mostly spent time with Wayne Wright, the sales guru from US/Grant. We worked on Tuesday, Wednesday morning, and all Thursday, but Wednesday afternoon was pure enjoyment.

Wayne Wright and Larry Grant are both pilots and Larry is blessed with owning a beautiful private plane, The Malibu. It's an awesome single propeller, 6 seater, with leather seats, high-altitude capabilities, and a fast cruising speed. Therese and i both had a turn in the co-pilot seat and have now, officially, flown a plane.

Therese's trip was longer, about 45 minutes, and took us over Monterey Bay, Pebble Beach, Carmel... that whole area. Spectacular views and an unseasonably clear and calm day made for an incredible experience.

Therese loves this picture of her and Duke, Mario's bulldog that went flying with us. Mario and Susie from Pacific Crest came along for the ride. That dog really loves to fly. That is, when he's not busy looking unfathomably adorable.

My flight was at sunset that day, transferring the plane from one airport to the other. The fog and clouds had begun to roll in and as the sun was setting, we were treated to, quite possibly, the most breathtaking sunset of my life.

So all that was cool, but we weren't done flying for the day. After therese's flight, we immediately went back up in a different airplane, one with no seat belts or, really, any seats, save for the pilot's. We did, however, have parachutes, which was convenient, for we intended to jump from 12,000 feet, each strapped to our tandem guide. Oh, and we both landed barefoot on the beach. It was my second time and her first. We were both blown-away. Words can't really describe skydiving. You just have to try it. And you should. Therese has a fear of heights and a fear of falling. If she can do it and enjoy it, you can too.

If there's ever been a better Wednesday in the history of Wednesday's, i don't want to know about it.


Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Year of the Tiger

Having already experienced one New Year celebration in Beijing, the single greatest day on the planet, i kinda knew what to expect. This year was much like last, both in terms of our preparation (drinking), location (hou hai), and awesomeness (total). However, there were a few differences. It was ace's first one and we had a few other CNY virgins with us. It's always fun to see their wide-eyes reactions to the insanity. Also, this year seemed to be a little mellower in terms of bat-shit-crazy fireworks coming at you from all directions always. I asked some people about it, the consensus was probably the economy.

We had a group of ten that gathered for this one, double the size of last years crew. We returned to hou hai and roughly the same spot as last year. Cameras ever-at-the-ready, we claimed a small part of the railing along the lake and watched with giddy glee the scene unfolding around us.

We were pleasantly surprised to find the lake completely frozen over. Jeff had successfully wrangled us two dozen beers from a neighboring bar, ace had a bottle of Patron, and i had a bottle of wine. We brought it all onto the lake. There, for the next 90 minutes, we absorbed everything we could:, lights, sounds, joy, friends, tequila, explosions, dreams, tradition... we enjoyed as though we were kids again.

After the chaos subsided, we made our way from the ice. I fell. The bottle of wine in my backpack broke. I didn't notice, until i realized my underwear was wet. You see, it had drenched my bag, soaked through to my jacket, shirt, pants, and boxers. It was when it reached my tender-bits that i knew something was amiss. I sprung into action: shed layers of clothing, empty backpack, save camera, scream at the sky, remove glass, question what i did to deserve this. Pictures below courtesy of Tao, and a video of the evening here.

Luckily, the only casualty (other than a few cuts from the glass) was the red wine stain on my favorite shirt. It didn't help that i went to bed, bedrunkened, without remembering to clean it. At 7am, i remembered the shirt and resprung into action to began working miracles. Shirt salvaged, camera cleaned, dozens of tiny glass shards picked out of the backpack. Happy Year of the Tiger!


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Thoughts on Coming Home

In 16 hours, i'll be on US soil for the first time in 14 months. That's the longest i've been away in my life, and it's longer than most people can fathom. Imagine picking up your life, everything you own, storing it, kissing your loved ones goodbye, parting with your friends, and embarking on a completely unknown adventure. It's a terrifying thought to most people. It's the best decision i ever made.

