The Final Countdown

Meghan has left for SC and I am closing up the fort in New Hampshire, with our closing in 8 days. Fun times ahead!

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Big progress on the new diggs

Things are looking good at our new place. We have walls, roof, and most utilities roughed in. Hopefully in August we’ll be adding the key element: us!

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How they do malls in Dubai

This is from the Ibn Battuta mall near my hotel. It’s named after a famous Muslim explorer who travelled from Morocco to China, hence the mall has various themed sections ranging from Tunisia to what’s pictured here, China. Like many things in Dubai, there’s a purported world record involved, and this is supposedly the world’s largest themed mall.

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Dubai Day Two

I’m at the start of a three week business trip in Dubai, UAE, my first time visiting the city and my first time in the Middle East. On travels to what amounts to an entirely new continent, culture, and geography, I try to do a little remedial reading about the place, which also gives me something to pass the time on the long flights. In this case, it is a book called Dubai: City of Gold and it’s made my first 24 hours here even more fascinating.

Dubai is visually stunning. The skylines (I use the plural since there are several city centers, each replete with dozens of massive skyscrapers) are a combination of Walt Disney, artistic flair, engineering prowess, and sheer lunacy. Whereas Manhattan is full of imposing, businesslike structures of generally staid design, Dubai’s buildings are wild and futuristic. Like Beijing it seems that anyone with a fresh idea and a wad of cash has been given reign to realize their dream. I literally have a sore neck today from excessive gawking during the taxi ride to and from my hotel yesterday.

Where the aforementioned book makes this all the more fascinating it that it hammers home the fact that none of this existed a mere 50 years ago. I can’t help but recall the laments in my home town in South Carolina that “none of this was here 50 years ago”, in reference to the strip malls, housing, and associated infrastructure of an up and coming suburban town. Imagine for a moment that the pastoral farm town of these stories was replaced not with suburban America, but by a city rivaling or exceeding Manhattan in those 50 years. Even more amazing is that an average US farm town of the 1960s was vastly more modern than the Dubai of the period, which at that point was just getting electricity, running water, and telephone service, all based on the vision of a bandoleer-sporting, horse riding Bedouin sheik who would easily pass as an extra in Lawrence of Arabia.

I’m looking forward to scratching the surface of the place in the coming weeks, but for now I’m preparing for another 30 minutes of gawking as I head to work.

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Fun in the snow

We’ve traded the sunny skies of SC for several snow storms, even in our brief tenure up north. Here’s the little guy with his new friend, who looks a bit beat up based on some temperature swings in the last 24 hours.

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We made it!

After a long 17 hours in the car over the course of two days, we arrived at night in New Hampshire, dog, trailer, two year old, and assorted bits and bobs in tow. Unfortunately I’m headed back to TX later in the week for work, so I’ll barely settle in before I’m off, but I should be arouse the entirety of next week to start adjusting to life in the Granite State!

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From SC to NH via TX??!?

Last weekend brought our usual amount of craziness, as Meghan was up in New Jersey for a wedding shower for her friend Anita. That left the little man and I alone to pack up the remaining dozen or so boxes, and supervise the movers who had come to handle the furniture. With an empty house, 3.0 and I resorted to “camping,” which he found quite amusing. We called the air mattress that would be my home for the weekend the “camping bed,” and his portable crib was “Patrick’s camping bed.” Patrick’s bed had the distinct advantage of being easy to climb out of, so each morning I was greeted by a smiling face, that would announce things like “Wake up Daddy! Patrick big cacca!”

Sunday was our crazy transition day. Meghan arrived home in the morning, we had a few hurried hours to pack the remaining items in the house and get them into storage, than I shuttled off to the airport to fly to Texas for work while Meghan did the final key handoff to the new owners of our former house.

I’m in the rather interesting small and oil-driven town of Alice, TX (which everyone thinks I’m describing as Dallas, and immediately gets jealous until I describe the realities of where I actually am). Tonight I’ll drive up to San Antonio with hopes of checking out the Alamo if I can get out of work early enough, then I hit the friendly skies early tomorrow AM. From there I reunite with Meghan and 3.0, pack up a U-Haul trailer, and we head north!

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Granite State of Mind

With the closing of our old house behind us, and the completion of our new construction several months away we are heading to NH in the meantime.  Thanks to the generosity of the inlaws, we’ll be staying in their vacation house near North Conway NH.  Thanks to Greg Antman for bringing this great parody to our attention today, check out the Granite State of Mind.