And now, with fresh eyes and a new perspective, i'm giddy with anticipation of what my homes will mean to me. What will Boulder say to me? How will the mountains feel? Will the air taste as sweet as i remember? The faces, blending in with all the other white faces, the sounds, understanding every word spoken around me, my family, it's been so long.

But, Beijing threw us a pretty awesome going away party, three of them, actually. With some incredible friends. I'll recap them later. Here's a taste of CNY, spend on the frozen lake of Hou Hai.

I love life! USA - i'm coming home!


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Pollution and the Environment, Revisited

I recently started reading a book by Thomas L. Friedman, entitled Hot, Flat, and Crowded. I'm only about a quarter into it, but you really only need to read the first 25 pages to get the idea. In fact, i think the book should be re-released as 50-pages, and be required reading for all humans.

It is not a political book and it is not a Global Warming book. It is an energy book. Hot, Flat, and Crowded focuses on five major problems in the world, what will happen if we can't control them, and how to control them. Those five problems are:
  1. Energy Supply and Demand - The world WILL run out of fossil fuels, we are addicted to them, and we are increasing our rate of usage so that the world demand will at least double by 2050. It will be impossible to sustain without new technology.
  2. Petrodictatorship - Because of this worldwide addiction, countries with oil have a disproportionate amount of wealth not earned by growing through an Industrial Revolution. They have not built this wealth through investing in education and infrastructure, but they have religion, and this is where the extreme groups we fear most are born.
  3. Climate Change - The Earth's average temperature has risen. We, as a WORLD, are not changing the way we live. As more countries start to live like American's, we will eat up all the Earth's resources at a faster rate. We will be screwed.
  4. Energy Poverty - There isn't enough non-renewable energy and resources in the world for everyone, especially as we add newly developed countries. Countries that cannot keep up will be forced into a corner, and the result could be disease, death, or more likely, violence.
  5. Biodiversity Loss - The world is crowded and people are forced to sprawl, devouring natural resources in the process. Half of the world's tropical forests, temperate forests, and wetlands are gone. We will not get these back. The world needs them to survive. Human's need the diversity to develop new cures for future diseases and for the food chain. It is non-renewable and we will eventually deplete it if things don't change.
China, India, and America are at the heart of this book's dilemma. America has set the benchmark for standard of living. Everyone wants to live the American Dream: own their own house, car, two TV's, computer, refrigerator, microwave, oven, washer and dryer, and dozen's of of small electrical gadgets. One American consumes the same energy as 10 Chinese or 30 Indians. But developing nations are catching up, fast, learning to live the lifestyle we made popular. And, while there are only 300 million Americans, there are 2.5 billion between China and India. What will happen when they too are living the American Dream?

The truth is we are probably already screwed, and that is terrifying. Fortunately, there are different levels of screwed. The future hasn't happened and the things we do now will either help or hurt the future.

Thomas Friedman does a good job of scaring you in this book, but he also proposes a very sensible course of action. We need clean energy. America has some of the most innovative and intelligent minds in the world, and it also has the resources to develop new technology. We need to start rewarding and encouraging new, clean energy options. We need to wean ourselves off of non-renewable energy. America has the responsibility to set an example for the rest of the world. We went through our Industrial Revolution and exported the American Dream. Countries will continue to follow our example, and we need to lead the world in the clean energy economy. We need to change what it means to Live The Dream, and we need to change it fast.
I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change. But even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for energy efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future – because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy. And America must be that nation."
- Obama's 2010 State of the Union Address
Sorry for the bummer post, but this must be the most important idea of this generation. Educate yourself NOW. In 2050, we'll look back and judge the world on how it reacted in the early part of this century. I pray we can be proud of ourselves.


Friday, February 5, 2010

Sickness Wrap-up

...or, An Angel Named Dr. Zhang Hai. So, i went to the dentist yesterday and she checked me out. She asked all the normal questions, do you brush, floss? I do both, brush twice a day, floss every evening. When was your last cleaning? It was almost exactly one year ago, in the states. I told her about the flu i had all week. She was unconvinced that they were related. After checking me out, she said very simply: you have some plaque and bacteria built up at the base of your teeth. Now, I know what she said, but all i heard was "THE GUM DISEASE GINGIVITIS!", since that's what all the toothpaste commercials call it. It's never just gingivitis, you have to include it's full name.

Anyway, this glorious, glorious lady, flanked by a choir of lute-playing Chinese cherubs, radiating high-fives and smiles from every inch of her golden, saintly face, prescribed for me some mouthwash.

THIS mouthwash.

Allow me to translate the front of the bottle, roughly:
Chlorhexidine Awesome Sparkle Magic Joy Oral Rinse Cure Anything in Only 24 Hours

Among the active ingredients on the back:
Unicorn tears, angel sweat, elvish love.
Product may contain trace amounts of The Blood of Christ.

So yeah, 6 canker sores healed, my gums are not swollen or painful, and my energy is back. And yes, that is an OTC symbol in the upper right of the bottle.


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A Brush with Swine Flu

Or, A Brush with Traditional Chinese Medicine. Sorry i've been off the radar again, but this time, i have a note from my doctor.

We'll start with a rough quote from him:
If you had presented with these symptoms in December, I would have told you with 90% certainty that you have Swine Flu. However, now I can only presume. The peak season has already ended and we're in the lull before the second wave hits in late february. Of course, people will continue to get sick, otherwise the virus would just die. And unfortunately, the government will not allow any more tests for Swine Flu because the magnitude performed over the peak was so great.
That was Monday afternoon. I had already been sick since Thursday, January 28th. Today is Wednesday (in Beijing), and i've officially been sick for a week. It started with some routine stomach pains, like i had swallowed something large and didn't chew it enough, leaving it stuck in my upper gut. That took me home from work on Thursday, and was my sole symptom until Friday afternoon. That's when everything started going horribly wrong.

I was back on solid foods again with no diarrhea, vomiting, or stomach pains. But now, i had a fever of 102F (38.8C) and a sore throat. My back, especially my lower back, was so sore i couldn't walk, lie down, or sleep. I took Aleve to dull the pain, and it got me to Saturday.

Therese had also been dealing with a sinus cold, the normal sniffly kind. I had none of her symptoms. She convinced me to join her for acupuncture, which she now does 3-4x per week at a Traditional Chinese Medicine clinic nearby. Terrified of needles, i declined the full actupuncture, but allowed some serious cupping which i've described before. They also poked me in the base of my neck about ten times and placed cup over it to draw the bad blood out. And it was indeed bad; a black glob of thick blood came out right away, followed by some cleaner red blood. That was all followed by the actual cupping procedure. As a result of all this, Sunday was much easier. By nighttime, my back was basically better, and i had some extra energy i wasn't expecting.

By Monday though, i'd had enough. The fever had been causing intense night-sweats. I was soaking my side of the bed every night, waking up from vivid, confusing, frustrating, sometimes traumatic, dreams. I've been a chronic sufferer of canker sores as well, since i was a kid. It's generally believed there's no cure and no understanding of what causes them. But anyone who suffers from them, knows they are utterly debilitating. I was (and still am as of this post) suffering from the worst bout of my life, combined with gum pains that prevent me from eating foods that require chewing or provide enjoyment. I eat applesauce, smoothies, and blended minestrone soup. All very painfully.

I went to Beijing United, the best hospital in town. His quote is above, and he said not to worry, it's probably just the flu. That night, we returned to acupuncture and i agreed to endure the real thing. Which, honestly, was not bad at all. Proof below. On Tuesday, my fever had dropped to below 100F (37.7C) consistently and i was no longer sweating or getting the chills.

So now we're on Day 7 of the worst illness i've had since "The Arthritis Thing" about 7 years ago, which is a crazy story by itself. My remaining symptoms are a very slight fever and crippling mouth pains. And fatigue, probably due to the liquid and soft-food diet. I will say, i think the acupuncture and cupping worked a small miracle on the flu part of the illness, and so i will keep it in my repertoire. I'll probably even make it a regular thing.

More about other stuff when i'm feeling motivated.