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Hurry up and sell!

The last few months have been quite a crazy period for us, filled with serious decision making.  When we moved to Baxter in the summer of 2007, we built a house with 3 bedrooms.  It was huge to us, having come from several years of apartment living.  Plus, it was only the two of us and at that point still not sure when/if/how a family expansion plan would work out and if the cultural metropolis of Fort Mill, SC was really the place we would want to live long term.

Since then we have come to absolutely fall in love with our life here and the familial atmosphere of the community.  Baxter Village is definitely where we want to stay! We played with the idea of up-sizing in Baxter, and left that thought in the back of our minds.  Over the summer we learned that the opportunities to build a custom home in the neighborhood were dwindling, and if we wanted to be able to build our “Dream House” in our “dream ‘hood” we would have to act quickly.  Over the course of about a month, we had listed our current house and put down a deposit with the builder for an amazing house at the end of a beautiful cul-de-sac.  Our friend and realtor Scott, reminded us that the last few months of the year are really a slow time for real estate transactions, and that we should be prepared to probably not have too much action until the Spring.  We understood this completely, and stalled on the start of new construction for a bit to give us a buffer to avoid having to pay 2 mortgages on houses less than a mile from one another.

Fast forward from October 10,2011, the day that our house hit the market, to December 27, 2011.  Right after one of the best Christmas’ of all time, we found ourselves with piles of gifts, bags of trash, and about 2 hours notification before an appointment request.  We sucked it up, and cleaned the house like crazy people—shoving baskets of laundry into the storage space over the garage, and gifts under the bed—and headed out for a relaxing “lunch” while some potential buyers looked through the house, all the while hoping they didn’t look *too closely* in the cabinets and such.  Whatever we did worked, and before NYE we had an offer in hand, and a smile on our face.  With a relatively uneventful appraisal and inspection, we were able to close today, 2/3/2012 and will be staying here (renting from the new owners) until 2/15/2012 when we head up to NH to kill some time while Casa de Gray, part deux is finished.  We couldn’t be happier that it all worked out so well! We are looking forward to popping a bottle of Champagne to celebrate!

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Housekeeping

Hope y’all like the new theme. I’m sticking with a travel feel and hope we have many adventures left in us to share. The site shouldn’t be changing too much in the coming weeks, but please pardon any additional tweaks. Now I just need to get my partner in crime to actually write something…

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Getting Loaded

My parents came to visit this weekend as a pit stop during their annual escape to Florida from the snowy confines of the northeast. My dad was kind enough to help me schlep some boxes, and it is starting to feel like real progress is being made on the packing front. Here’s our stuff’s home for the next few months:

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SOLD!

It’s become official! Meghan will have a full report shortly:

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Unpacking…

As part of our crazy moving schedule I’m migrating much of our technological infrastructure from our “data center” (more commonly known as a closet) to hosted services. PatandMeg.com has “come out of the closet” and is now on a new server. As part of the transition, we’ll eventually change themes and get this place back in ship shape, but in the meantime please pardon the mess!

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The Big Move

As part of some other changes happening with Pat, Meg, and 3.0, PatandMeg.com will be moving to a new server. Much as Meghan loves our current “data center” (aka our kitchen closet which I’ve loaded with noisy computer hardware) I’m sending our site “to the cloud” to a hosted provider. I also plan on updating some of the outdated plugins and technology that are making the site a bit slow to load, and enhancing the current template, which has grown a bit long in the tooth.

Bear with us as the various bits and bytes make their way across the interweb, and watch this space for more exciting and interesting (i.e. non-technical) updates.

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Resolutions

Over the past few years, in particular when we were living abroad last year, Facebook became something of an addiction for me. I think there are two reasons why I check it do many times per day, and look at all the pictures my friends from grade school post:
1. I’ve always been really interested in other people’s lives. That’s why I watch crappy reality TV about divorced “housewives” and like reading memoirs and biographies.
2. I’m a stay at home mom. There are so many reasons why my career is on hold for my little buddy, and I love almost every minute of my days watching Patrick grow up and figure things out. But, there is a void: interaction with other adults, well actually just other people to have a conversation with and talk about something other than milk, dirty diapers, and Legos. While FB doesn’t actually give me face-time, it gives me an almost real-time connection to other people.

Pat has been hounding me about not posting anything on this blog for a few years, so I decided that my resolution for 2012 would be for more blogging, and less Facebooking. We’ve got a pretty exciting year coming up, so hopefully I can share some insights with everyone who reads this site, which I pretty much think is only Kara Lindstrom, and maybe a SPAM robot trying to sell me natural male enhancement products. Read up, share with your friends, and comment on my posts.

Xoxo,
M

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Running down a dream

We are off to NYC on Saturday to run the half marathon there. It will be our first time running together since we did our first half in Miami back in early 2009, and the first time we will have a pint-sized cheering section on the sidelines!

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A Tour of our Italian Apartment

Italy Apartment Tour

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Italy

We are in Pescara Italy this week, for work and hopefully to find our new home for the next few months…

Stay tuned for more Italian adventures…

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Pat’s Most Excellent Motorcycle Adventure

To celebrate the pending “expansion” of PatandMeg.com, Meghan was kind enough to let Pat tear across the country on his motorcycle, and play the mud with a bunch of other goofballs for the weekend in Colorado. You can follow his adventures on on Advrider, complete with witty commentary and stunning (well, mostly mediocre) photography.

You can also fulfill your big brother dreams and track Pat’s progress across the country, brought to you by Satellite tracking devices and Internet Elves (note that this only shows updates from the past 7 days).

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China Update

I know, I know, I’ve been pretty bad with updates on this trip, despite being gone for a month. There were several highlights to this visit: my first trip to Beijing, two visits to the Great Wall, a side trip to Xi’an to see the Terra Cotta Warriors and most exciting, Meghan joining me for the last 8 days. The last point was perhaps the most exciting; I’ve deluged Meghan with stories about all the crazy and wonderful things that happen out here, from the traffic and Chinese lack of respect for lines, to the dirty air and beautiful buildings and now she finally had a chance to experience it herself.

This trip started with some “old hat:” a flight into Hong Kong and a fairly boring evening spent at the Sheraton Hong Kong. I generally don’t sleep particularly well on the flight to HK, so upon arrival the best I can do is get to the hotel, unpack my toiletries and promptly hit the sack, generally waking up at some ungodly hour due to jet lag. Luckily it was a fairly nice morning, and I walked along Victoria Harbor taking a few pictures and taking in Hong Kong’s amazing skyline before taking the ferry over to Shenzhen in mainland China.

Being a China veteran I knew to pass the “hustle taxis:” unlicensed taxi drivers that had a good enough command of English to understand China neophytes and make them comfortable, then charge them 200 Yuan for a ride that should be 12.50. I walked to the hotel, settled in and then began work the next day. The purpose of the trip was to make presentations and gather information from three different business units, and the first several days went off without a hitch. I spent Friday evening out on the town with a few colleagues near my hotel, and then spent Saturday night in Hong Kong with a coworker at the very flashy W hotel. Not one to fit in with the “beautiful people,” we found a night market and outdoor restaurant where we were able to enjoy 6 rounds of Tsing Tao beer for around $120HK (about 12 USD). My buddy was a bit more of a hipster, so we made our way to one of the HK hotspots and I was shocked by a $260HK tab for two drinks. Not having anyone to impress, I’ll stick to the street from now on!

The following day my friend and I returned to Louhu Commercial City, the 5 story market with everything from counterfeit iPods and clothing to jade jewelry and bicycles. I’ve described the utter chaos that is shopping at this type of mall in a previous email, and must confess that I’ve come to really enjoy it. Once you get past the standard marketing pitch of someone grabbing your arm and shouting “HEY MISTER! YOU LOOK NOW! GOOD QUALITY! YOU BUY NOW!” it’s actually quite fun. I developed a defense for the touts that hang out by the escalators at each floor, who follow you around endlessly asking: “Hey mister. What are you looking for? Copy watch? North Face? Camera? iPhone? Sexy massage? What are you looking for?” About the third time they ask what I am looking for I look them straight in the eye and say something ridiculous that they likely won’t understand, my favorite being “Redemption.” Stumped, they finally admit defeat and seek an easier mark.

I love the art of bargaining in China, the seller punching an insanely high amount into the calculator, and me responding with an equally insulting lowball offer, both of us feigning disgust as the counteroffers, insults, compliments, and grave mumblings fly. I’ve learned to say “pretty girl” in mandarin (it sounds like the English word “menu” with a bit of extra ewe on the “U”) so when they butter me up with “You are so handsome” I can play right along . One of my highest bargaining compliments came in Beijing when I scored two pairs of “Puma” sneakers for about $12 US, and the seller, frowning gravely said “Feel good price for you, feel BAD price for me!”

In addition to bargaining, I’ve come to enjoy the “interesting” English translations that abound in China. At the request of my client, I now have a Blackberry that has an unlimited international data plan which allows me to post frequent picture updates on Facebook and via email so I’ve captured some of the more colorful examples and I am hopeful that the Chinese get a good laugh out of whatever strange translations we’ve placed in Chinatowns across the US. Perhaps the highlight of the bad translations (no, I am not making this up) was a sign for an apartment building in HK that proudly advertised the “GOFUKU Towers.” This was even better than the “Yuppie Building” in Beijing and perhaps equal of the sign that advised that “Drunkards and insane people are prohibited” on the cable car up the Great Wall.

The next week was fairly uneventful until Friday, when the team flew up to Beijing. For a reason unbeknownst to me, our team leader decided to fly out of HK rather than the local airport in Shekou, which generally would not have been a problem save for the Swine Flu scare. HK is considered an international border, so we were prodded by officials in medical coats, subjected to a questionnaire and a thermal camera at each side of the flight. Given a clean bill of health, we arrived in the amazing Beijing airport, my first clue to the fact that every top-notch architect and civil engineer is apparently welcome to express his or her most daring and innovative ideas in Beijing. From airports, bridges, train stations and skyscrapers of all shapes and sizes, the communist style of drab concrete block structures apparently has been long dead and buried in Beijing. Structures that seem impossible or impractical abound, with modern steel and glass within eyeshot of traditional Chinese wood buildings that are hundreds of years old. I’m still not sure whether I’m more impressed by the whimsical modern structures or the ancient temples and palaces held together with elaborate wooden joints that don’t use a single nail.

Our team spent the weekend visiting all the tourist sites, from the Great Wall to the Forbidden City and the various markets around Beijing. Travelling with six adults of various levels of endurance, degrees of whininess and varying demeanor made me all the more eager for Meghan to arrive on Thursday.

Work flew by, the one highlight being a visit out to a Chinese factory my client is considering acquiring. I love manufacturing in general, and was excited to see what was behind “Made in China.” No one from the client’s local office was available to escort me to the factory, so I was left to my own devices to get to its location, in a town about 100 miles to the southeast. A train was suggested, and high-tech Beijing did not disappoint. I took a car to Beijing South Station, an incredibly modern and airy building that rivals most international airports I’ve seen. Being a high roller, I sprung for the extra 10 Yuan (around a dollar) to upgrade to a first class seat, and found myself on the ultra-modern high-speed rail connecting Beijing and the city of Tian Jin. The display in the car indicated we were cruising at 340km/hr, or just shy of 200 mph, blasting through fields and countryside at a pace that puts Amtrak to shame.

After some trouble finding the factory, and my taxi driver and I delighting in the stoic silence induced by mutually incomprehensible languages, I finally arrived. The factory was about what I expected, and would likely cause minor heart palpitations in an OHSHA inspector. No safety goggles or eye wash stations were to be found, and three dogs lounged next to the CNC machines. The reception hall was given over to an impressive looking ping pong table, and I was later informed that after 5PM there were “table tennis” sessions between all employees.

The owner took me to an amazing place for lunch. It was essentially a giant greenhouse, completely made of glass and filled with all manner of tropical plants inside, including a faux “river” running through the jungle that was inhabited by two seals. A menu would be far too gauche for such a place, and to select your food you entered a room with about 60 fish tanks where you could select your fish, crab or lobster, and a wall with pictures of the approximately 100 meal choices, each plated and displayed on a counter below the picture. I deferred to my hosts, and we were escorted to our table, which was surrounded by a thicket of live bamboo, making it seem like you were the only person eating in a strange and intimate jungle. Living up to Chinese standards of efficiency, the food was delivered by waiters on roller skates, who tore through the jungle at high speeds with overloaded trays. Despite the intimacy, my host told me that the restaurant could seat approximately 6000 people on two floors.

I made the mistake of informing my host that I enjoyed Chinese beer, and he ordered me a large pitcher of the house brew (apparently there was a micro-brewery somewhere in the jungle) and proudly announced “We will drink the delicious beer!” It was extremely tasty, having a smoky finish that I’ve never experienced in a beer and giving me pause to consider that I was in an unfamiliar city in a strange country, having one of the tastiest beers I’ve ever drank in an indoor jungle, next to a live seal during business hours AND getting paid for it!

On Thursday evening I met Meghan at the airport. Apparently she was given the 5th degree in terms of medical screening, with people in biohazard suits boarding the plane and looking for anyone making oinking noises or smelling like bacon, both clear indicators of the swine flu, at least as I understand it. Meghan and I spent the next day doing some easy touring around Beijing, and visiting the Forbidden City. We also visited the Great Wall, neither of which I can describe with any justice, save to say that both were structures I remember staring at in grade school social studies books, daydreaming about who could ever build such marvels and trying to repress the tiny glimmer of hope that I would one day see them with my own eyes, a possibility that seemed so remote as to not even be worth considering.

On Sunday we headed to the airport for the flight to Xi’an, a city in the northwest of China and home to the Terra Cotta Warriors. It was hear I solidified my “theory of third place,” which states that every city in China is the third <something> after Beijing and Shanghai. Shenzhen was the third richest. Tian Jin was the third largest, and Xi’an had the third highest number of universities. I would imagine that even the most remote farming village has the third highest number of Maoist cattle or some other third place claim to fame.

The city itself was fairly standard for China: overcrowded, polluted and filled with drivers, bikers and walkers careful balanced on a fine line between life and death. Xi’an does have one of the only intact city walls in China, and Meghan and I spent our first full day walking around the city, and walking a portion of the wall. Nearly as thick and high as the Great Wall it had a similar purpose of keeping unsavory characters at bay, and provided a great view of the city. The next day we signed on for a tour that made several stops, saving the warriors for last.

The emperor who built the warriors was the first emperor of the Quing (pronounced “Chin”) dynasty that conquered and unified several disparate states to create a country that largely resembles modern China. Constantly worried about subterfuge from the people’s he conquered, he decided to build an elaborate tomb complex to maintain his reign in the afterlife. Needing protection, he commissioned an army of clay warriors, estimated to number around 8,000, each life size and with a unique face, weapon, rank and function. Each warrior apparently took around 10 years to complete, and an army of slaves was commissioned to make the warriors and build the tomb. In the 1970′s, a farmer digging a well found pieces of the warriors, and today around 3,000 of them have been unearthed. Most of them were smashed during an uprising shortly after the emperor’s death, and they have been painstakingly reconstructed and replaced in their original positions. Each was equipped with a weapon, most of which were stolen by the revolutionaries and used in combat, since they were life-size, combat ready weapons.

It is an amazing sight to walk into the hangar-like structure covering the warriors, as you start down upon row after row of warriors, horses, archers and generals, all precisely lined up and awaiting battle. The warriors are finely painted, but the paint disappears a few weeks after they are unearthed, so excavation has largely halted until some way of maintaining the paint can be found. Each is marvelously detailed, from fine hair to treads on an archer’s shoe.

The emperor’s tomb is a few miles away, and it remains sealed since legend has it that it is surrounded by rivers of mercury, and enough mercury vapor to kill anyone who breaks its seal. This type of extravagance is so mind boggling it makes Michael Jackson look like a stamp collector.

The next day brought an early flight back to Beijing, and Meghan and I explored various temples and a Chinese mosque through the intermittent rain. The rain had the great benefit of clearing up the air, and we spent a heartrendingly gorgeous day at the Summer Palace yesterday. Needing somewhere to relax from the stressful duties of “managing” 81 concubines, the Ming emperors built a summer retreat about 30 minutes outside Beijing on 70sq km of hilly land, complete with several lakes and ponds, pagodas and temples. It was like a giant park filled with what you would imagine traditional Chinese architecture to be, and it was a perfect day to explore it. While the entrance gate was mobbed, the park was so large and filled with so many meandering paths, we had much of the day to ourselves, delighting in wandering with no particular direction in mind. We ended the day with a fancy dinner, and Meghan made her way to the airport for her 9AM flight this morning. I fly out at 6PM, and after a morning run am wrapping up some work and then saying goodbye to China until my next trip. Until then…

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